After the Chicago Cubs dealt Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres, it left the team in a precarious position. The team would have had five established starters going into spring training with no reasonable option existing to be number six.
The front office took care of that problem Monday by signing Paul Maholm to a one-year deal worth a maximum of $4.8 million — if he meets all his incentives — with an option for 2013.
Maholm adds much needed depth to the rotation, and another lefty to the mix. The move means that the Cubs will likely have another option to start should the injury bug strike as it did in 2011.
But how will Maholm fare in the move to Wrigley Field? As previously noted, the value of a win on the free agent market is about $5 million. By paying Maholm, who will be 30 during the season, less than that, the Cubs have struck a bargain. Maholm can turn in a performance below what he has established over the rest of his career and Chicago will have still received a deal on the former Pittsburgh starter.
In 2011, Maholm registered 2.1 WAR according to Fangraphs. Even a flat performance could potentially have garnered him almost $10 million if you believe the numbers from other signings. But the Cubs received a discount, possibly because Maholm had his 2011 season cut short with shoulder issues.
As usual, there are no guarantees on performance, just educated guesses based on what has gone before. Since Maholm pitched in the NL Central, there is at least a body of work at his new stadium to judge from.
Pitching for Pittsburgh, Maholm has appeared in just 11 games at Wrigley over his six-plus years. During that run, Maholm has been average. According to Baseball Reference, his OPS+ is 103 when pitching at Wrigley Field, which is slightly below average as lower numbers are better for pitchers.
The number from his line (6-2, 5.48 ERA, 1.344 WHIP, 2.69 K/BB) at his new home that stands out is the seven home runs allowed. That is out of character for Maholm, as over his career he has tended to be an extreme ground ball pitcher, with 52.3 percent of batted balls resulting in grounders.
If you look at the actual games, five of the seven home runs came in two starts at Wrigley Field back in 2007, a year when the Cubs were hammering almost everyone to take the mound. Maholm was also more prone to the longball during the first few seasons of his career (12 percent clip). Since 2009, he has allowed just about 7.5 percent of fly balls to reach the seats.
In 32-1/3 innings since 2009, Maholm hasn’t allowed a ball to leave the park. That is the pitcher that the Cubs signed, not the 2007 version.
Eventually something is going to get away from Maholm and leave Wrigley, and possibly it could be due to a change in venue.
If you map his performance at PNC Park last season, only two balls appear to be at risk of becoming home runs that were less damaging in his former home.
The difference in parks obvious in Maholm’s 2010 hit chart. Eleven balls that went for outs, singles, or doubles, would have been out of Wrigley Field. 2010 also marked a season when Maholm threw more fly balls than normal. Maholm will have to deal with the shorter fence corner fences, but especially in left-center, where PNC has an expanse of land where fly balls go to die.
One final thought on Maholm’s previous Wrigley Field work. Don’t read too much into the 2.69 K/BB ratio that is far above his career number. He was facing the swing-first, ask-questions-later Cubs after all.
If Maholm can continue to keep the ball on the ground — and the Cubs infield improves on defense as expected with Ian Stewart at third and Starlin Castro another year older — Chicago will have gotten a steal at the price they paid for a year of Maholm’s work.
With his 4.22 career xFIP, and .310 BABIP against, Maholm is a solid addition to the back end of the Cubs rotation.
All graphs from the MLB Gameday BIP Location site
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