Paul Maholm to Cleveland? Yes, Please


Paul Maholm could be a very effective starter for the Indians, and should be available at a reasonable cost. (Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Lefty, Paul Maholm, Could Help Indians

The Indians certainly need at least one more starting pitcher to throw into the mix for this season’s rotation.

The team currently has a fairly solid rotation in Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, and Zach McAllister. Heck, you shouldn’t close the book on the Tribe potentially re-signing Ubaldo Jimenez as well (though I wouldn’t bet on it).

However, the Indians need five starters in their rotation, and their other starting pitching options aren’t too inspiring — though you could certainly have worse. Josh Tomlin has terrific control and has shown major league success before, Trevor Bauer can be dominant if he can harness his potential, Shaun Marcum has shown to be a solid starter when healthy (which isn’t as often as it should be), and Carlos Carrasco still has an electric arm.

Tyler Cloyd and Travis Banwart have also been invited to spring training, although they both appear to be little more than depth (but you can totally count me in on the Banwart Bandwagon).

However, each of the Tribe’s options to fill out the rotation have fairly significant question marks as well. It’s obvious that no pitcher is without flaws, but it’s for this reason that I would be a strong advocate of the Indians adding one or more proven arms. Besides, you can never have enough pitching.

All four of the projected “locks” in the Tribe’s 2014 rotation (Masterson, Salazar, Kluber, McAllister) are right-handed pitchers. I personally don’t feel that the hand a pitcher throws with is a big deal (as long as they can produce results), but a left-handed starter would at least provide diversity from the all-righty rotation the Indians project to have otherwise.

Scott Kazmir filled the Tribe’s left-handed starter role pretty well in 2013, but he probably won’t be back anytime soon because he’ll be doing the same for the Oakland Athletics the next two seasons.

With that said, the Indians could use a reliable starter who can eat innings at an affordable cost. Ideally, they could get a starter who is still fairly young, but who has shown sustained success before at the major league level. It would help if this pitcher threw left-handed to provide a little bit of balance to the rotation, but I wouldn’t be shedding any tears if he threw right-handed.

It would be great if a pitcher like this were available, wouldn’t it?

There actually is an unsigned pitcher who fits all of this criteria, but it may not be who you’d think (unless you read the title or anything).

For those of you scratching your heads (but make sure you wash your hands afterwards because it’s flu season), the pitcher I’m talking about is Paul Maholm.

I’ve long liked Paul Maholm, and I have yet to understand why other teams don’t appear to have the same opinion.

Sep 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Atlanta Braves pitcher Paul Maholm (28) during the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Braves 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

He’s coming off of what people are calling a down season, but, honestly, I don’t see how it was that bad. His ERA of 4.41 was very close to his career mark of 4.28, while his FIP of 4.24 and xFIP of 3.89 say that he was even better. His peripheral stats remained near his career averages as well, as he posted a strikeout rate of 6.2 (his career mark is 5.8) and a walk rate of 2.8 (his career mark is 2.9).

In addition, Maholm’s BABIP of .310 last season was the highest it had been since 2010, further suggesting that Maholm was even better in 2013 than his stats would suggest.

He was left off the Braves’ postseason roster in 2013, but the Braves have a large collection of starting pitchers and a team doesn’t usually need five starters in the playoffs. I don’t see that as an issue.

You could make the case that Maholm just wasn’t good enough to warrant a spot on the Braves’ playoff roster, but he performed very near to his career averages, and that’s fine with me. His “career averages” were enough for the Braves to trade a package headlined by highly-regarded pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino to the Cubs for him and Reed Johnson in 2012. And let’s be honest, Reed Johnson wasn’t the centerpiece of Atlanta’s haul in that deal.

Sure, Paul Maholm isn’t a star. But a team of stars doesn’t assure a championship, something the Angels, Dodgers, and Yankees will definitely tell you. A successful team has different kinds of players performing different kinds of roles, and Maholm’s role is that of a back-of-the-rotation starter. However, he’s performed that role quite well.

He has typically posted quality ERA marks, but don’t just look at ERA with him. Although Maholm has posted an ERA above 4.60 three times in his career, only once has he posted a FIP or xFIP above that (in 2006, his first full season in the majors, he posted a FIP of 4.81). Maholm is still just 31, so he’s still in his prime as well.

Paul Maholm probably won’t put up flashy numbers, but that’s not what the Indians would be paying him to do. He was selected 8th overall by the Pirates in the 2003 draft, so he clearly has the pedigree of being a top pick, but he isn’t an ace. With that being said, he can still be dominant in stretches. In 2012, he became the first Cubs southpaw in the modern era to give up one run or less in six consecutive starts of at least six innings pitched.

Even if Maholm might not go on a hot streak like he did in 2012, he’s still extremely reliable. He’s been a pretty consistent pitcher his entire career. He’s shown a lot of success in the majors before, and he can be counted on to deliver quality innings to whatever team he pitches for. What you see is what you get with Paul Maholm. He won’t strike out a lot of hitters, but he limits walks and induces plenty of ground balls (his career ground ball percentage is 52.1%).

The problem with Maholm is that his entire career has been spent in the National League, so it’s unclear how he would fare against American League hitters. With that being said, he’s posted a 5.10 career ERA in 27 interleague outings. That certainly isn’t great, but Bronson Arroyo has a 5.78 career ERA in interleague outings, and American League teams still have interest in him. I like Arroyo, but Maholm will also come at a much cheaper price, which should further outline his appeal to the Indians.

However, of Maholm’s 242 starts, exactly half of them (that’s 121 for all of you math majors out there) have come against teams with winning percentages of .500 or better. In those starts, Maholm has an ERA of 4.49, which is slightly worse than his career ERA, but still isn’t bad.

He’s also posted a 3.86 ERA in 11 2/3 career innings pitched in Progressive Field. That’s by no means a large sample size, but it’s at least an encouraging start.

I get it, Maholm isn’t one of the sexier names out there (but the name itself sounds sexy if you say it the right way). However, he’s still a quality pitcher. He knows his role and he performs it well. You can’t say enough about that.

At this point, Pual Maholm is likely in line for a one-year deal, which is even better for a team like the Indians so that they could cut bait after the season if they chose to go in another direction.

I’d sign him for fifty years if I could, but I can also settle for one.

Hopefully GM Chris Antonetti can too.