The offseason is officially underway, so the Yankees search for starting pitching can begin in earnest. Getting CC Sabathia back under contract was just the very first order of business; we know the search doesn’t end there. Everyone knows about C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, but they aren’t the only names out there this winter.
The Pirates officially declined Paul Maholm’s 2012 option yesterday, paying him a $750k buyout rather than keep him at $9.75M salary next season. The 29-year-old left-hander hits the market (as an unranked free agent) after posting career bests in ERA (3.66) and FIP (3.78) this past season, but the NL Central is a much different animal than the AL East. Let’s take a deeper look to see if he has anything to offer the Yankees, starting with the cons…
- Maholm simply doesn’t miss bats, never has and probably never will. His best strikeout season came back in 2008, when he whiffed 6.02 per nine while getting a swing-and-miss 8.4% of the time. His whiff rate has declined every year since then, bottoming out at 5.7% in 2011. Over the last three seasons his strikeout rate is an underwhelming 5.28 K/9 (5.38 in 2011).
- Although he’s thrown 175+ IP in five of the last six years, his innings total has gone down every year since peaking at 206.1 IP in 2008. Maholm has only been on the DL once in his career, this past season when a shoulder strain ended his season in late-August. Dr. James Andrews found no structural damage, and the southpaw recently announced on Twitter that he’s been cleared for workouts.
- It didn’t show up too much this year, but Maholm has always had a rather prominent platoon split. Over the last three years, he’s held lefties to a .268 wOBA with a 3.2 K/BB ratio and 53.1% grounders while righties have tagged him for a .345 wOBA with a 1.6 K/BB and 50.7% grounders.
- Maholm’s performance away from the basically neutral PNC Park has been pretty bad through his career, and he’s gotten smacked around by AL lineups during interleague play.
- He lacks the whiffs, but Maholm does make up for it with control and ground balls. His unintentional walk rate has held at a steady 2.82 uIBB/9 throughout his career (2.66 last three years, 2.44 in 2011), and his 52.3% ground ball rate has been consistent as well (51.1% last three years, 49.9% in 2011). Because he allows so many balls in play, Maholm will always be at the mercy of his defense.
- The ground ball rate has helped Maholm keep the ball in the park (0.66 HR/9 and 7.5% HR/FB over the last three years), but it’s interesting that his HR/FB rate went from 12%+ in 2006-2008 to 7.5% from 2009-2011. The improvement coincides with the increased use of his low-80’s slider (from ~4% to ~13%) and high-80’s two-seamer (~4% to ~35%). I suspect that’s more than just a coincidence.
- Maholm also throws a high-80’s four-seamer, a low-80’s changeup, and a low-70’s curveball. He’s a true five-pitch guy, using each offering at least 10% of the time in recent years. He also has a solid pickoff move, allowing just 30 steals against nine pickoffs in the last three seasons.
Pittsburgh’s decision to decline the option tells you that even a pitching starved team doesn’t value Maholm’s expected 2012 performance at a net price of $9M (they were paying him $750k one way or the other). The Yankees shouldn’t expect him to be anything more than a depth starter, the number five guy or maybe even a pen arm. There’s no reason for Maholm to accept a reduced role like that, someone in this league will guarantee him a rotation spot and that’s where he should go. He’s interesting because he’s reasonably young and left-handed, but it’s hard to envision Maholm having much of an impact on a contending AL team.