Missing out on Randall Delgado in all of the Ryan Dempster-related mess was surely something of a disappointment for the Cubs, but credit the Cubs’ brass for getting a piece of value in Arodys Vizcaino. The 21-year-old Vizcaino was Baseball America’s 40th best prospect heading into the season and while Tommy John surgery will keep him from building on that promise this season, it matters little to a franchise whose aspirations are for the future rather than the present, and all it cost them was the National League’s fifth best pitcher in the month of July.
Paul Maholm started the season poorly, giving up six runs in both of his first two starts and striking out just four to help soften the blow to owners’ ERA, but then seemed to find a groove. Over his next four starts, Maholm looked like a totally different pitcher, giving up no more than a run per start and actually racking up a few strikeouts. He regressed as expected, though his results were more middling than actually bad, until he was absolutely rocked by the Diamondbacks on June 23.
It was on the back of that outing in which he gave up six earned runs in just over three innings of work without recording a single strikeout that the new Maholm emerged. Over his next 45 innings, Maholm allowed just five runs, walked just nine hitters and has struck out 32, good for a 6.4 K/9 over that span. Sure, 6.4 isn’t actually a good K/9 mark, but almost a full strikeout higher than his career rate.
It’s Maholm’s inability to miss bats that makes me especially wary about his move to Atlanta. The Braves aren’t particularly adept at turning groundballs — Maholm’s specialty — into outs. They’re allowing a higher team BABIP than the Cubs are by a full 10 points, and much of that comes from their outfield defense, which is certainly above average. The move to Turner Field from Wrigley will help Maholm in the sense that he has given up far more home runs to righties than he has to lefties — nine to three so far this year — and his new park is particularly tough for right-handed hitters to homer in, but I wonder if his platoon splits will become more exaggerated in his new home.
While Maholm gives up more home runs to righties, he actually performs much better against them overall, allowing them a .240/.306/.388 line compared to the .304/.377/.476 line he allows to lefties. While Wrigley suppresses left-handed home runs especially early in the season to the tune of a 95 left-handed home run park factor, Turner is far more favorable with a left handed home run park factor of 104. Don’t be surprised if Maholm gets even tougher on righties now that he doesn’t have to worry as much about giving up as many cheap home runs, but equally don’t be surprised if the .853 OPS he allows to lefties climbs even closer to .900 with the shorter home porch.
It is to Maholm’s credit that there isn’t one specific thing he’s changed with respect to his pitch usage that has precipitated this run of excellent form, but it does make me feel like we’ve seen this from Maholm before. Even in the seasons where he’s a solidly above average pitcher on the whole, he tends to fluctuate between runs of being average and then being well above average rather than pitching at or near the same level all year. The takeaway here isn’t that Maholm is going to be a bad pitcher in Atlanta or that owners should be dropping Maholm and picking up Casey Coleman or anything like that, but if there’s someone in your leagues that’s hurting for pitching, Maholm might bring back an oversized return with a month’s worth of good starts bolstering his resume. Theo Epstein and company did an admirable job transmuting Maholm into a solid return, now might be a good time for fantasy owners to do the same before the other shoe drops.