On Sunday, Greg Maddux continued his early season wizardry by holding the St. Louis Cardinals scoreless through 7 innings to run his record to 4-0. His ERA through 4 starts is a microscopic 0.99. Is Maddux's success simply a product of small sample size or has he been able to compensate for his dimished skills by making changes in his pitching? Let's look at the numbers. First, let's examine the three key components that pitchers themselves are able to exert great control over: walks, homeruns, and strikeouts. Here are Maddux's walks (this includes walks plus hit batters), homeruns, and strikeouts allowed per 9 innings since 2001. In addition, his runs allowed (earned plus unearned runs) are also included.
2001 1.31 BB/9 0.77 HR/9 6.68 SO/9 3.32 RA/9
2002 2.21 BB/9 0.63 HR/9 5.33 SO/9 3.03 RA/9
2003 1.69 BB/9 0.99 HR/9 5.11 SO/9 4.62 RA/9
2004 1.78 BB/9 1.48 HR/9 6.39 SO/9 4.36 RA/9
2005 1.72 BB/9 1.16 HR/9 5.44 SO/9 4.48 RA/9
2006 1.65 BB/9 0.33 HR/9 5.93 SO/9 0.99 RA/9
The pattern is pretty evident. Maddux's walk totals have remained relatively stable. His strikeouts have decreased since 2001, but have jumped around a bit. The one statistic that clearly jumps out is his homerun rate. Since 2002, his homerun rate has increased every season, and not coincidentally, his runs allowed per nine innings has almost mimicked this increase. Maddux seems to have reversed that trend in 2006. His strikeout and walk rates are pretty similar to his 2004 and 2005 numbers. The big difference is that he has cut his homer rate by over 75% from its high of 1.48 per nine innings in 2004. From 2003-2005, Greg Maddux was no longer Greg Maddux because he was wild within the strikeout zone. It would appear he has been able to rectify that problem.
Has schedule strength benefited Maddux? Let's take a look. He has started 2 games against St. Louis, and one game each against Los Angeles and Cincinnati. St. Louis ranks 10th in the 16 team NL in runs scored, LA is 6th, and Cincinnati is 1st. In regards to homeruns, LA is 14th, St. Louis is 9th, and Cincinnati is 1st. It appears schedule strength has been a little tougher than average for Maddux in regards to runs scored, and about average for homeruns hit. So Maddux has not parlayed an easy schedule into his 4-0 start.
All seems well, but one statistic appears to be a red flag. Here is Maddux's ground ball to fly ball ratio for 2001-2006.
Maddux has allowed homeruns at a lower rate, but his groundball to flyball ratio is actually at an all-time low. This means he is allowing a higher percentage of flyballs. And of course, flyballs are the ones that tend to go over the fence. While it is obvious Maddux's ERA will not remain 0.99 on the season, I think he is in for some serious regression unless he drastically improves his groundball ratio. Those flyballs are eventually going to turn into homeruns. Be very wary about starting Maddux on your fantasy team.