In his three starts with Atlanta, Paul Maholm has allowed just four runs and gone at least seven innings in every start. Each of the runs he has allowed has been via the home run, with only one being more than a solo shot. Obviously this will change, but Maholm certainly looks like he is fitting well in the Braves rotation.
His 3.53 ERA over the past 305.2 innings is very respectable, and while he is far from a strikeout master, he has improved greatly in that regard this season. In his first few starts in Atlanta, he has struck out 20 and walked just five batters. It is worth noting that each game he has started has been in a rather pitcher friendly environment and against weak offenses of the Padres, Mets, and Astros. This fact should temper expectations for Maholm going forward, but I still like him for the rest of the season.
The spike in strikeout rate looks real when you consider the addition of his cutter. At 30-years-old, Maholm has sort of evolved as a pitcher and is continuing to improve. As a soft-tosser, experience and comfortability does add a bit of help. Although he has allowed three home runs in his first three starts, limiting home runs has been an attribute he has held for the previous three seasons. Moving out of Wrigley and into a more spacious Turner Field should help that 12.2 HR/FB rate decline back closer to a standard 10% rate or potentially even lower, as it was from 2009-2010. His BABIP will likely rise as his home run rate declines, so overall production should not be altered too much if all else remains equal.
That is certainly not a guarantee, that all things will remain equal. However, with his ground ball tendencies and improved strikeout rates and walk rates, expecting a roughly 3.50 ERA is certainly feasible. For the rest of the season ZiPS has Maholm at a 4.13 ERA, with his strikeout-per-nine rate dropping along with his walks-per-nine. I think that is feasible, if those occur. If he is able to maintain a roughly 2.59 K/BB ratio rather than the 2.20 ratio that ZiPS projects, the ERA should remain rather low.
Maholm is far from a top tier starter, but he could be Tim Hudson-esque down the stretch. He will average probably a 2/3 of a strikeout per inning and get ground balls at a high rate, and with a top tier outfield defense and bigger ballpark, he should be able to limit extra base hits. With at least one year in Atlanta after this, Maholm could make a decent dynasty league keeper or even standard league keeper, depending on how many are allowed to be kept. While he lacks top end upside, he does have a rather high floor and is seemingly improving as a pitcher later in his career.
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