Rangers Interested in Starter Paul Maholm?

Will Korn@@TheRealWillKornCorrespondent IIJanuary 15, 2014

Might Maholm open up a rotation possibility for Robbie Ross?
Might Maholm open up a rotation possibility for Robbie Ross?Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

According to this tweet from Jim Bowden of ESPN.com and MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM, the Texas Rangers might have some interest in free agent starter Paul Maholm.

Rotoworld of NBCSports reports that Maholm has said the Rangers have contacted him.

Let's take a closer look at Maholm and how he might fit with the Rangers' rotation.

Maholm is a finesse lefty, who features the classic four-pitch repertoire—fastball, slider, changeup and curve. He's pitched his entire nine-year career in the National League. That could be something that makes the Rangers, or any American League team for that matter, a bit skeptical of him.

Over his nine years, Maholm, 31, is just 76-95 with a 4.28 ERA. In the "pitcher-friendly" NL, those numbers are far less than impressive. The former eighth overall pick in 2003 out of Mississippi State is more than a hit-per-inning pitcher. He's a contact pitcher, primarily because he doesn't have overpowering velocity. He doesn't fan a lot of batters, but he has above-average command.

At first glace of those numbers, Maholm doesn't appear to be a guy the Rangers would have much interest in. But here is why he would fit into the Rangers rotation.

Keep in mind that anyone not named Masahiro Tanaka or David Price would be a temporary fix until Derek Holland returns to the rotation around midseason. If Tanaka is not signed, a committee of starters could come together to collectively replace Holland's production.

Maholm is certainly a guy who could help do that.

Maholm handles lefties very well.
Maholm handles lefties very well.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

First, he is very effective against lefties. Over his career, lefties have hit just .225 against him with a collective OBP of .287. To the left side of the plate, Maholm carries a 3.66 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Additionally, Maholm is an extreme ground-ball pitcher. He works low in the zone and mixes speeds well, which is why he induces a grounder 51 percent of the time. With the Rangers' stellar defense behind him, Maholm would be a guy who could quickly work through innings.

He doesn't really try to paint the corners. Instead, he attacks hitters directly with all of his pitches. This keeps his pitch count down and, in turn, would keep the Rangers' bullpen a bit fresher.

He's a relatively durable starter, having made at least 25 starts in eight different seasons. So he does a nice job of staying off the disabled list, something the Rangers' rotation has historically struggled with, as have most teams.

But there are three red flags with the Rangers signing Maholm that immediately come to mind.

For one, he doesn't have the most pristine track record against Texas' AL West foes. But he doesn't have much exposure to them either. Maholm has never faced the Oakland A's or Los Angeles Angels, and that can't be held against him. In one start against the Seattle Mariners, Maholm has a .321 opponents' batting average.

Against the Houston Astros, Maholm has posted a career 12-7 record with a 3.14 ERA. That's solid, until you realize that it is the Houston Astros, and that was the NL until last season.

Could Maholm turn into Ryan Dempster 2.0?
Could Maholm turn into Ryan Dempster 2.0?Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, I'd be a bit hesitant bringing him into what is suddenly one of the most potent offensive divisions in baseball. After all, he is a career NL pitcher, and we saw how Ryan Dempster turned out in the second half of 2012. Even Matt Garza, a key cog in the Tampa Bay Rays' 2008 World Series run, failed in many respects in his time in Arlington.

Secondly, Maholm has been absolutely awful pitching in Rangers Ballpark. His sample size there is small—just 15 plate appearances in one career outing. But his career .636 batting average and .733 OBP is terrifying. Perhaps this was just one nightmarish start. He's a much better pitcher than those numbers suggest.

But you'd have to be concerned about bringing him not just into the AL West but into the launching pad that is Rangers' ballpark as well.

Thirdly—and this isn't necessarily a red flag, but rather just a slight concern—Maholm would create further imbalance in the Rangers' rotation being a lefty. He could potentially be the third lefty in the rotation while Holland is out and the fourth when Holland returns.

Logically, a pitcher will face far more right-handed hitters over the course of the season, and Maholm doesn't handle righties well. Over his career, righties have hit .291 with an OBP of .351. That was in the NL, where pitchers routinely roll over on bunts for easy outs.


So like Jerome Williams, Maholm's potential with the Rangers all comes down to value. How much does he want? How much are the Rangers willing to give him?

Maholm joining the Texas pen could give Ross a real shot to crack the Rangers' rotation.
Maholm joining the Texas pen could give Ross a real shot to crack the Rangers' rotation.USA TODAY Sports

Because he eats up innings and is so effective against lefties, I'd be comfortable handing Maholm a two-year offer around $7 million to $9 million at most. He could definitely be nice bullpen piece in long relief. Perhaps then that makes Robbie Ross a more comfortable candidate for the rotation?

At the end of the day, however, I'd rather take a flyer on Williams. He'll be cheaper, has more movement and is more effective to both sides of the plate. For his expected price, he is a better value to the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Texas should continue its work on Tanaka. Get to work, Yu.

*All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.


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