Paul Maholm and Greatness

Last night, Paul Maholm started the 238th game of his career, twirling six one-run innings on the way to a 3-2 Braves victory. You may not realize it — perhaps because you didn’t realize that he’s from Mississippi, or don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about Paul Maholm — but Paul Maholm has the fourth-most starts of anyone ever born in Mississippi. (Roy Oswalt is first, of course.) After nine seasons as a more or less slightly-below-average starting pitcher, it’s safe to say that Paul Maholm is one of the greatest baseball players in the history of his home state.

The best players from Mississippi are Dave Parker, an MVP who was a slightly worse player than Dale Murphy; Frank White, a defensive whiz and iconic Royal; Chet Lemon, a dark-horse Hall of Fame candidate at the keystone; Ellis Burks, who was better than you remember; and Oswalt. Maholm is somewhere between the third- and sixth-best pitcher in Mississippi history.

Maholm’s greatness, in this sense, comes not so much from his own personal dominance as from a small pool of competitors. On the other hand, it isn’t that small. Mississippi has a population just under three million, making it the 31st-largest state in the country; the town of his birth, Greenwood, has a population around 16,000 but has still produced four major leaguers, all pitchers, of whom Maholm is by far the best.

(The Royals’ Louis Coleman was born in the same town. So were the novelist Donna Tartt and Byron De La Beckwith, who assassinated Medgar Evers. A suburb of Greenwood, Itta Bena, was the birthplace of two troubled leaders in the civil rights movement: Marion Berry, who became the mayor of Washington, DC and was later accused of smoking crack; and James Bevel, who was almost certainly insane. Mississippi is complicated.)

Many Mississippians are justly remembered for their nicknames rather than their performance, especially Vinegar Bend Mizell, Oil Can Boyd, Boo Ferriss, and the beautifully named Slim Love. (Their actual given names: Wilmer, Dennis, Dave, and Edward.) Boyd and Mizell were fairly similar players: they were basically league-average starters who hung around for a decade, a bit like Maholm, except that Maholm is likely to stay around for much longer. (After all, he’s a lefty.)

Ferriss looked like a star in the making but he only pitched three seasons before injuries wrecked his career. Slim Love only pitched 500 forgettable innings in the majors — but his legacy could get a big boost if someone on the internet realizes that there was a New York Yankee named Slim Love and uses that as the name of their indie side project.

So, Paul Maholm’s “greatness” is complicated, and requires context. That’s true for the state he comes from. It’s also true for the organization that drafted him. In the decade after drafting Jason Kendall in 1992, the Pirates drafted exactly one player who became an average major leaguer: Kris Benson in 1996, who was exactly average.

Maholm in 2003 was the team’s best draft success since the team’s last playoff appearance. Two years after that, the Pirates drafted Andrew McCutchen, the single biggest reason that the Pirates have gone from the cellar to contending for the division. But Maholm was part of that turnaround.

Over the last two years, Maholm has thrown nearly 200 innings for the Braves, and is on his way to his second playoff appearance in two years. He was a key midseason acquisition last year, helping the Braves to secure a Wild Card spot last year and playing a role in the Braves’ patchwork rotation this year. He has only played for three teams: Pittsburgh from 2005 to 2011, Chicago for the first half of 2012 and Atlanta since then.

The Braves are the first good team he’s played for, and he has played a key role: while homegrown hotshot prospects Mike Minor and Julio Teheran have turned into borderline aces, other homegrown pitchers like Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy have spent time recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Tim Hudson has been lost for the year. Two hundred league-average innings are rarely as easy to find as they seem.

In baseball parlance, Paul Maholm is “a guy”: he isn’t good, he isn’t bad, but he’s there. He’s like the smallest giant in the Phantom Tollbooth. He looks good in comparison to others. But in the end, that isn’t such a bad thing.



Print This Post



Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Daniel
Guest
Daniel
2 years 9 months ago

I definitely respect Paul Maholm… his ability to change speeds and arm slots to get great hitters out. and when he is on it is fun to watch him

Cus
Guest
Cus
2 years 9 months ago

FWIW – As a pitcher you may admit to changing release points but you will never say “Yeah, I really changed my arm slot to get that added slurviness.”

Wil
Guest
Wil
2 years 9 months ago

I think it’s a stretch to call Maholm’s performance with the Braves as “key” to anything they have done. He has been a useful piece but not overly so and certainly not key.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby
2 years 9 months ago

Anyone who evokes mention of The Phantom Tollbooth is great in my book. +10

Mississippi Travel Brochures
Guest
Mississippi Travel Brochures
2 years 9 months ago

From Vinegar Bend Mizell to Byron de la Beckwith: Mississippi is COMPLICATED, indeed. Come see us!

Nathan Nathan
Guest
Nathan Nathan
2 years 9 months ago

Great article.

While I know we’re just talking about MLB players, it’s still worth mentioning James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, born in Starkvegasville, MS, in 1903. He’s in the Hall of Fame, even!

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
2 years 9 months ago

This is a small giant of a comment, but: I thought Dave Parker was a little bit better player than Dale Murphy.

Though they have the somewhat the same profile as a HOF candidate: both sincerely great when young, but fell off badly in their thirties.

Drew
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

After reading your remark about Chet Lemon, I clicked around and saw he’s got more WAR than Jim Rice and a better overall line than Andre Dawson (7 less WAR due to career length).

Any idiot who voted for those two should be directed over to Lemon’s page. I’ll bet he didnt get a single vote when he was eligible. This is why the HOF is a joke.

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
2 years 9 months ago

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_balloting,_1996

Chet Lemon did, in fact, get a single vote when he was eligible. It took me 30 seconds to look that up.

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
2 years 9 months ago

Lemon was a fave of Bill James.

He was a everything-did-well, but-nothing-stand-out type of guy. Never hit 25 home runs, average .273 career, never knocked in 100 runs (or scored 100 either), never stole a lot (actually, he was a bad base stealer, getting caught more than he stole); he was a three-time all-star, and never even logged one MVP vote…. really, he’s hard to drum up a Hall of Fame case for him, except through WAR.

Drew
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

Right – which is why Rice and Dawson have no business being in there.

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
2 years 9 months ago

Did Lemon have a large amount of his WAR from defense? Looking at their offense, Rice and Dawson look like they had much more.

(Incidentally, Rice and Dawson would have not gotten HOF votes from me.)

Drew
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

I looked it up 20 seconds after I posted. Beat you!

some.guy
Guest
some.guy
2 years 9 months ago

It’s called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Talent.

primi timpano
Guest
primi timpano
2 years 9 months ago

At least one thing good has come from Mississippi.

NATS Fan
Guest
NATS Fan
2 years 9 months ago

You must hate ELVIS! He came from Northern MS.

Benzedrine
Guest
Benzedrine
2 years 9 months ago

Dayn Perry

Pennsy
Guest
Pennsy
2 years 9 months ago

Marion Barry was accused of smoking crack? I hate to break it to you, but he smoked that crack.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

It is technically true that he was accused of smoking crack. Since there was video tape and he was convicted and spent time in jail, it is an odd phrasing.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 9 months ago

The sun was also accused of rising today.

matt w
Guest
matt w
2 years 9 months ago

Tiny nitpick: The DC politician is named Marion Barry. Marion Berry, as you have it in the post, is a former Congressman best known for calling another Congressman a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod.”

(This would not be remotely worth noting if it did not give me the chance to say “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod.”)

matt w
Guest
matt w
2 years 9 months ago

“In the decade after drafting Jason Kendall in 1992, the Pirates drafted exactly one player who became an average major leaguer: Kris Benson in 1996, who was exactly average.”

Oh that is not true. They drafted Bronson Arroyo! And Mike Gonzalez is a pretty decent reliever, so nice they drafted him twice! And, uh, Ryan Doumit is average at somethings! And in 2000 they drafted Chris Young the pitcher and Jose Bautista, who became average and awesome respectively, though not before being traded away for flotsam!

God, I looked through the Pirates’ draft history for that decade and now I don’t feel so good.

Chicago Mark
Guest
Chicago Mark
2 years 9 months ago

Kris Benson. Do you mean the Mr. Anna Benson? I see she was arrested for breaking and entering…..her ex-husbands home in 2012. She was babealishiss way back when. And she was never exactly average.

Chicago Mark
Guest
Chicago Mark
2 years 9 months ago

Shoot, make that arrest….July, 2013

Minjy
Guest
Minjy
2 years 9 months ago

great article – I was always a casual baseball fan but PAUL MAHOLM is the reason I became an insane/fangraphs one. Growing up in the PGH area our team was obviously awful for my entire life, but Maholm was a high 1st round draft pick and did well in the minors and when he came up I followed closely. Watching Maholm pitch – I used to be amazed at how many different pitches he would throw in a game, and it led me to doing research on pitch types which spiraled into permanent debilitating baseball addiction. He is still one of my favorite pitchers to watch, he is so sneaky and crafty! I love that.

Great article and thanks for existing Fangraphs

Kyle
Member
Kyle
2 years 9 months ago

Beltin’ Bill Melton has a decent nickname, if only known in Chicago.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

I feel like every time Maholm is getting ready to go up against the meat of the other team’s lineup, he’s going to give up 4-5 runs, but he somehow gets it done. A true lefty. I could definitely see him pitching for a long time.

BH
Guest
BH
2 years 9 months ago

“…in the Braves patchwork rotation this year”

What?! Braves were the last team to use a sixth starter. They have only used 7 the entire season and the 7th starter was Beachy coming back from the DL. Outside of the injury to Hudson it’s been a remarkably stable rotation. Maybe I’m misinterpreting patchwork. That and Medlen’s TJ recovery was done well before Maholm came to the braves and is completely irrelevant.

But my Braves nitpicking aside, great article about a guy that just keeps doing what he does day in and day out, stays under the radar, and always seems like the consummate professional.

Dan Ugglas Forearm
Member
Dan Ugglas Forearm
2 years 9 months ago

It’s the eephus.

Justin
Guest
Justin
2 years 9 months ago

Paul Maholm and the word “great” should never be mentioned in the same sentence.

Mark
Guest
Mark
2 years 8 months ago

Paul Maholm has been great at home this season. True story.

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
2 years 9 months ago

I just realized, scanning the article again, that you described Chet Lemon as a “dark-horse Hall of Fame candidate at the keystone”. Chet Lemon — I’m sure that you know this — was a centerfielder. Maybe your sentence got screwed up because you listed Frank White just before Lemon?

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
2 years 9 months ago

Or maybe you were thinking “Lou Whitaker”. By me, a credible Hall of Fame candidate, who fell off (I think) on his first year.

Natty Bunto
Guest
Natty Bunto
2 years 9 months ago

I saw that too, and it forced me to go read about the origin of the term “keystone” applied to 2nd base. In the process I learned that it was so nicknamed because first-second-third forms a kind of “arch”, which would make the middle base the “keystone” of the arch.

If you think about it, the outfield in baseball does exactly the same thing, with the centerfielder being the “keystone” position out there. So in a cutting-edge, expanding/diluting-the-vernacular kinda way, Alex was not so totally, er, off base.

Please upvote me to support my job application as a UN interpreter.

Eric Hume
Guest
Eric Hume
2 years 9 months ago

Alex, I’d like to know why Maholm’s last name is pronounced “Mahollom”.

After all, you don’t pronounce Mike Holmgren as “Hollomgren”.

Paul Maholm should be pronounced “Ma-hollm”. Or “May-holm”.

wpDiscuz