The Cincinnati Reds and left hander Paul Maholm have agreed to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training for the 2015 season.

In 2014 the lefty pitched in the big leagues with the Dodgers where he posted a 4.84 ERA in 30 appearances and 70.2 innings. He had 28 walks and 34 strikeouts in his worst season since 2010. He had more success against lefties than righties in 2014, but lefties still hit .289/.348/.398 against him in the big leagues during the season with seven walks and 10 strikeouts in 92 plate appearances.

In the 2013 season he was much better, particularly against lefties. That season saw him walk just six left handers and strike out 35 while holding them to a .231/.267/.301 line. What was the difference between the two seasons?

Let’s take a look at his pitch usage versus lefties over the last two seasons in the big leagues:

Year 4-Seam 2-Seam Cutter Slider Curve Change
2014 18% 35% 4% 26% 14% 2%
2013 17% 34% 5% 23% 14% 7%

No real changes anywhere. He used the change up a little more in 2013, but it’s a small usage pitch that it’s not responsible for the drastic differences. Did his velocity change?

Year 4-Seam 2-Seam Change Slider Curve Cutter
2013 88.7 88.0 81.7 79.8 73.3 82.2
2014 88.5 88.0 81.4 80.0 73.4 82.8

No real changes here either.

So with the same velocity and the same pitch selection he had drastically different abilities. Was there a difference in the pitch movements? I grabbed this chart from BrooksBaseball.net from the last two years.

maholm

There are some very slight differences here, but nothing really jumps out as a difference in pitch movement that should explain such a huge difference in the numbers.

Velocity, movement and pitch selection all seem to be the same between the two seasons. With all of that I headed over to Fangraphs to take a look at how he performed in and out of the strikezone, and that is where you started to see some big differences.

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2013 30% 63% 45% 46% 64% 7%
2014 26% 65% 42% 42% 55% 6%

The biggest difference is the first pitch strike rate. It dropped significantly from 2013 to 2014. Getting ahead in the count is very important as everyone knows and he really struggled to do so in 2014. He threw less first pitch strikes and fewer strikes overall. Getting ahead allows you to expand the zone you throw to and puts hitters in situations where they may chase. The outside swing rate dropped off, likely as a result of being behind more often.

Here’s a heatmap of how he pitched to the strikezone over the past two seasons against lefties.

maholmzone

In 2014 he caught a lot more of the inner part of the plate against lefties. It would seem that the largest differences for Paul Maholm was that he threw more strikes in 2013 and avoided the inner third of the plate more frequently. On a minor league deal, for a potential lefty reliever, the Reds picked a solid option with Maholm. If they can improve his control and get him to pound the outer third of the plate more often he is likely to find more success, much like he showed in 2013. If not, then he will find himself in Louisville pitching in some role for the Bats and trying to make the adjustment.