View From The Bleachers

March 21, 2012

Paul Maholm: Third Starter to the Rotation Party

Filed under: Featured,General — Josh Cornwall @ 7:57 am

When Paul Maholm signed a one year 4.75 million dollar contract with the Cubs in early January, the response of the fan base as a whole was similar to the type of pitcher he is: uninspiring.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh with my description of Maholm, but he’s not exactly the type of pitcher that is going to provide a spark in the middle of the rotation. The pitcher has never had a season above .500 in his seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he qualified for the league leaders. He’s also never had a season with more than ten wins, which I recognize is more of a reflection of the organization he was a part of.

I am no expert on the play of Paul Maholm other than the occasional start against the Cubs over the last six years, but I’ve seen enough to cast an opinion of him. He’s the type of pitcher that will never win you a game, but rather the guy that has the chance to keep a team in a game. For this team, I’m not completely sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. In 26 starts in 2011, Maholm gave up one or no runs in eight starts. On the flip side he only really bombed three starts (Yes this is something I arbitrarily made up while writing this), which I determine as allowing 6+ runs in at least 5 innings of work.

Again I don’t mean to rail on Mr. Maholm, because I think he can an effective starter at the three spot as long as our expectations for him are in line with what we’ll see. Expectations that I believe that are mild across the board.

Maholm is an inning eater that will get through 5+ innings in every start barring injury. In fact Maholm only had one such start last season, a 6-0 loss to the Marlins in early April where he gave up six earned in 3.2 innings. The Cubs haven’t had that kind of consistent inning eater at the three spot since Lilly was traded to the Dodgers in 2009, albeit Lilly is a much better pitcher than Maholm.

A major reason why Maholm consistently gets a healthy does of innings is because he takes so few pitches to get an at bat result. He averaged only 3.57 pitches per at bat in 2011, which was third in the National League. This is a good thing and bad thing for Maholm. His average amount of pitches lends itself to not giving up too many walks — 50 in 2011 — but when he does get deep into counts, walks follow.

Another positive to Maholm is that he has good control over his stuff. He doesn’t have any pitches that will wow you, but he’s effective enough to get outs. According to the 2012 Bill James Handbook, Maholm threw his fastball 52% of the time.  His average speed on the pitch is around 87 MPH, but rarely hits above the 89 MPH mark. He splits the rest of his pitches predominately between a change up and slider, although he doesn’t throw either above 20% of the time. This to me means he’s picking his spots with his fastball in hope for ground balls, which is something we should see a lot of during his starts.

The Rotation

While Dempster and Garza duke it out for the top dog spot (I expect Garza to pull it out), Maholm has been assured that he’s no longer pitching for a spot in the rotation.

“He’s done well and he’s slated to be one of the starters,” Sveum said Tuesday. “Right now, with the year he put up last year and the way he’s throwing the ball, I don’t see him not being in the rotation.” (Source: Chicago Cubs Report by Doug Padilla)

I do expect Maholm to bounce back record wise in 2012, but I can’t help but feel that the rest of his stats will take a step back. 8-10 wins with a 4+ ERA and 1.50 WHIP are reasonable expectations for him in conjunction with general expectations for this team.  If he can pitch any better than that, then I will believe the FA signing was a success.

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  • Eddie Von White

    Sounds kind of like Ted Lily to me.  I am curious how many games Ryan Dempster “bombed” in 2011 (6+ runs in at least 5 innings of work) – or how many multiple run first innings he gave up.

  • Doc Raker

    If the Cubs had 5 Ted Lilly’s (Cubs era Ted Lilly) in the rotation they would win 100 games. Maholm sounds like a left handed Jason Marquis. 
    Eddie- we have already determined that Ryan Dempster was unlucky in 2011. I would consider him lucky considering the size of his pay check relative to his poor performance.

  • Tommy

    Fair assessment. His earned run average was respectable last year, considering his record so if he could get some decent run support, perhaps a better than .500 record is possible. How many times in those 14 losses last year did he leave with the lead or tied? Just wondering how perhaps the bullpen might have contributed to the lopsidedness of his record.

  • BLPCB

    Wouldn’t it be 6+ runs in at MOST 5 innings of work to qualify as a bomb?

  • Tommy

    OK I just checked. As far as run support is concerned, Of the 26 starts Paul had in 2011, the Pirates scored two or fewer runs in 14 of them. Granted, those were also the games he pitched more poorly. Perhaps he tightens up a bit in those situations. I suspect many pitchers do.

  • Noah_I

    Very different pitcher from Ted Lilly.  Lilly is a flyball/strikeout pitcher.  In his full seasons with the Cubs, Lilly posted K/9s of 7.57 to 8.09 with GB%’s ranging from 31.9% to 33.7%.  Maholm is a pitch to contact guy who relies on inducing groundballs and having his defense make plays behind him.  His career K/9 is just 5.55, but he also has a career 52.3% groundball rate.  Really the only thing that is similar between the two is that they are left handed, middle of the rotation type pitchers.

  • Tommy

    And I think they both like their eggs over easy, too. The comparisons never end.

  • Eddie Von White

    Thanks Noah for the stats. This Maholm guy doesn’t sound half bad. I hope he pans out for us as a middle of the rotation left hander. Maybe he’s good for 12 wins.

  • Eddie Von White

     I just hope his unlucky streak ends in 2012 so he can continue to be lucky.

  • BLPCB

    What about their steaks?

  • http://twitter.com/JCStats Josh Cornwall

    Well giving up a run+ an inning is never a good thing. 

  • BLPCB

    Yes, but you said at least 5 innings. Meaning at a minimum 5 innings. I can be a grammar pig when I want to.

  • Norm Bothwell

    4.25 ERA, 170 innings…

  • http://swantron.com/ jswanson

    Mooing.  

  • Noah_I

    No problem.  He’s a good guy to have around.  I’d rather have him as a 4 or 5 than a three, but he’s a solid, clear major league caliber starting pitcher.

  • Chuck

    I am kind of disappointed in this site when so many paople a souting off Wins as a useful stat.  It is not.  A pitcher can pitch very well and still lose and pitch poorly and still pick up the Win.  While Wins and Losses are vitally important to the team as a whole, the pitcher Win stat is almost meaningless when determining the quality of the pitcher.

    Case in point: 1991 Greg Maddux: 263 IP, 3.35 ERA, 116 ERA+, 6.8 K/9, 1.133 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9
    Pretty good stat line.  It led to a record of 15-11.  Looking strictly at the W/L record would lead you to believe that he was a middle of the road pitcher.

  • Tommy

    Good point, Chuck which is why I look at QS and era. We all have our favorite way of evaluating players and will argue til Kingdom come which is a better way but over all I think most of us are willing to give Paul his chance with fingers crossed. Even tho he had a horrendous record, he managed to turn in quality starts half the time.

  • Chuck

    Quality starts are not realyy all that quality.  3 runs in 6 innings is a 4.50 ERA.  Not exactly Cy Young material there.

  • Tommy

    Yea I wish they’d redefine that particular stat myself but until they do I’ll probably still use it and every time I do someone can tell me how irrelevant it is.

  • http://twitter.com/JCStats Josh Cornwall

    Which is why I added, “is probably more of a reflection of the organization he was a part of.”

    I HATE wins to determine a pitcher. I rarely play fantasy leagues that use that as a pitching stat. But I don’t know that much about Maholm and with looking at his other stats, the win-loss columns were relevant to the kind of pitcher he is.

    Feel free to disagree, but I covered my butt in the first place for a reason.

  • http://twitter.com/JCStats Josh Cornwall

    Man you guys are like a pack of wolves this morning. Haha

  • Tommy

    Those who can write, do. Those who cannot, complain. You’re doing fine, Josh.

  • Norm Bothwell

    IP, K%, BB%, GB%, HR/FB, BABIP, LOB%, FIP are the telling numbers…in my ever so humble opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/JCStats Josh Cornwall

    I agree. But I didn’t want to bore the masses. This is a simple player preview

  • Jedi

    In your never so humble opinion.

  • Jedi

    It’s ok, Sveum went double-negative on us in that quote you used.  We all butcher the King’s English from time to time.

  • http://twitter.com/JCStats Josh Cornwall

    To be honest, I completely overlooked that when I was looking for quotes. Haha.

  • cap’n obvious

    if he isn’t lefthanded, or the Cubs have another good lefty starter, he is a #5. 

  • BLPCB

    what about WHIP?

  • Eddie Von White

     15 wins is a sign of a good pitcher. Did Ted Lily ever have more than 15 wins? And he was considered a good pitcher for the Cubs. Sometimes I wonder what universe I woke up in when batting average doesn’t mean anything, a pitcher’s win/loss record is meaningless, when how one plays offense doesn’t affect their defense and reverse. Statistics are good measuring rods for the quality of a player, but there is so much more to the player than statistics.

    I’m thinking it must be a generation gap.

  • Norm Bothwell

    Does this tell you anything about how good they were:

    Pitcher A: 13-14
    Pitcher B: 16-4

    or

    Pitcher A: 8-16
    Pitcher B: 18-10

    Pitcher A was/is a better pitcher in both cases, but W-L would lead you to believe otherwise. That’s why people say it’s “meaningless”. It’s meaningless as in it doesn’t tell you which pitcher is better.

  • Noah_I

    WHIP is too heavily influenced by the defense behind a pitcher.  This can particularly effect the WHIP of groundball pitchers.

    I find it best to think of it as a spectrum, although it’s an imperfect analogy.  On the one end, there are stats that are useful to tell you what the results were in the past.  On the other end, there are stats that are more useful in making projections.  The more statistical noise involved in the stat (quality of defense, park factors), the more it skews towards the results end.  The less noise, the more it skews towards projections.  No stat is completely on one end of the spectrum or the other, but some are much closer to one end than the other.  WHIP has a lot of noise because it’s so heavily effected by quality of defense.  You can get a similar sort of idea by looking at K/9 (guys who strikeout tend not to get hits), BB/9 (giving you a more direct view of the walks portion of WHIP, which is heavily in the pitcher’s control), GB% (groundballs are more likely to become hits, but less likely to become extra base hits), HR/FB (tells you how many of flyballs become the worst kind of hits) and BABIP (which can be an indicator of quality of defense behind a pitcher).  WHIP is also flawed because all hits are viewed equally.  WHIP punishes groundball pitchers because they give up more singles, but doesn’t reward them for giving up less extra base hits. 

  • Lizzie

    Noah, you rock! That was a great lesson!

  • Norm Bothwell

     If I’m looking back and reviewing the year the pitcher had, I’d look at WHIP…
    If I’m trying to guess how he’ll do in the future, I think breaking it down is more telling because # of hits allowed fluctuates quite a bit.

  • Eddie Von White

    But if he’s getting more wins for his team, I would say he’s more valuable (better) even if his numbers aren’t as good.

  • Norm Bothwell

     But if both pitchers are free agents at the end of the year, do you want Tim Lincecum (13-14) or Ivan Nova (16-4)?

  • BLPCB

    So the pitcher who wins 10-9 is better than the pitcher who loses 1-0? Because the 10-9 winner kept allowing runs and kept getting bailed out? While the 1-0 loser kept his team in the game and got no run support? Or how about the pitcher who leaves with a 10-0 lead after 7 innings, only to have the bullpen blow it. He didn’t get the win, so that must mean he’s a lousy pitcher, right?

  • BLPCB

    Just like how global warming causes blizzards

  • Doc Raker

    Dempster’s 2012 spring has been as unlucky as his 2011. 

  • Doc Raker

    By noise do you mean variables in the formula? Doesn’t BABIP have much noise or many variables?

  • Noah_I

    Doc, that’s a really good point.  Thinking on it, BABIP’s value really is as an indicator of noise.  Is a pitcher’s ERA vastly higher or lower than his FIP or his career numbers would indicate?  Then BABIP can be a strong indicator of the presence of statistical noise or not.  Same deal with a batter with a batting average significantly off career norms.  I’d say I look at BABIP more for hitters than pitchers, since the advanced stats for pitchers generally try to take play result out of the equation if it isn’t a strikeout, walk or home run in the case of FIP.  But play result clearly is included in the advanced offensive stats.

    Although, I’m not sure that noise would in fact mean variables in the formula… but I’m not sure I know how to properly describe it.  Maybe I’d describe it as additional variables that generally lack predictive value?  I’m currently reteaching myself high school math (and hope to start teaching myself college math in the near future) through Khan Academy (Google it, it’s awesome for any subject and free).  So if I can come up with a better way to describe it later, I’ll let you know then.

  • Noah_I

    Thanks Lizzie!  If you’re more interested, FanGraphs has a sabermetrics glossary that’s excellent. 

  • Eddie Von White

    Well, if you’re the Yankees it would be Lincecum, but if you’re the Marinas or the Royals Nova might serve the situation better, as he will probably not demand near as much money, but he very likely could continue to win games for the team. 

  • BLPCB

    2nd time I’ve done this today:
    *facepalm*

  • Norm Bothwell

    But I think you see what I’m getting at.
    If you want to win, you take Lincecum, because he’s a better pitcher.
    People say “wins are meaningless” because they don’t tell you how good the pitcher pitched.

  • BLPCB

    Thank you! This is why I don’t like a lot of baseball stats. Too many stats are dependent on things you can’t control. W-L record depends on run support. To get an RBI you need runners on base (unless you go yard). To leave a runner on base or turn a double play, means that someone had to have reached base.

  • mutantbeast

    Ted Lilly has won 16 games twice in his career.

  • mutantbeast

    Maholm is more of an 4/5 innings eater sort. Gb pitcher who like Volstad, benefits from having a good defensive infield. Ill say this much-the Cubs infielders had better keep alert this year. Maholm and Volstad will gets lots of gbs hit at them. Better hope LeHair can play a decent IB-better than what Ive seen so far.

  • mutantbeast

    Dempster sure bombed in April with his 9plus Era.

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