Scouting The Free Agent Market: Paul Maholm

It's official: Three more years of Cashman
Yankees release Andrew Brackman

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…

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.

The Pros

  • 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.

It's official: Three more years of Cashman
Yankees release Andrew Brackman
  • JoshTFL

    blech. no thanks.

  • pat

    Between Noesi, Warren, Mitchell and Phelps one of those guys could probably replicate Maholm’s production for a fraction of the cost.

    • Accent Shallow

      I’m more or less with you, but it’s worth noting that none of those guys are LHP.

      • Tom Zig

        go with the better pitcher, regardless of handedness

  • MattG

    I am much more bullish on Maholm than you, Mike. I see him as a very nice add for a team that scores runs and closes out games.

    I don’t disagree with you that the Yankees are a less than ideal fit for him, however. The Yankees could get him if they offer the most, but for the role he would fill (essentially a swing man), why would they do that?

    I would like to see him come here, and I definitely think a phone call is in order.

  • Mike


  • Guns of the Navarone

    Paul Maholm


  • Jesse

    Five letters: P.A.S.S


  • Matt at ERAU

    I’d rather have Jeff Francis by about a factor of 1000 should be just as craptastic at 1/2 the cost

  • Kosmo

    Is Maholm a better option than Burnett ?

    • Jesse


      • Matt at ERAU

        not by much though, AJ can at least miss bats from time to time, I’d love to see what Boston would do to Maholm in Fenway

        • Jesse

          True, but Maholm is left handed and will probably be much cheaper than Burnett.

          • Soriano Is A Liar

            Except that you’re stuck paying burnett either way. Your choices are Burnett, Maholm and Burnett together, or just Maholm and you pay AJ his salary anyway.

  • Scully

    Interesting “kick the tires” kind of post. My personal bar for left handed starters this offseason is “Is he better than Manny Banuelos right now”. I’m not sure Maholm is.

    • Jesse

      Don’t say “kick the tires” to this guy

    • Matt at ERAU

      I think right now, Maholm is probably better only because he isn’t walking almost 5 hitters per 9 in AA/AAA in the majors hitters are far more patient so that would really come back to bite him

  • Charlee

    He’s basically Pirate’s version of Joe Saunders.

  • PaulP

    It seems to me Maholm is a pitch or two away freom being a nice mid rotation starter. I mean on a ml contract with an invite to spring training he could be worth a look. Especially if he could be tought a seing and miss pitch to go along with his control and ground ball abilities.

    • Matt

      “Pitch or two away” lol. It’s not that easy to develop quality MLB pitches. You could say the same thing with Burnett. He’s a pitch away from being great. If he could develop one of a sinker, cutter, slider, or changeup he would be a solid #2. But he hasn’t. And you can expect the same thing for Maholm.

      • pat

        Heck, Burnett would be a solid #2 if he even knew where the pitches he does throw are going. In fact it’s because of that, he’s a steaming pile of #2.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      I agree. In the past we have had lefties who never threw above 89 and had success in YS. To mention two who come to my mind, Ed Lopat from the late forties and fifties and Tommy John from the seventies. The latter best known for the operation than for his pitching. He should be a Hall of famer as he won over 280 games with his sinker. If Maholm is a ground ball pitcher he will probably do well at YS.

    • JAG

      Maholm throws 5 pitches with regularity. How many different pitches do you think he can really throw?

  • Frank

    SI writer Ben Reiter predicts he goes to the Red Sox, MLBTR has him going to the Rox.

    • FIPster Doofus

      They can have him.

  • David, Jr.

    Pass. Bruce Chen II.

    My gut feel: Balls out for Matt Cain

  • cranky

    Maholm would make a good utility pitcher. Long relief, LOOGY, spot start. I think his declining numbers as a starter help to bear that out.
    I don’t think the Yanks will pursue him. But, if he begins to hint at a willingness to accept something other than a starting role and starting pitcher’s pay, he’d be a good signing.

  • BK2ATL


    No need to spend money on this guy for this role. Give the loser of the Hughes/Noesi/Burnett battle for 4th/5th starter the 1st shot at the swingman role. Or even Warren or Phelps.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    He is a lefty facing the Red Sox at Fenway. Pre game announcement all patrons who have cars parked behind the left field wall please move them . The Yankees are starting Paul Maholm.

    He throws similar to Mike Mussina not to offend Mike but he’s no Mike Mussina.

    The point was made earlier. The Pirates are a pitching starved team and have declined his option. I’d pass.

  • Michael

    Saying the Pirates are pitching starved and declined his option is making the assumption that the Pirates’ priority is winning, which it isn’t, Its to make sure that the check they get from the Central fund is enough to be profitable while drawing 1.6m fans. That is the only thing they are worried about.

    They are also catching starved and declined the options on two catchers, they are offense starved and declined the option on the only .300 hitter on the team and the second best power threat.

    If you give the Pirates the choice between production and cheap, they will choose cheap. They will only spend just enough to keep the MLBPA off their backs.