February 25, 2013 at 10:47 am by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
If you follow me on Twitter or have been around the site the past week, you probably think I have a weird fascination with Paul Maholm. That may or may not be true. I do think he is more intriguing than most though. It’s clear he doesn’t have the exciting upside of Medlen, Minor and Teheran, or the past high level of performance like Tim Hudson. Maholm is just a league average left-handed pitcher who doesn’t exactly light up the gun, but there is still some real value behind all that.
Paul Maholm has been one of the more consistent pitchers since his first full season in 2006. In the past seven years, he has averaged 30 starts and 185 IP at what would be considered league average (103 ERA-/101 FIP-/ 99 xFIP-). He has also been fairly healthy, only missing a couple of starts in 2011 due to a shoulder injury. Now, this doesn’t exactly mean he will continue to do so, no pitcher is a guarantee, but it is definitely a positive to take note of.
Basically every projection of Maholm has him repeating what he has done over the past seven seasons; between 170-190 innings with a FIP between 3.80 and 4.20. Using those as rough, but comfortable estimates, I went back and quickly looked at pitchers who fell into both of those groups over the past 10 seasons. There were 56 pitchers who met both requirements and resulted in an average fWAR of ~2.65 during those seasons. This is reasonable of what most expect from Maholm this season, nothing groundbreaking.
Using $5/win as an assumption for 2013, which could be closer to the lower end, that projects to be worth around $13.25M in value. Considering the Braves picked his option, only $6.5M, Maholm could bring a strong return this year, about twice as much as what they will be paying him. Having the team friendly club option was one of the bigger reasons I liked the trade for him at the deadline last season.
Looking closer, Maholm has shown a fairly large R/L split (4.44 FIP v. RHB, 3.10 FIP v. LHB) throughout his career. As one could expect from a left-handed pitcher who doesn’t break 90MHP, getting right-handed batters out isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. As Ben noted in the rotation podcast, Mahlom has added a cutter. Depending on the PITCH f/x source, there are discrepancies about when he actually began throwing the pitch or when it became classified as a cutter. Either way, we can basically agree that it was added in either 2011 or 2012. According to Brooks Baseball, Maholm threw his cutter the majority of the time against right-handers (21% v. RHB, 5% v. LHB), as complement to his changeup (17% v. RHB, 1% v. LHB) and sinker (28% v. RHB, 36% v. LHB) last season.
Looking at splits over individual seasons is always tricky because it can be filled with small samples, but looking strictly at how he has fared versus right-handers, we can at least get a sample of around 650 batters faced per season. Maholm would appear to have improved in that area over the course of his career. Whether you look at his triple slash, wOBA against, or K%, he has had his two best seasons against righties in 2011 and 2012. Continuing to implement the cutter could continue to show marginal overall improvement considering he faces right-handers around 80% of the time. It’s something to look out for this season to see if this trend continues.
Maholm will never carry the headlines or all of a suddenly form into anything more that a middle of the rotation type starter, but his value to the team this season shouldn’t be overlooked.