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Exactly how good is Mike Maddux?

He has a good reputation, but can we quantify it?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

On the tails of a disappointing end to the season, and after a few weeks passed in October, the Cardinals hired Mike Maddux. It was largely viewed as a step in the right direction. In the realm of pitching coaches, Maddux is a big name hire. Of course, the name recognition is more attributable to his brother, Greg Maddux, a first ballot Hall of Famer, but Mike’s accomplishments are nothing to laugh at.

From 2003 to 2017, Maddux has worked for the Brewers, Rangers, and the Nationals. He has guided pitching staffs on teams with seven playoff appearances and two pennants over fifteen years. In other words, he has coached for many successful teams. But team success isn't a good, or even an accurate, measure of a pitching coach’s ability.

He coached Max Scherzer to two Cy Young Awards, but even a casual baseball observer would struggle giving much of that credit to Maddux—Scherzer was a dominant pitcher well before he started working with Maddux. If we can’t gauge pitching coach skill from team success or individual pitcher success, let’s look at Maddux’s ability by examining how he affected the pitchers in his first season and how that trend continued.

In 2002, the Brewers had the 29th ranked pitching staff according to Fangraphs. Then, they hired Maddux.

Brewers 2002-2008

Year ERA FIP Fangraphs Rank (WAR)
Year ERA FIP Fangraphs Rank (WAR)
2002 (before Maddux) 4.76 4.86 29th
2003 5.03 4.88 26th
2004 4.26 4.1 6th
2005 3.98 4.2 10th
2006 4.83 4.39 13th
2007 4.44 4.42 5th
2008 3.87 4.34 15th

There are immediately visible trends. First, that the pitching staffs improved consistently after Maddux’s hiring. In fact, after his first year, the pitching staff remained in the top half of all MLB teams. Trends among ERA are harder to piece together. At times, it hovered around five, at others, it was closer to four—dropping below that number once in 2005.

The FIP statistic gives a significant insight. FIP, fielding independent pitching, represents a pitchers run prevention independent of defensive performance. Maddux inherited a staff with a 4.86 FIP. Although it increased marginally in his first year, the team’s FIP dropped significantly in the following seasons and remained relatively low thereafter.

In 2009, he moved to the American League to work with the Texas Rangers.

Rangers 2008-2015

Year ERA FIP Fangraphs Rank (WAR)
Year ERA FIP Fangraphs Rank (WAR)
2008 (before Maddux) 5.37 4.83 27
2009 4.38 4.49 11
2010 3.93 4.17 3
2011 3.79 3.98 8
2012 4.02 3.9 4
2013 3.63 3.77 3
2014 4.49 4.22 29
2015 4.25 4.34 22

Again, there are immediate improvements. In Maddux’s first year, the team took a large step forward, jumping up to 11th in pitching staff WAR. In each of the next four years, the staff finished in the top ten—in three of those years, they placed in the top five. It was a remarkable string of success. His team’s ERA’s and FIPs both dropped consistently.

In Milwaukee, Maddux coached while the Brewers team continuously improved and he left right before they made the playoffs for the first time in many years. In Texas, he was there for the improvement, stayed for the peak years, and remained even after the two World Series appearances. As a result, he coached the second worse pitching staff in the league in 2014 and then improved on that ranking in his final year. Notably, the staff’s ERA and FIP never rose above where they had been before Maddux took over in Texas.

After the 2015 season, the pitching coach returned to the National League with the Washington Nationals.

Nationals 2015-2017

Year ERA FIP Fangraphs Rank (WAR)
Year ERA FIP Fangraphs Rank (WAR)
2015 (before Maddux) 3.62 3.45 4
2016 3.52 3.58 2
2017 3.88 3.99 7

Despite inheriting one of the best pitching staff’s in all of baseball, Maddux still coached the Nationals pitchers to an improved season the following year. And, despite taking a step back in 2017, the group was still ranked in the top 10, with an ERA under four.

ERA, FIP, and Fangraphs Rankings are not the only ways to measure a pitching coach’s value. In game adjustments, day-to-day instruction, and even periodic evaluations are all important, but virtually impossible to measure. From this data, we see, at the very least, that Maddux is an established pitching coach with a track record for improving a pitching staff.

Starting with the ERA of the team in the year before he began coaching, Maddux has averaged a decrease in ERA of 0.53 runs over the course of his career. In Milwaukee, his teams had an ERA, on average, 0.36 runs lower than the year before he took over. In Texas, the improvement was 1.3 runs, on average. The overall average of 0.53 runs is deflated, in large part, due to his numbers in Washington, where the ERA went up by an average of .08 runs. That essentially shows that Maddux inherited an elite staff and kept it at that level.

In 2017, the Cardinals pitchers had an ERA of 4.01 and were ranked eleventh by Fangraphs. Now, Maddux enters. No result is guaranteed, but if history is any indicator, it won’t be the pitching staff that keeps the Cardinals from the postseason in 2018.