Improving Paul Maholm

The Pittsburgh Pirates, to be kind, have not received a desirable return on investment from early-round draft picks in recent years. Despite consistently selecting high in June, the Bucs have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, particularly in 2002 (Bryan Bullington over B.J. Upton with the 1st overall pick) and 2007 (A-Ball bust Daniel Moskos over prospect demigod Matt Wieters).

The Dave Littlefield-run front office that authored those blunders has thankfully been purged. New GM Neal Huntington has made strides to improve the club’s young talent base over the past year by adding players such as Pedro Alvarez, Quinton Miller and Robbie Grossman in the draft, as well as acquiring youngsters such as Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris and Jose Tabata in trades (for more on Pittsburgh’s base of young talent, see Marc Hulet’s post here).

While Littlefield’s draft decisions will live in infamy, his 2003 selection of left-hander Paul Maholm has paid dividends for the organization. The 8th overall pick out of Mississippi State that year, Maholm was not viewed as a quintessential fire-breathing starter, but his polished four-pitch mix (sinker, curve, slider, change) figured to expedite his ascent to Pittsburgh.

The former Bulldog did indeed move quickly, as he rose from the New York Penn League in ’03 all the way to the majors by the summer of 2005. His peripherals along the way fell in line with his solid, not spectacular scouting reports, as he struck out 7.23 batters per nine innings while issuing 3.15 BB/9 and burning plenty of worms (59.5 GB%). In his first big league action in the summer of ’05, Maholm posted a 2.18 ERA in 41.1 innings pitched. That figure, derived from a small amount of work, obviously involved some good fortune (his FIP was 3.84).

Since that point, the 26 year-old has shown steady, gradual improvement:

2006: 5.98 K/9, 4.14 BB/9, 1.44 K/BB, 4.81 FIP
2007: 5.32 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 2.14 K/BB, 4.60 FIP
2008: 6.06 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, 2.21 K/BB, 4.15 FIP

For three years running, Maholm has improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio and his FIP, while keeping his infielders busy with a GB% hovering around 53 percent. The 6-2, 220 pounder also has a three-year upward trend in Outside Swing%: 19.5% in ’06, 20.1% in ’07 and 25.7% in ’08. To boot, Maholm posted the best Contact% of his career this past season (81.5%, down from 85.2% the previous year) and continued to pound the strike zone with a 62 percent First-Pitch Strike% that ranked in the top 25 among all starters.

Pittsburgh’s nominal ace (recently inked to a three-year, arbitration-ending deal with an option year) might not possess the sort of stuff that allows one to dream of future stardom, but Paul Maholm’s average K rate, coupled with pretty solid control and groundball tendencies, make him a good bet to keep his FIP in the low four’s going forward. That might not get you all excited, but Maholm’s brand of above-average, high-probability pitching would be a fine way of rounding out a good fantasy rotation.



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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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kris
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I’ve always been a Maholm fan, and he’s the kind of player you can set your watch to. The start of his 2008 season wasn’t pretty, but after the first three starts of the season he went 6.0+ innings in all but 2 games, 2 games! The first three starts he allowed 5, 0, and 4 ER going 5+ each time so it’s not like it was ugly.

Maholm ended the season with 12 walks in 2 games, but other than that he was solid. If Maholm was on a solid team, he’d have 16-18 W potential with his 61 Quality Start percentage.

Maholm is an innings eater of the best kind. You actually have a shot to win everytime he takes the bump — and he’s one of the few players i’d prefer to value with my gut, rather than a spreadsheet.