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.
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.