Chicago Cubs Sign LHP Paul Maholm


NOTE: The left-handed Paul McCartney should NOT be
confused with his Maholmish southclaw brethren.

Late Monday night, Paul Maholm broke the news via his own Twitter account that he has signed with the Chicago Cubs. This morning, Bruce Levine reported that the deal will pay him $4.25 million for 2012 with a $500,000 buyout of a $6.5 million option for 2013, so the deal will either be 1/4.75 or 2/10.75. This puts his guaranteed money at just slightly less than what the Indians took on to acquire Derek Lowe. If he pitches well and the Cubs pick up the option, he’ll essentially have gotten the same deal as Chris Capuano. The market for this kind of pitcher has been pretty clearly defined.

What can we expect from Maholm? And is he a good fit for the Cubs rotation?

At the end of the 2011, I named Maholm as a Good Risk among the 2012 starting pitcher free agents:

Apparently, the Pittsburgh Pirates may try to shop Paul Maholm in the hopes someone may find his ~$10M club option worthy of throwing a prospect Pitt-town’s way, but if not, he could make an interesting free agent target. Maholm has consistently beat his xFIP for the last three years and could potentially blossom with a strong defense and legitimate team around him.

Well, the Pirates declined Maholm’s option, meaning he is likely to earn less than $10M with the Cubs (assuming the logic holds that if the Pirates would not pay $10M, then the rebuilding Cubs would not either). According to WAR, Maholm has actually been worth a touch over $10M per season over the last four years, but not the last two.

He will be 30 years old in 2012, which — in pitcher years — is like the age of not-young. Given how pitchers age sporadically and mysteriously, Maholm could pitch another 10 years or another 2 — it’s hard to say — but he is not particularly young anymore and he probably is as good now as he ever may be.

For the last three seasons — from 2009 through 2011 — Maholm has sustained about a 7.5% HR/FB ratio (while, somewhat alarmingly, his fastball and changeup velocities have decreased). However, he also sustained about a 12.5% HR/FB ratio from 2006 through 2008. Which do we trust? Well, typically the most recent one (7.5%), which is good news for the Cubs because those higher rates could make him a launch pad in Wrigley’s fickle air currents.

Nonetheless, Cubs fan can and should expect a nice league average FIP from Maholm, who induces a decent amount of ground balls, and can stay relatively healthy. Maholm did miss several starts with shoulder issues in 2011, and his SIERA (4.22) — which has predicted his ERA better than any other stat — suggests his 2011 ERA (3.66) may not be so repeatable in 2012.

With the Matt Garza trade talks continuing to gain momentum, Maholm figures to be a nice stopgap, though certainly a downgrade, in Garza’s potential absence. If nothing else, Maholm delays the returns of such pitchers as Casey Coleman and James Russell to the rotation — pitchers who are simply not ready for MLB starter duties.

Ultimately, Maholm is a decent, average starter (he has a FIP- of exactly 100), quite capable of a 2.0 WAR season, and he is cheap. Also, the Cubs are still in rebuilding mode. As GM Jed Hoyer said before the trade was official:

“We’re not finished acquiring starting pitchers,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday. “We want to have as much depth as possible. At this point, we’re still very much in the process of gathering as many quality arms as we can, and we’ll put those pieces in place as we get closer to Spring Training.”

Indeed, the Cubs are still far from being an elite, consistently competitive team, but good, small moves like this bring them ever closer.



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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


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Mike
Guest
Mike
4 years 6 months ago

How has he beat his xFIP the past three years? Am I missing something?

Unless by “beat” you mean “had a higher ERA than xFIP”

Jack Burton
Guest
Jack Burton
4 years 6 months ago

I noticed the same thing. Considering he goes on to talk about a low HR/FB rate, I believe he means that his FIP has beaten his xFIP for 3 years, but the wording he chose was certainly confusing.

Mike
Guest
Mike
4 years 6 months ago

right, but his ERA was worse than his FIP in two of those three years.

I really have no idea what the author was getting at with that statement.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 6 months ago

A good move for the Cubs–risky with a high upside. To think the Giants spent that kind of money for a 2nd LOOGY.

Daniel
Member
Daniel
4 years 6 months ago

I see almost no risk. $4.75 million dollars? There is no risk in that. This move is very nearly all upside.

DD
Guest
DD
4 years 6 months ago

Explain the upside in a 30 year old mediocre starter with low velocity and K rates.

lady chinky eyes
Guest
lady chinky eyes
4 years 6 months ago

2012 Cubs: A race to 99 losses.

JD
Guest
JD
4 years 6 months ago

Sometimes, it’s the slowest runner that wins the race. If, by winning, you mean losing. If, by winning, you mean winning, then, yeah, it’s usually the slowest runner. That’s just how races go.

Clark Addison
Guest
Clark Addison
4 years 6 months ago

I’ll take 99 losses and hope for a genuine rebuild over 5 more years of overpaid veterans underachieving.

I, for one, welcome our JedStein overlords…

Dan
Member
4 years 6 months ago

This is the kind of deal you do all day long for this kind of starting pitcher.

80% chance for 2 WAR
10% for 3 WAR

Little to no risk of a return on investment

Tony
Guest
Tony
4 years 6 months ago

The new Cubs’ management have been making a lot of value moves recently on shorter contracts. I think this is less about building a good team in 2012 and more of acquiring good/cheap trade assets. I have a strong feeling most of these guys will be moved at the deadline to contenders, netting the Cubs even more prospects for their rebuilding.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 6 months ago

That’s an interesting thought! It’s the kind of thing I would do on a video game, and I’d give Epstein and Co. major props if they managed to pull it off in real life. Still though, worst case scenario, these guys provide a cheap stopgap until the prospects they DO have are ready. One thing I’ve noticed about the Red Sox prospects over the years is that the really good ones (for example Papelbon, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Youkilis) contribute immediately, while the Cubs have had a pattern of calling up guys too early and having them fizzle out (Hee-Seop Choi, Corey Patterson, etc.). Some of that can be attributed to luck, but it seems like Hoyer and Epstein really know what they are doing when it comes to player development. Perhaps these signings will simply allow the Cubs to abstain from callign up top prospects too early. Cubs fans, start getting excited for 2016!

FromThisSeat.com
Guest
4 years 6 months ago

I agree, it is hard to determine the shelf life of a major league pitcher. Correct me if I’m wrong but did I hear a team has contacted Jamie Moyer?
A solid signing for the Cubs, let’s see how Theo does with less money to spend on free agents. Maybe he isn’t a genius?

Terry Boers
Guest
Terry Boers
4 years 6 months ago

Anyone who lets Billy Crystal get a foul tip off them sucks at baseball.

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