Greg Maddux and the Pursuit of the Long Ball

 

Chicks Dig the Long Ball is a commercial that inspired thousands of pitchers to begin taking extra rounds of batting practice in hopes of getting "cat-called" like Mark McGwire. After watching this commercial for the 100th time I'm left wondering whether this lengthy training montage actually improved Greg Maddux as a hitter.

 
 

All we see is one bomb in batting practice as proof. That's just too small of a sample size for me to bite on. Even the chicks weren't convinced as they hooted at Glavine once before returning to their usual prey: Big Mac. 

Let's investigate

The spot ran during the '98 season which means it was likely made in the spring of '98. Through the '97 season Maddux had a career batting average of .173 with only 2 home runs in just under 1,000 at bats. So he was bad, just like most pitchers. No wonder nobody cared about his batting practice.

But let's move to '98.

/checks '98 season

giphy-downsized-smaller.gif
 

He hit .240 in 1998!

The best batting average of his career.

 A newfound focus on offensive workout montages brought Greg Maddux an 85% improvement in his OPS(On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage).

A newfound focus on offensive workout montages brought Greg Maddux an 85% improvement in his OPS(On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage).


Even without any homers he was clearly hitting with more pop as he hit 3 doubles and his Isolated Slugging(ISO) jumped up 33%. His .558 OPS ranked 4th among all pitchers and he had a career high wRC+ of 48. It actually appears that this McGwire induced jealousy had some tangible effects on his hitting. 

What about Glavine?

Tom Glavine was also in this commercial even if history seems to see it as "the Greg Maddux Show." Like Maddux, Glavine didn't have much in the way of power leading up to the 1998 commercial, with only 1 career home run. Unlike Maddux, Glavine was a very strong hitter overall(at least by pitching standards).

 Tom Glavine was consistently one of the best hitting pitchers in the league and didn't change much after the Chicks Dig the Long Ball commercial. Other than having a new workout buddy.

Tom Glavine was consistently one of the best hitting pitchers in the league and didn't change much after the Chicks Dig the Long Ball commercial. Other than having a new workout buddy.


Perhaps Glavine was always getting bashed in the abs with a bat and the commercial merely chronicles Greg Maddux joining in on the fun.

 

Regardless of how good Glavine was before the commercial. He certainly was still elite after it. The duo's strange workout routine gave the Braves two of the best hitting pitchers in baseball for the '98 season. 

 The dynamic duo was worth 1 Win Above Replacement(WAR) just with their bat in 1998. That's on top of the combined 12.3 WAR they provided on the pitching mound that season. 

The dynamic duo was worth 1 Win Above Replacement(WAR) just with their bat in 1998. That's on top of the combined 12.3 WAR they provided on the pitching mound that season. 


Long Ball?

Maddux was always viewed as a tremendous athlete. If his 18 career Gold Gloves don't give that away then hopefully this will...

maddux dive new.gif
 

His mid-career makeover into a good hitter, upon realizing that chicks don't care about his pinpoint control on the mound, is only further testament to his athleticism. 

Now this story doesn't just stop with his career high OPS in the '98 season. After all, this commercial is about his pursuit of the long ball and not the pursuit of three doubles. But it is only fair to give him an entire offseason to work on his new approach at the plate.

And work he did. Maddux followed up his career best '98 season with another great season at the plate. In 1999 he finally brought that power he trained so hard for. His ISO skyrocketed up to .141(for context, Buster Posey's 2017 ISO was .142). And yes, he hit a homer, but not just one. Maddux hit 2 home runs in 1999, doubling his career total in just one season. 

Obviously I had to track down those highlights.


In conclusion, let's highlight Maddux's impressive turnaround as well as add some league-wide context for his stats. 

3 seasons before Chicks Dig the Long Ball(1995-1997):

Maddux through 1997.JPG
 

3 seasons after Chicks Dig the Long Ball(1998-2000):

Maddux after.JPG
 

Greg Maddux's impressive offensive growth after filming the Chicks Dig the Long Ball commercial was much more than just a reflection of league-wide offensive trends. Offense was up all around baseball throughout the 90's and early 2000's but there was no specific spike in offense around '98 or '99 to explain away Maddux's improvement. 

 

Maddux's OPS Spike in Context

 

So there we have it. Empirical evidence that this commercial turned Greg Maddux into a homerun hitter.

"It was just flat-out luck," Maddux said of his homer.

Wait, Greg, Come on! Don't undermine my article.