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Featured Sunday Read

The Sunday Read: Another Maddux hopes to impact baseball … with her math

(Courtesy of the Maddux family)

 

 

What her dad received from the maker in baseball ability and acumen, Lexie Maddux received in math.

She envisions complicated formulas when others just see 2 + 2. She enjoys the kind of math that uses more symbols than numbers, her father, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, said.

Lexie did all right with the baseball smarts, too, and today’s math in the national pastime just doesn’t add up to her.

The analytics running rampant through the game don’t provide the best way to measure a pitcher’s performance, she said. A statistic like BABIP (batting average on balls in play) doesn’t give a full picture of a pitcher.

So, she did something about it.

Welcome to Commandviation, trademarked formulas that have accurately predicted the Cy Young winners in both leagues the past two seasons.

Yes, Commandviation leans old school, but, no, it’s not necessarily thumbing her nose at new baseball math. But that math is pulling the game away from what she was taught and what her family rode to big-league success.

“I think it’s just really frustrating to me as a math person to see things be heading in a different direction than what I think is relative to the actual sport itself,” she said. “I started looking into the metrics they use, and I was like, ‘These just make no sense.’ They’re not measuring things that equate to winning games.”

Never one to shy away from a math challenge, Maddux is seeking to dispel the baseball notion that there is no way to calculate command. Commandviation produces two primary indexes among five total: the Command Execution Index (CXI) for all pitchers and the Starter Command Index (SCI) that zeroes in only on starters.

Pitchers can have a CXI rating for each game as well as a season.

The statistics Maddux uses in her indexes are readily available, though her exact combination is proprietary information. Generally speaking, more innings and fewer baserunners result in higher scores.

“It’s actually pretty simple,” she said. “I just don’t feel like [analytics] are measuring things that have value toward your performance and how good you are.”

Taking command

Mike Maddux has long believed that the ability to command pitches and change speeds equal success.

And stop walking hitters.

A pitcher who does that doesn’t need upper-90s velocity or outrageous spin rates on his breaking ball.

Maddux carved out a nice career doing that. His younger brother carved out an historic career doing that.

Lexie Maddux, who has degrees in mechanical engineering and mathematics from SMU, started crunching numbers in 2022. Her sounding board was her dad, who helped her identify numbers that best indicate command. He was skeptical as she worked on the right formula, hanging up on his youngest daughter three times.

Tinkering ensued, and he didn’t hang up when Justin Verlander ended up atop the leaderboard. Lexie Maddux then went back and ran the numbers since to 1986, when her father and uncle made their MLB debuts.

Uncle Greg came out on top but had a recommendation.

“He was like, “Well, obviously I like it,'” said Lexie, a software consultant and partner for a construction company in Dallas. “But the person with the best command is Nolan Ryan.”

Sure enough, when she went back to 1974 and ran the numbers, Ryan came out first and the four-time Cy Young-winning Maddux was second.

Lexie Maddux takes most of her baseball cues from what she was taught by her father, who spent 15 seasons pitching in the majors and who has been a big-league pitching coach since 2003. Mike Maddux doesn’t think analytics aren’t without some value, but they should be used as a tool for successful pitching and not the be-all end-all.

At one of his stops, he was told by a numbers guru that a certain pitcher should just throw his fastball because the pitch characteristics were off the charts.

“Where should he throw it?” Maddux asked.

“That matters?” the “expert” responded.

What drives both Madduxes crazy, and probably Greg, too, is the notion of being unlucky. Analytics are probabilities, a percentage of what is likely to happen, and if something doesn’t happen as the analytics had suggested, it’s dismissed bad luck.

Fightin’ words.

“You do your homework and set your defense, you turn a lot of your hard work into them being unlucky,” Mike Maddux said. “That’s the baseball part of it: We make our own luck.”

Commandviation tries to explain the luck gap.

“The Command Execution Index, it’s a blend of what is really luck and what was actually you just executing what you intended to,” Lexie Maddux said. “Your Starter Command Index, that’s how command you have as a starter and how well you executive your pitches while maintaining that command?”

Next steps

Maddux has not presented Commandviation to any teams or players, though the goal is helping teams win and keeping players healthy by not chasing their Rapsodo numbers. Teams could use it as a scouting tool when making trades or signing free agents. College teams could use it to evaluate pitchers in the transfer portal.

Maddux has also toyed with the idea of selling subscriptions that would allow players of all levels a way to monitor their performance over the course of a season and a career.

“I’m confident in the formulas,” she said. “I don’t think I would change them at all. I think it would be more what is the best method of providing the information that’s most useful. What would be the most useful way to receive the information or to utilize the information?”

Maddux believes that Commandviation can help make baseball players and teams better. She made a believer out of her dad, who used the indexes last season to get a feel for pitchers the Rangers acquired or where hoping to acquire.

Two of the starters added, Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer, saw their index ratings improve after being reunited with their old pitching coach.

The Rangers won the World Series.

“That’s what I want it to do,” Lexie Maddux said. “The goal is, if you’re a numbers person and you’re a player and you want to work on getting a number higher, work on this number because this number will make you a winner.”

Jeff Wilson, jeff@rangerstoday.com

Jeff Wilson

Sports reporter for two decades. Sports fan for life. Covers the Texas Rangers. Graduate of TCU. Colorado native. Author of Purple Passion: TCU Football Legends (https://t.co/2fmXLyympx). Follow me on Twitter at @JeffWilsonTXR

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7 Comments

  1. Boo January 7, 2024

    I didn’t know that Lexie was a full blown smarty pants! Impressive!

    Reply
  2. ward4807@gmail.com January 7, 2024

    Her math skills are amazing, but you did a great job of trying to explain it for us non-PHDs.

    Reply
  3. Jay Ballauer January 8, 2024

    So the all-time leader in walks finished 1st on her list of pitchers with the best command?

    Reply
    1. Jeff Wilson January 8, 2024

      Same guy with the fewest hits per nine innings all time and the most strikeouts.

      Reply
    2. Alexandra Maddux January 8, 2024

      He actually finished with the best execution. Had traffic, but successfully executed, taking care of it. Gerrit Cole finished with the best command.

      Reply
  4. Diane Pitalue January 8, 2024

    Thanks for the article! Loved learning about more metrics and how they can be applied.

    Reply
  5. deGrom Texas Ranger January 9, 2024

    Analytics are like a calculator on a Physics exam. They are a good tool to assist with thinking, but result to epic failure when used by one unable to apply that information properly.

    Reply

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