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Maddux, Glavine and the wide strike zone of the 1990s

Oct 10, 2011, 9:48 AM EDT

Maddux Glavine Smoltz

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times has a story about the evolution of the strike zone over the past 30 or 40 years and how monitoring of it by Major League Baseball via first the QuesTec system and then Pitch f/x has changed things and made it more uniform.

The overall story is good and is worth reading, but of course, you can’t have that conversation without talking about the 1990s Atlanta Braves and the wide strike zones Maddux and Glavine got. DiGiovanna talked to Maddux and here was his observation about it:

“We always heard in Atlanta how we got strikes called and other teams didn’t,” Maddux said by phone from his home in Las Vegas. “But if you go back and watch the tapes, the ball two or three inches off the plate that was a strike was being called both ways.  The difference was our guys threw seven or eight a game out there, and they threw two or three. I charted Glavine off TV all the time. If he was getting the ball off the plate, so was the other guy. You could say we got more pitches, but we made more pitches.”

I watched practically all of those games back in the day and this rings true. No question the zone was wide. No question that Glavine and Maddux got a greater benefit out of it than anyone. But it was less about the star system, I believe, than it was about being able to take advantage of the umpiring flaw more frequently.  Particularly in Glavine’s case, as Maddux was not all about living on the edges.

Yeah, I’m a fan, so take it all with a grain of salt. But the suggestion that you hear more and more as memories fade — that Maddux and Glavine were mere products of a bad strike zone — is ridiculous on its face.  They could, you know, pitch a little too.

  1. halladaysbiceps - Oct 10, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    These guys were such ridiculously good pitchers that they would get the calls because of their great command. All great pitchers get the benefit of the doubt.

    • lukeslice - Oct 10, 2011 at 10:58 AM

      This is true…anyone notice how many calls Mariano gets??? It’s kind of ridiculous…but people just say “man…that Mariano has impeccable control.” He does…but it helps that his cutter gets called a strike when it’s 6 inches off the black.

  2. granted42 - Oct 10, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    Having a catcher who’s proficient at framing pitches could also help you get those kind of borderline calls in your favor. A reputation for great control doesn’t hurt either.

  3. Mark Armour - Oct 10, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    You go back in time and change the strike zone to any shape you want. These guys would find a way to hit the corners and beat you.

    • mkd - Oct 10, 2011 at 12:40 PM

      I think this is exactly right. I raged against the ridiculous calls they would get, but I think the bottom line is wherever the ump decided the absolute limit of the strikezone was going to be, that’s where they were going to throw the ball. An inch outside, a foot outside, six inches inside two feet high, wherever- that’s where the ball was going. They just had enough control to hit that spot every time.

      • schlom - Oct 10, 2011 at 4:11 PM

        That would certainly apply to Maddux but I don’t think that covers Glavine (who never really had great control) or Smoltz before 1996.

      • waltcoogan - Aug 9, 2014 at 9:06 AM

        Glavine usually had excellent control; he walked more hitters because he erred on the side of missing off the plate, whereas Maddux enjoyed better movement, better stuff, and the advantage of being a right-handed pitcher (the majority of hitters are right-handed).

        Smoltz constituted a power pitcher with great velocity and one of the game’s best sliders, so he did not need incredible control, even though he developed incredible control by the mid-nineties.

      • waltcoogan - Aug 9, 2014 at 10:08 AM

        Plus, Glavine would often pitch around guys and would not fear a walk, because he knew that he could induce a double-play from the next guy.

  4. nicosamuelson2 - Oct 10, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    Boy, I miss watching Maddux pitch.

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