When Paul Maholm was traded to the Atlanta Braves (along with Reed Johnson) on July 31, 2012, it was a move that didn’t exactly move the meter nationally. Maholm had never posted a full-season ERA under 3.66, had thrown 200 innings only once, and never posted a WAR over 3.0 in the big leagues. In addition, the Braves gave up an elite-ish pitching prospect (Arodys Vizcaino, who was admittedly hurt) in the trade for a seemingly pedestrian return. What the public didn’t realize, however, was that Maholm was an asset that would return anything but pedestrian results in his early career with the Braves.
Since arriving in Atlanta, Maholm has made 13 starts, thrown 80 1/3 innings, struck out 72 batters (8.06 K/9), and maintained a stellar 2.99 ERA. He posted a career-season in 2012 with his strikeout rate between Chicago and Atlanta (6.67 per 9 innings), but that number has swelled even more since being in a Braves uniform, and with that, his overall effectiveness has improved. It is likely that Maholm will never be a guy who strikes out a batter per inning, but if the crafty left-hander can strikeout between 7 and 8 batters per 9 innings, he’s a completely different pitcher with radically higher upside than his previous numbers would suggest.
Because of the high price tag (Vizcaino was a top-20 prospect in some rankings) and Maholm’s contract ($11.25 million for 2 years), it would have been unreasonable to think that Maholm would greatly outpace his acquisition cost. Yet, in his first 13 starts (basically a half-season), he has done just that, and if he is the 4th starter on this roster (as currently constructed), there are 20+ teams who would kill for that luxury.
As a projection, I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect an ERA in the 3.35-3.65 range for Maholm this season, with a chance for a tick of upside of the strikeout rate continues at this pace. If those numbers hold true, there is no reason why Maholm isn’t a 3-4 win pitcher having a career-year, and if you remember the strength of Atlanta’s defense (outfield and shortstop), the stars are aligned for production. Nice move, Frank Wren.