The first surprise of spring training came when curious reporters noticed Paul Maholm’s name on a locker in the Camelback clubhouse. Maholm arrived unannounced somewhat by stealth. Needless to say that raised some eyebrows and prompted some questions. His name was then taken down as no announcement had been made regarding his signing. The subsequent announcement was that he was signed on a one-year contract for $1.5 MM with incentive clauses that could yield another $5 MM. The incentive terms of the contract are not known, or at least have not been divulged, although those performance bonuses usually have to do with starts made and innings pitched. Based on his career statistics a reasonable guess would be that 175-180 innings would probably be at or above his high water mark.
Maholm’s signing should not have come as a complete surprise as he was briefly connected to the Dodgers in MLB Rumors earlier in the winter. The Dodgers apparently were most interested in acquiring Bronson Arroyo but were unwilling to offer him a two-year contract. With a number of young pitchers waiting in line the Dodgers were wise to forgo a two-year with third year option contract with Arroyo. We do know that Ned Colletti likes to move quickly when one signing goal is not achieved so the Maholm deal fits that Colletti M.O. The surprise is a $1.5 MM contract. His contract in 2013 with the Atlanta Braves was $6.5 MM without incentives.
A number of questions arise. Why such a very modest contract with a pitcher who must have had other MLB options.? Is there a concern that his elbow injury that sidelined him for some time is 2013 has not healed fully or is likely to reoccur? Why not Chris Capuano, also a left-hander ,who pitched for the Dodgers in 2012 and 2013 with results very similar to those posted by Paul Maholm? I expect his injury and being four years older than Maholm played into any decision regarding Capuano.
Maholm’s signing seems to suggest the Dodgers are not truly confident – although their rhetoric would suggest otherwise – that Josh Beckett will be ready for opening day or perhaps they are concerned that his injury ( thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) surgery) will severely limit his innings and effectiveness in 2014. TOS is the same surgery that ended the career of Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals. It also confirms , as most anticipated, that Chad Billingsley will not be available for action early in the season. Although the Dodgers indicate that anything can happen with the pitching options they have available at spring training, the Maholm signing casts further doubt on the possibility of Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Zach Lee or Ross Stripling breaking spring training with a #5 starting position in their hind pocket.
Paul Maholm (pronounced Mah-hall-uhm) was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round (8th overall pick) of the 2003 First Year Player Draft. He graduated from Germantown High School in Germantown, Tennessee and attended Mississippi State University. He missed the 2004 season in the minors when he was struck in the face by a line drive. This resulted in a badly broken nose and a shattered left orbital, requiring surgery to repair the damage. After a brief stint in the minors in 2005, he debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005.
In his nine year major career Maholm has compiled a 76-95 won-loss record and a 4.28 ERA. He has pitched more than 175 innings six times in his career with a season high 206 in 2008. In 2013 with the Braves he was limited to 153 innings as a result of a wrist injury and an elbow injury later in the season. He started the season on one of the best notes in MLB history. In 2013, Paul Maholm became only the fourth big-league pitcher since 1961 to win his first three season starts without allowing a run, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others: Luis Tiant with the 1966 Indians, Zack Greinke with the 2009 Royals and Woody Williams with the Cardinals in 2003.
As expected he could not maintain that pace and his numbers tumbled as he struggled with his two injuries. He did pitch well in his final start of the season on September 25 against the Brewers tossing seven innings, allowing three runs with no walks and seven strikeouts on 100 pitches. That game is more memorable for the bench clearing brawl sparked by Carlos Gomez and he sauntered around the bases after hitting a home run off Maholm. Hitting home runs off Paul Maholm is apparently not all that easy as during his career he has given up less than one home run per nine innings . We might expect that it may be even more difficult to hit home runs off the 31 year old left-hander at Dodger Stadium.
What does Paul Maholm bring to the Dodgers? He is a crafty, slow tossing lefty, not too dissimilar from Mark Buerhle , Jamie Moyer or Chris Capuano. He yields a hit an inning and is not a strike out pitcher although his strikeout rate has increased during the past four seasons to a respectable rate of 6.67 per nine innings. During his career he has averaged a lower rate of 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Control is all important for Maholm and he has maintained his career average by yielding 2.6 walks per nine innings in the past four seasons.
Maholm has an interesting pitching repertoire that includes both a two seam and four seam fastball, as well as a slider, curveball and change up. Deception is the reward for his mixture of pitches. His four seam fastball tops out in the high eighties while his curveball can make its way to the plate as low as 62 miles per hour. Maholm has used each of his pitches at least 10% of the time in recent years so the Dodgers can expect some good outings when his command of his pitches is solid.
As mentioned he will give up a hit an inning, but as is often the case with lefties, he has a good pick off move catching nine base runners napping in the last three years while having only 30 bases stolen on him during those three years.
Paul Maholm’s bread and butter is the ground ball. His career ground ball rate is over 50% and has remained consistent in the past three years with a rate of 51.1%. Needless to say manager Don Mattingly will be putting his best defensive lineup on the field when Maholm takes the mound.
Maholm does have one distinction that no other MLB pitcher has had or most likely never will have. He struck out comedian Billy Crystal who is a long time Yankee fan and an initial part owner of the Arizona Diamond Backs.
“On March 12, 2008, Crystal signed a minor league contract, for a single day, to play with the New York Yankees, and was invited to the team’s major league spring training. He wore uniform number 60, in honor of his upcoming 60th birthday. On March 13, in a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Crystal led off as the designated hitter. He managed to make contact, fouling a fastball up the first base line, but was eventually struck out by Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm on six pitches and was later replaced in the batting order by Johnny Damon. He was released on March 14, his 60th birthday.”
In the next few weeks the Dodgers will know if Paul Maholm has any more surprises in his bag of tricks.