For both to be second-round picks, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux sure took their lumps at the onset of their major league careers.
Maddux was taken first among the two in the 1984 Draft, going 31st-overall to the Cubs (chosen immediately after two players that never played an inning in MLB). Glavine was chosen 47th by the Braves (three spots before the Yankees’ Al Leiter). That order would continue when it came to their big league debuts — Maddux as a 20-year-old in 1986 and then Glavine a year older and a year later.
Who knew that almost 25 years later the conclusion of their careers would look so similar…
For Maddux, his cup of coffee in 1986 and first full season in 1987 were easily the worst stretches of his 23-year career. In those first 186.2 innings (32 starts / 4 relief app.), Maddux gave the struggling Cubs a 5.59 ERA to go along with an uninspiring rate of 5.8 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. Chicago won just 70 and 76 games in ’86 and ’87, respectively. Joe Posnanski from The Athletic shared Maddux’s early struggles in a recent profile piece:
“Maddux had only just turned 22. And he was coming off what can only be described as a disastrous season. In 1987, Maddux finished with the worst ERA (5.61) and highest WHIP (1.638) in the National League. He had some nice moments — a four-hit shutout in Montreal, for example — but all in all, it was so bad that the Cubs sent him back to Des Moines for a few days in the middle of the season just to get his head on straight.”
The fact that the Cubs were so bad just added salt to the wound. However, after a rough Spring Training in 1988, Maddux finally caught his stride with the Cubs and led the team’s starting rotation (5.6 bWAR). His breakout didn’t show up in the standings, as Chicago once again finished near the bottom at 77-85.
That 1988 campaign was the start of Maddux’s Hall-of-Fame run, arriving almost 200 innings into his big league career… and the rest was history. 335 wins (194 with the Braves) and 4 Cy Young awards only scratches the surface of what Maddux accomplished. He was of course enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 2014, receiving 97.2% of the ballot.
It took Glavine longer to find his Hall-of-Fame ways, let alone even an above-average performance in the majors.
Glavine’s first 646 innings with the Braves (1987-1990) were mediocre at best, as the lefty posted a 4.29 ERA, 33-41 record and just 4.5 K/9 during that span. There were even trade talks after he lost a major-league high 17 games in 1988 — his first full-season, after a 9-start cup of coffee the year prior.
Like a light switch, Glavine turned it all around in 1991 and so did the Braves. After finishing in fifth or sixth in each of the last six seasons (1985-90), the Braves made it to the World Series and their first postseason play in 8 years.
Glavine led the staff with 9.2 bWAR as well as the majors in wins (20) while also claiming the National League Cy Young award. Overall, the then-25 year old finished 20-11 with a 2.55 ERA, which, when adjusted for the league in that era, came out to a ridiculous 153 ERA+ (best in the NL that year).
Including that Cy Young season, Glavine would go on to finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd from 1991-93 in the Cy Young vote, and the Hall-of-Fame career had begun.
In the end, Glavine’s 10 All-Star appearances, ’95 World Series ring, and WS MVP set up Glavine’s enshrinement in Cooperstown. That happened in 2014 as the lefty received 91.9% of the ballot, joining his teammate Maddux and longtime manager Bobby Cox. Among southpaws, Glavine’s 305 career wins are fourth all-time.
All of that to say this…
At a time when the Braves are filled to the brim with young and developing starting pitchers, it’s crucial that we remind ourselves how insignificant the beginnings of a career really are.
Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint are all in their initial stages of their big-league careers. Though, all three have experienced varying degrees of regression over the last couple of seasons, resulting in quite the hit to each of their stocks as prospects.
Then there’s Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson, who enter the 2020 season as the “next wave” of young arms within the Braves’ organization. All of them have reached the highest point of the minor-league ladder, and done so with a rather strong display of dominance. These three have experienced a rather large influx in hype — and deservedly so — but they too will have their struggles soon.
The next couple of seasons will require a delicate balance of patience and fortitude by Braves Nation. There will be growing pains for these six aspiring pitchers as well as the next group of prospects that follow.
It’s important that we remember two Hall of Fame pitchers — Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux — who looked like busts from the start, but both wound up putting together two distinct and unprecedented Major League careers.
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