Scouting Pitchers: Paul Maholm

Scouting Pitchers: Paul Maholm

This article is part of our Scouting Pitchers series.

Statistics through 4/26/09

This week, we'll check out Maholm, the maturing Pirate left-hander who ranks second in the NL in wins (3), sixth in ERA (2.03), and sixth in innings (26.2). Maholm has come a long way since his rookie season with Pittsburgh in 2006 (8-10, 4.76), and we'll see whether his development makes him a safe fantasy investment.

Maholm was drafted with a first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2003 out of Mississippi State University. He was chosen before John Danks (ninth), Ian Stewart (tenth), Conor Jackson (19th), Brandon Wood (23rd) and Chad Billingsley (24th). Maholm was cruising through Class A in 2004 when a line drive hit him in the face in May, breaking his nose and ending his year.

Maholm made up for lost time in 2005 as he went through Double-A (6-2, 3.20 in 16 starts), Triple-A (1-1, 3.53 in six starts) and Pittsburgh (3-1, 2.18 in six starts). He followed his mediocre rookie year with similar struggles in 2007, going 10-15, 5.02 in 29 starts. He was very hittable on the road, with ERAs of 6.14 in 2006 and 6.14 in 2007. Right-handers hit well over .300 against him.

Last year, Maholm improved his performance away from Pittsburgh to a 4.13 ERA, and limited the damage from right-handers (.279). He finished at 9-9, 3.71, with the fifth-worst run support of all qualifying NL starters. Since 2006, the opposition's OPS against Maholm has declined each year: .820, .790, .721, .585.

Paul Maholm: (Lifetime G/F 1.21)

  		Rating:  		%Thrown:  Fastball		50		60  Curveball	55		20  Slider		55		10  Changeup	55		10  Control		65  Delivery		50  Composure	60  

Maholm is the prototypical crafty left-hander. He is at his best when he gets ahead in the count with his 86-90 mph fastball and then uses his off-speed pitches to generate a ground ball or popup. When he falls behind in the count, he's in trouble. His G/F ratio has stayed stable at 1.20 over his career, and this year it is 0.91. Maholm also uses his 71-78 mph curveball to get ahead in the count, and he controls it well. His 78-82 mph slider and 82-84 mph changeup are both average pitches.

It appears Maholm can break his changeup down and away from both a right-hander and a left-hander. This makes his changeup hard to spot when he throws it to a left-hander, as his slider looks almost the same. Maholm appears to be the rare pitcher who throws his changeup harder than his slider. Most pitchers throw their sliders harder or at the same velocity as their changeup.

Maholm is the type of pitcher whose demise sabermetricians gleefully forecast- not without reason. Maholm's batting average against on balls in play is just .239 this year, with a typical BABIP about .290. Statisticians usually love power pitchers and are very skeptical of pitchers like Maholm. As the above link to the ESPN chart shows, Maholm's current .239 average against when the ball is in play is especially low for his strikeout rate (3.38 per nine IP). Either Maholm must strike out more hitters, or this average - and his ERA - will rise.

Maholm doesn't fool many hitters, though. He will induce an occasional whiff with a slider or sinker in the dirt, but his pitchers don't have a lot of velocity or separation. Maholm is what he is - a 26-year-old with the repertoire of a 31-year-old.

That's not to say he can't pitch. Maholm works both sides of the plate, and his slider can be very effective when it breaks sharply. He doesn't make many mistakes over the plate, but right-handers can fight him off when he comes inside. Maholm has used just 14.6 pitches per inning, third-best among NL starters thus far. This figure is right on his career norms, as is his strong total of 3.58 pitches per plate appearance. Of course, some of this "efficiency" comes from Maholm being easy to make contact with, but we need to give him credit for staying aggressive. That means he has a better chance of having a long career.

Maholm will stay a #3 or #4 starter, which is where he is now. He might have a 15-win season in him if the Pirates start hitting, but he's no one to get excited about.


Radar Love - April fastballs:

93-99: Brian Wilson rockin' in Phoenix on April 25.
92-97: Felipe Paulino against the Brewers on April 24.
90-95: Yovani Gallardo in Houston on April 24.
90-95: Jon Lester against the Yankees on April 24.
90-95: Matt Garza in Oakland on April 25.
90-95: Joba Chamberlain in Boston on April 24.
88-95: Rich Harden in St. Louis on April 26.
89-93: Roy Halladay in Chicago on April 26.
87-93: Jose Contreras against the Blue Jays on April 26.
88-92: Mike Pelfrey against the Nationals on April 25.
83-90: Mike Hampton against the Brewers on April 25.
80-84: Mark Buehrle, who hardly threw a fastball all day, against the Blue Jays on April 25.

Next week: AL West: Brett Anderson


Article first appeared 4/28/09

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James Benkard
James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire
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