Paul Maholm: Is the New Braves Pitcher the Next Cliff Lee?

Herb HatleeContributor IIIAugust 17, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 15: Paul Maholm #17 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the San Diego Padres at Turner Field on August 15, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It has only been 17 days since the trade deadline has come and gone, and thus far Frank Wren looks like a genius. With all the rumors linking the Braves to Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, and others, it was Paul Maholm whom the Braves called upon to bolster their roster for their playoff run.

Three starts into his Braves career, Paul Maholm is greatly out performing the other pitchers traded this year. His 2-1 record, 1.57 ERA, and 0.83 WHIP has earned Maholm the immediate admiration of the Atlanta fanbase. The success Maholm has been able to produce since donning the Braves uniform are not unique to his recent change of scenery.

Maholm has allowed just one run or fewer in eight of his last nine starts. His worst outing over those last nine starts was in his Braves debut against Houston, where Maholm gave up three runs in seven innings pitched.

Now 30, what is it that makes me think that Maholm's future pitching success could take a similar path to that of Cliff Lee, one of the games best left-handed pitchers? Outside of last season, Maholm's earlier career has been marred with mediocrity. It is the fact that Maholm has started pitching so well at this time in his career that leads me to believe he will have the same type of pitching success as Cliff Lee.

Cliff Lee muddled in mediocrity for the first six years of his career, too. Prior to his breakout season in 2008 at 29 years of age, Lee posted a 6.29 ERA the year before in 16 starts. After winning the 2008 Cy Young award with a 22-3 record, 2.54 ERA, and 1.11 WHIP, Cliff Lee became a highly sought after commodity for playoff hopeful teams.

Currently a member of the Phillies, Lee's rapid career turnaround as he approached the age of 30 has earned him one of the most lucrative contracts for a pitcher in MLB history. He is set to make $21.5 million this season, $25 million for each of the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons, and a whopping $27.5 million in 2016 when he will be 38 years old.

Paul Maholm's talent was never in question, as he was drafted eighth overall in 2003 by the Pirates. Going 53-73 with a 4.25 ERA during his seven-year tenure in Pittsburgh, it appeared that Maholm would never match the expectations that first-round picks are expected to achieve. But just as Cliff Lee did in his career, it looks like Paul Maholm is finally turning his potential into bona fide talent later in his career.

While Maholm and Lee don't have the same pitching repertoire, both pitchers have displayed the ability to be efficient when they are on a roll. Granted, Cliff Lee has a much larger body of starts as a top-of-the-line pitcher, but Maholm looks to continue to build on his impressive yearly stats as the season goes on with the Braves. Now that Maholm is on the Braves, he is finally on a competitive team that should reward him with the offensive backing to put up a very good win/loss record. His $6.5 million team option will assuredly be picked up in 2013. 

Frank Wren and the Braves will have struck trade deadline gold if Maholm can indeed become a pitcher of the same ilk as Cliff Lee. We will have to wait and see as Maholm continues to build on his body of work, but the similarities between him and Lee are there. They are both efficient left-handers who were able to hit their pitching prime as they approached 30, despite their many struggles in years prior.