|Wednesday, April 17
The Book on Maddux, Glavine
By Tony Gwynn
Special to ESPN.com
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine have been two of the game's greatest pitchers for more than a decade because they work with their strengths. Even against hitters who can hurt them, they rarely change much from how they approach every hitter. More consistently than most major-league pitchers, they know how to locate the ball well with late movement and how to capitalize on a hitter's over-aggressive nature at the plate.
Maddux may throw from the right side and Glavine from the left, but they are both extremely stubborn. When they are on the hill, they won't give in to a hitter. If a hitter is expecting a fastball from them, he may never see it. And if he does, it will never be straight. The ball will either have a sink, cut or fade on it.
Early in his career with the Cubs, Maddux threw a lot harder -- around 91-92 mph with a good curve and changeup. When Glavine first started in the majors, he threw around 93-94 mph with a good breaking ball and changeup. He seems to have his fastball back up in the 90s. Maddux could probably throw that hard if he wanted to, but I don't think he needs to. He believes he can go out and throw darts. If he has movement at the end of his pitch, no one will be able to take a good hack at it.
Compared to most hitters, I had relatively good success against them -- .429 against Maddux and .312 against Glavine. Why? I took a counter-punching approach to hitting; I hit whatever they threw me. I never tried to get too big -- in other words, to make something happen instead of just letting it happen. Over and over again, I have seen hitters get themselves out against Maddux and Glavine because they tried to force the issue.
When we played Atlanta, I had to expand my strike zone a little because Maddux and Glavine were great at hitting the center of the glove. The catcher did not have to be set up over the plate. When they hit the glove dead center, the umpires would start calling it a strike. I knew I had to be both aggressive and under control at the same time. I could expand my zone and put the ball in play, even though I wouldn't drive too many balls against them.
I studied Maddux and Glavine like I did every pitcher. And I knew they were studying me. But I never tried to outthink them at the plate. Hitters who face them with a preconceived game plan usually get out. I believed I had to hold my ground and do something with what they threw me.
If I was facing Maddux with a runner on second and two outs, I knew I would never get anything good to hit. He and I both knew I would put the bat on the ball; that's what I did best. Against a free swinger in the same situation, Maddux will use a hitter's anxiousness against him. If Maddux gets behind and has to throw a fastball, he will often throw a fastball. But it may only be a BP fastball. He will take something off the pitch, make the hitter get out in front and force him to hit the ball weakly.
I got more hits in my career against Maddux (39) than against any other pitcher. But again, I just tried to put the ball in play. He knew he had to make a quality pitch and change speeds to get me out. He would either throw me a changeup, a cutter inside, or -- with two strikes -- start his fastball inside and run it back over the inside of the plate.
Because I faced Maddux so much, I would sometimes look to hit his changeup. He likes to throw it at any time, on any count, in any situation. His changeup would sometimes fade and sometimes move downward like a splitter. He would either take a lot of velocity off his changeup or just a little. He can change speeds from 78 mph to 83 mph, just enough either to get you out in front or to make weak contact.
His fastballs would either sink or fade. He would also throw a cutter and a slider and a curve only once in a while. Sometimes, he would throw a pitch, and I would step back and say, "What the heck was that?" He and Glavine both have the ability to make up pitches on the fly.
I had more trouble hitting Glavine than Maddux. The cardinal rule is that a left-hander should not throw a changeup to a left-handed hitter. Why that is a rule, I don't know. But Glavine threw changeups to me anyway -- and with a lot of success earlier in his career. I had to honor his fastball, so I would be out in front on his changeup.
While I never hit a home run off Maddux, I hit two off Glavine. In both situations, Glavine was standing on the third-base side of the rubber. I figured, "OK, he's going to start me off with a fastball" because I had the reputation as a hitter who would take a strike. Both times I swung at first-pitch fastballs and hit them out of the park.
Along with a sinking and a running fastball and a changeup, which moved in on a left-handed hitter, Glavine would mix in a big, sweeping breaking ball, especially when he was standing on the first-base side of the rubber. I would have to hold my ground and hope I could either foul it off, put the ball in play or hope it would miss the outside corner.
Off both Glavine and Maddux, the hardest ball to hit is the changeup. They have the pitch down to a science, with the same arm action and the same release point. The ball never seems to reach the plate. When they have command of their fastballs, their changeups are even more lethal.
When Glavine lost some velocity on his fastball in the mid-'90s, I didn't think he could throw a fastball past me. That made his changeup easier to hit. But when he regained his fastball, his changeup became tougher once again.
I never struck out against Maddux and fanned only twice against Glavine. But if you asked them, they would probably say they struck me out more than that. I found it easier to hit them over time. The more a hitter sees a pitcher, the better prepared he is and the less apt he is to be surprised.
When I would speak to them at All-Star Games, Maddux would downplay everything. He would say, "You are just wearing me out. I have nothing left to throw you. I can never get you out." I never felt that way, though. Even though my numbers were great against him, I never felt comfortable or in control. I just put the ball in play.
Maddux may come across as a shy person who lacks confidence in his ability, but he is a tiger on the mound. He doesn't think anyone can beat him. He is a mild-mannered man with a bulldog approach to pitching.
On the other hand, Glavine is a tactician who is more outwardly confident in his ability. He would say, "You make it tough on me because you can cover the plate." And I would say, "You make it tough on me because lefties aren't supposed to throw changeups to lefties, and you do."
With their knowledge about pitching and the hitters they face, Glavine and Maddux could never have success without believing in themselves. Along with being great pitchers, both are competitors.
As a hitter, Glavine and Maddux were the ultimate challenge. They always made me work harder as a hitter because they knew exactly what they were doing on the mound. They are as dedicated as pitchers as I was as a hitter. I always felt I had a good night against them if I went 1-for-4.
ESPN baseball analyst Tony Gwynn, who finished his 20-year major-league career with 3,141 hits, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.