Sunday Notes: Brian Vikander Likens Greg Maddux and Jered Weaver to Boris Spassky

Why was Greg Maddux as good as he was? In the opinion of longtime pitching instructor Brian Vikander, the biggest reason is that Maddux took baseball-is-a-chess-match to whole new level. Moreover, he did so in much the same manner as that with which Boris Spassky tackled the likes of Bobby Fischer.

That Vikander and I happened upon that particular subject is somewhat ironic. When we spoke earlier this week, it was to discuss his assertion that Steve Dalkowski threw 110 mph. Vikander is the co-author of a book about the legendary left-hander, who along with having extraordinary velocity was the antithesis of Maddux when it came to command. “Dalko” walked 1,236 batters in 956 minor league innings.

(We’ll hear from Vikander on Dalkowski and velocity in the coming week.)

“A big part of pitching is preventing on-time contact,” said Vikander, whose three-plus decades of experience includes working with Tom House and a plethora of professional hurlers. “Maddux was able to take all of the components — pitch selection, sequencing, location, and movement — and put them together to do that. It wasn’t any different than a Grandmaster in chess; it was like Boris Spassky. Most people don’t understand how that unusual opening would be used in a World Title game. Bobby Fischer did, but there aren’t many who are capable of that level of thinking.”

Vikander cited Miguel Cabrera as an example of a hitter capable of thinking along with pitchers in grandmaster fashion. He offered Ted Williams, with whom he’d conversed with over the years, as second example. In Vikander’s view, it’s that ability which separates “the truly great ones” from mere mortals.

Jered Weaver was no god among men during his dozen big-league seasons, but he was pretty darned good. From 2006-2014, the Los Angeles Angels right-hander logged a heady 123 ERA+ over 265 starts. And while he wasn’t as successful over his final three seasons, that’s the version Vikander was especially enamored with. By that point of his career, Weaver was getting by with a fastball that averaged a pedestrian-at-best 84 mph.

“Anybody can pitch at 95, but it’s a totally different game when you’re throwing 85,” Vikander told me. “Look at Jered Weaver a couple of years ago. I scouted him when he was at Long Beach State, and while he was a dominant pitcher when he came up, by the end of his career he was pitching anywhere between 53 and 83. He wasn’t giving them the Blue Bayou, he was getting big-league hitters out with all that other stuff. He was an Emperor Without Clothes on the mound. Hitters knew he couldn’t throw anything by them, yet he could still make them look stupid. It was Spassky playing chess. It was wonderful.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Nomar Garciaparra went 24 for 47 against Kenny Rogers.

Carl Crawford went 23 for 48 against John Lackey.

Richie Ashburn went 22 for 46 against Lindy McDaniel.

Pie Traynor went 21 for 35 against Bill Hubbell.

Carl Yastrzemski went 20 for 45 against Robin Roberts.

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Robinson Canó will sit out the 2021 season due to a PED suspension, the second such sanction (the first was for 80 games) he’s received in two years. At age 38, it’s quite possible that the New York Mets infielder will finish his career with the same stat line he currently has.

If you ignore the elephant in the room — which you really can’t — Canó cannot be considered anything but a legitimate Cooperstown candidate. Elite among second sackers of our time, he’s socked 334 home runs, rung up a 125 wRC+, and totaled 2,624 hits and 58.6 WAR over 16 stellar seasons. Statistically speaking, Canó’s career hasn’t simply been cromulent; he’s been a bona fide star.

How do his numbers compare to those of positional peers not yet enshrined in the Hall of Fame? With the caveat that this snapshot of stats only tells part of the story, here are four such players, plus Canó, ordered by WAR.

Bobby Grich: 1,833 hits, 224 HR, 129 wRC+, 69.2 WAR.
Lou Whitaker: 2,369 hits, 244 HR, 118 wRC+, 68.1 WAR.
Chase Utley: 1,885 hits, 259 HR, 118 wRC+, 62.9 WAR
Robinson Canó: 2,624 hits, 334 HR, 125 wRC+, 58.6 WAR.
Jeff Kent: 2,461 hits, 377 HR, 123 wRC+, 56.0 WAR.

A good argument could be made that all five are Hall-of-Fame-worthy, but despite their credentials there is a decent chance that all will remain on the outside looking in. To say that on of them has done a grave disservice to his chances would be an understatement.

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A quiz:

Willie Mays was famously on deck when Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1951. Which New York Giants batter hit the run-scoring double that immediately preceded Thompson’s historic home run? (Hint: He later managed the Chicago Cubs.)

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Cedric Richmond, who will serve in the Biden-Harris White House as Senior Advisor to the President, played collegiately at Morehouse College. A dominant force for the Democrats in the annual Congressional Baseball Game, Richmond was the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2017-2019.

Lindy McDaniel, who pitched for five teams from 1955-1975, died earlier this week at age 84. Primarily a reliever, the right-hander was credited with 141 wins (22 of them as a starter) and 174 saves. McDaniel’s best season was 1960, when he went 12-4 with 27 saves and a 2.09 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Foster Castleman, an infielder for the New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles in the 1950s, died this past week at age 89. Castelman broke into the big leagues with the 1954 World Series-champion Giants, and went on to hit a career-high 14 home runs in 1956. Per his SABR BioProject entry, he was related to 1930s pitcher Slick Castleman

Warren Miller, who has spent the past five seasons as the Senior Director of Communications for the Colorado Rockies, retired last month. Originally employed by the Houston Astros, and later by the San Diego Padres (2007-2015), Miller leaves the game with a well-earned reputation as one of the best media-relations executives in the business.

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The answer to the quiz is Whitey Lockman. The Giants first baseman doubled off Brooklyn Dodgers right-hander Don Newcombe, and later went on to manage the Cubs from 1972-1974.

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Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo told me recently that J.T. Snow — a six-time Gold Glove winner — was hands-down the best defensive first baseman he played with in his 14 professional seasons. Speaking of Seattle Mariners rookie first baseman Evan White, Lovullo said, “The kid up in Seattle, who I got a snapshot of this year… he and J.T. play the game very similarly.”

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Last Sunday’s column included former big-league slugger Mickey Tettleton’s take on Detroit Tigers top prospect Spencer Torkelson. Unmentioned was Tettleton’s mention of two under-the-radar prospects he’s com away impressed with.

“There’s a kid named Kaden Polcovich that played at Oklahoma State,” said Tettleton, who’s tutored hitters in the Cape Cod League and sees a lot of amateur baseball in the Sooner state. “He was a third-round pick with Seattle this past year, and I think he’s got a chance to play in the big leagues. There’s another kid from a really small school who I like: Hunter Markwardt played at Oklahoma Christian and was drafted in the 13th round by the Phillies [in 2019]. He’s one of the fastest kids I’ve ever seen. I think he’s got a chance to play in the big leagues, too.”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The NC Dinos beat the Doosan Bears 3-0 on Saturday to even the Korean Series at two games apiece. Twenty-year-old Song Myung-gi got the win, and former big-league right-hander Drew Rucinski the save. Game Five is on Monday.

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks beat the Yomiuri Giants 5-1 on Saturday in Game One of this year’s Japan Series. Koudai Senga went seven innings for the win, while Ryoya Kurihara went 3 for 3 with a home run and four RBIs. Game Two is Sunday. (Update: The Hawks are holding an 11-2 late-inning lead as this column goes live at 7:30 a.m. EST.)

The designated hitter is being used in all Japan Series games for the second time ever, and for the first time since 1985.

NPB’s Rakuten Eagles have named Kazuhisa Ishii as their new manager. Ishii pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers (2002-2005), Yakult Swallows, and Seibu Lions.

The Australian League’s Brisbane Bandits have announced a new partnership with the Milwaukee Brewers. Brisbane’s Director of Baseball Operations is former Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson.

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Who was better, Eric Davis or J.D. Drew? I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and the voting — not surprisingly — heavily favored the former. A definitive 63.5% of the 300-plus casting electronic ballots opted for Davis.

The numbers suggest that the minority may have been right.

Their careers, each of which was hampered by injury, ended with an almost identical number of plate appearances. Davis had 6,147, Drew had 6,153. Their hits totals were also extremely close: Davis 1,430, Drew 1,437. Ditto their total bases: Davis 2,567, Drew 2,532. And then you have their respective wRC+ numbers. That edge goes to Drew by a razor-thin margin of 127 to 126.

Davis’s best statistical season was 1987, when he put up a 151 wRC+ and 7.1 WAR for the Cincinnati Reds. Drew’s best statistical season was 2004, when he put up a 162 wRC+ and 8.6 WAR with the Atlanta Braves.

For those of you who agree that Drew had the better career, WAR is on your side. Drew finished with 46.0, Davis with 34.9. As you would expect given their offensive similarities, defense was the big separator here. Drew provided far more statistical value with the glove.

Was Eric Davis one of the most exciting players in the game when healthy? Without a doubt. His combination of power and speed was electrifying. Even so, reasonable to argue that J.D. Drew was a notch better.

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Another poll I ran this week indirectly addressed another issue: MLB’s relationship with the gambling industry. By dint of association, the continued ban of Pete Rose from Hall of Fame consideration is also at play here.

For those of you missed the news earlier this week, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group has reached a deal to rename all 21 of their Fox-branded sports channels “Bally Sports.” Bally’s, lest you’re unaware. is a casino conglomerate.

It’s no secret that MLB has shown an increased willingness to get into bed with gambling entities in recent years. They’ve done so cautiously — at least in terms of reassuring the public — but that doesn’t negate the obvious hypocrisy. Moreover, any idea that it doesn’t increase the risk of an eventual scandal — think “Eight Men Out, the sequel” — is pure folly.

As for the aforementioned poll, it asked whether you’d like to see Barry Bonds or Pete Rose inducted into the Hall of Fame. That admittedly isn’t the same as asking whether PED use or gambling sins can be more easily forgiven, but at the same time, the two questions are inextricably linked. Were it not for their respective transgressions, the compromised candidates would have been first-ballot selections.

A clear majority of the people who voted in the poll were more sympathetic to Bonds. The PED-linked all-time home run leader received 76% of support, the gambling-linked all-time hits leader received just 24%. While Rose purportedly bet only on his own team to win, most fans don’t seem willing to forgive him for wagering at all. Should they? Moreover, should MLB? And what of Bally’s and their plans for in-game wagering? Is that good for baseball?

If I’m Pete Rose, I’m not rolling dice; I’m rolling my eyes.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Ian Casselberry addressed the Sinclair/Bally’s deal at Awful Announcing.

At The Los Angeles Times, Maria Torres told us about how Perry Minasian’s distinct baseball life could give him a head start as Angels GM.

Yuichi Matsushita of The Kyodo News talked to Shohei Ohtani about his “pathetic” 2020 season.

At Pitcher List, Zach Hayes presented reasons why Curt Schilling has no place in Cooperstown.

At Mother Jones, Andrea Williams wrote about how the Negro Leagues came to an end.

At The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Sean Lahman and Justin Murphy combined to break down the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings’ affiliation switch from the Minnesota Twins to the Washington Nationals.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Hall of Famer Bob Lemon went 207-128 with a 119 ERA+ and 31 shutouts.
Non-Hall of Famer Carl Mays went 207-126 with a 119 ERA+ and 29 shutouts.

Sandy Koufax threw 2,324.1 innings and went 165-87 with a 131 ERA+.
Johan Santana threw 2,025.2 innings and went 139-78 with a 136 ERA+.

Ken Boyer 1961: 24 home runs, 26 doubles, 68 walks.
Ken Boyer 1962: 24 home runs, 27 doubles, 75 walks.
Ken Boyer 1963: 24 home runs, 28 doubles, 70 walks.
Ken Boyer 1964: 24 home runs, 30 doubles, 70 walks.

Dan Uggla’s 2007-2011 HR totals: 31, 32, 31, 33, 36.
Dan Uggla’s 2007-2011 GIDP totals 10, 10, 10, 9, 9.

In 1938, Jimmie Foxx slashed .399/.518/.880 in 197 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. He had 66 two-out RBIs that year.

Monk Sherlock batted .324 in 335 career plate appearances, all of them with the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies. Vince Sherlock batted .462 in 27 career plate appearances, all of them with the 1935 Brooklyn Dodgers. Combined, the Sherlock brothers batted .335.

Mickey Mantle was named American League MVP on today’s date in 1957. Mantle batted .365 with a 217 wRC+ and 11.4 WAR that year. Ted Williams, who finished second in the balloting, batted .388 with a 233 wRC+ and 9.7 WAR.

On today’s date in 1920, the Philadelphia Phillies traded southpaw Eppa Rixey to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Greasy Neale and Jimmy Ring. Rixey went on to win 179 games with his new team, the most in Reds franchise history.

On today’s date in 1954, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers via the Rule 5 draft.

Klondike Douglass played for the St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia Phillies from 1896-1904. Astyanax Douglass played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1921, and again in 1925. Whammy Douglas played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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drbn8r
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drbn8r

David, I immensely enjoy reading your articles. When I get up each Sunday, it is one of the first things I read to get my day going. There is an error in your article. Lindy McDaniel did play for the Cardinals but his 1970 season was with the Yankees. That year he had 29 SVs with the Bronx Bombers and finished 21st in MVP voting.