Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Should the Pirates Keep Maholm

I have been talking a lot about the Postseason, simply because it's more exciting, but there has been a lot of talk about Paul Maholm lately. In case you have been too caught up with the Playoffs, living under a rock or are simply not a Pittsburgh resident, Maholm has a team option in his current contract worth $9.75 million.

Is he worth that much?
Many fans say, "No." Analysts say, "Probably." The Pirates are a hanging chad so far.

Maholm earned $6.25 million in 2011 or $5.75M, depending on where you look. He posted a respectable ERA of 3.66 and WHIP of 1.29; both of which were better than the league, team, and his career averages; but he has not posted a winning percentage on the positive side (in true Pirate fashion) since becoming a full-time starter in 2006.

His record in 2011 was a dismal 6-14. Many analysts have attributed his high loss count to poor run support. It's true the Pirates offense is lacking, to say the least, but how true is this assumption? The Pirates offense only scored an average of 3.77 runs per game (27th in the MLB), so it certainly seems likely.

Worst RS/9 for Starting Pitchers with 150 Innings Pitched or more, Fangraphs
There were 105 starting pitchers who accumulated 150 innings pitched or more, Maholm had the sixth worst run support over nine innings (RS/9) among them all. Ouch.

The 2011 RS/9 average was 4.59, which left three of the Pirates regular starters below the threshold, one near average, and one slightly above average. It was quite surprising to see Tim Lincecum beating everyone out for the top slot. If an amazing pitcher like Lincecum was on this list, then perhaps Maholm's pitching woes is driven by poor offense as well.

I am not a believer, so let's look over the data.

Maholm's total games started and innings pitched were both below average, but he went on the disabled list on August 19th. Otherwise he would have reached the league averages quite easily. His ERA and WHIP may have been better than average, but those are primitive statistics that rely too much on factors outside of what a pitcher can control. His BABIP and FIP were both slightly better than the norm, which would account for a little bit of defensive luck and explain his good ERA and WHIP scores. His SIERA score is slightly worse than average due to his poor strikeout count and rate.

The five pitchers who had worse run support than Maholm all accumulated a higher Wins Above Replacement value than him, as well as the rest of the Pirates starting rotation. They all recorded better values than him in regard to FIP, SIERA, K/9, and K/BB. The only statistic Maholm really has going for him is K/BB, which was better than average and the top five.

The average 2011 starting pitcher recorded 149 strikeouts at a rate of 6.75 K/9. Maholm was far below those averages with 97 strikeouts and 5.38 K/9. In fact the only Pirates starter who recorded an above average strikeout rate was James McDonald, which explains why he is the only pitcher I enjoy watching and hope the Pirates retain for a while.

Paul Maholm is a pitcher who relies too heavily on luck. He walks batters almost as rarely as he strikes them out, thus he has to rely on ground balls, fly balls, the defense behind him, and praying the ball stays inside the park. All that said, he is still an average pitcher with a WAR of 2.1. If a team values a win somewhere between $4 and 5 million, then he should collect a contract in the range of $8.4 and $10.5 million.

Should the Pirates keep Maholm? That's the 9.75 million dollar question.

BABIP - Batting Average on Balls In Play
FIP - Fielding Independent Pitching
SIERA - Skill-Interactive Earned Runned Average

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