Top Ten Pirates of the PNC Park Era: #9 Paul Maholm

Wins Losses ERA IP SO BB
7 years 53 73 4.36 1143.2 705 382

Although he’s not the flashiest pitcher with the greatest stats, Paul Maholm was a steady southpaw that always took the ball every fifth day. Maholm was never an over-powering strikeout pitcher, but rather a ground ball guy that relied on his defense. He anchored the Pirates rotation for several seasons, while being surrounded by many mediocre pitchers. He also rarely received much run support from the offense, and thus ended his Bucco career with a .421 winning percentage. The Mississippi State product suffered a serious injury in 2004 with the Altoona Curve when he was hit in the face with a line drive. The injury resulted in a few surgeries, but Maholm bounced back and made it to the big leagues in 2005. He then pitched for the Bucs through 2011; unfortunately, he and the team had a bit of a falling out when they declined his $9.75 million option. It was nice to see Paul find success last season with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves. As a guy who was stuck on some abysmal teams yet was still reliable year after year, we respect Maholm. He was also helpful in all the community work the Bucs do; he even pledged $25,000 to Pirates Charities when he inked a new contract in 2009.

Photo: pmreddick/Creative Commons

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Farewell, Kevin Correia…?

In what was most likely his last start as a Pittsburgh Pirate, Kevin Correia pitched a heck of a game against the postseason-bound Braves.

The Bucs got some early runs for KC against Tommy Hanson in the 5-1 win.  Cutch grounded out to score Starling Marte, who doubled to lead off the inning, in the first.  Clint Barmes made it 2-0 with a looper into CF, and the big blows came in the fifth.  Alex Presley doubled in a run and Garrett Jones blasted a two-run shot for his 27th of the season.

Correia took the lead and didn’t look back.  He threw 6.2 solid innings, albeit against a Braves team that’s already clinched and is resting its starters.  He surrendered just one run in the fourth that Marte’s poor defense was partly responsible for.  In two years with the Bucs, Correia posted a record of 24-22 with one All-Star appearance; a very solid body of work.  For as much hate as he gets, Kevin very well may be the best starter that Neal Huntington has acquired through free agency.  He most likely won’t be back for 2013, though, as there are pitchers out there who will do the exact same thing he does but cost much less money.  Best of luck to this guy:

Anyway, Chris Resop and Bryan Morris closed out the final two innings to get the series win.  The Bucs are now set up to sweep the Braves tomorrow in what will be Chipper Jones‘ last regular season game.  On one hand, a sweep would be a great way to end the season.  But that would mean a final record of 80-82, which just hurts.

Pirates (79-82) – Braves (93-58)

Win: Correia (12-11)
Loss: Hanson (13-10)

BOX SCORE

Jeff “Lockes” down his first career win

In his tenth attempt tonight against the Braves, Jeff Locke finally picked up his first major-league win as he shut down his former organization.  He out-dueled former Bucco Paul Maholm in a close 2-1 game.

Locke threw six solid innings in what was probably his best start of his career.  Despite walking five batters, he worked out of nearly every jam and allowed just one run.  Jason Heyward drove in a run in the third, but that was all the Braves could get.

The Bucs got that run right back in the bottom of the third.  Starling Marte was credited with a triple on what should have been a double and an error, and Chase d’Arnaud picked up an RBI-groundout to tie the game.  Marte supplied the only other run of the game when he demolished a home run to CF as he gave the Pirates the 2-1 lead.  Maholm went seven and struck out eight, but it just wasn’t good enough.  He sure knows what it’s like to pitch well and not get any run support at PNC Park, huh?

Jeff Karstens and Tony Watson each pitched an inning to get to the ninth.  Instead of sending Joel Hanrahan out for the third straight day, Clint Hurdle turned to Jared Hughes for the save.  Despite an error, Hughes pitched a nice inning and picked up his second save of the year.

At face value, this was a satisfying win.  Great effort by the starter and enough offense to get a win.  But considering the circumstances, it just doesn’t feel good.

With the loss, the Braves were eliminated from the NL East and will have to settle for a wildcard spot.  The Nationals are the 2012 NL East champions.

Pirates (78-82) – Braves (93-67)

Win: Locke (1-3)
Loss: Maholm (13-11)
Save: Hughes (2)

BOX SCORE

Go Bucs

McLouth’s Plate Presence

Throughout the 2008 season, the Pirates roster featured names such as Yoslan Herrera, Romulo Sanchez, Brian Bixler, Luis Cruz, Jason Michaels, etc. However, one of the only players to really shine that season was centerfielder Nate McLouth. He hit .276 with 26 HR and 94 RBI, as well as winning the Gold Glove and being named to the National League All-Star team.

The Pirates fanbase was shocked in early June of 2009 when McLouth was shipped to Atlanta for Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke. Nate’s career took a turn for the worse during his time with the Braves organization. In 250 games with Atlanta, McLouth hit just .229 with 21 HR and 76 RBI. Despite his struggles in ATL, the Pirates signed McLouth to a one-year deal this offseason to be the team’s fourth outfielder.

When trying to pinpoint possible reasons for McLouth’s tough times in Atlanta, it was difficult to think of what really went wrong. Nate was always a player of small stature who wasn’t expected to hit for much power. His 2008 season could’ve been a fluke, but it’s hard to believe that a guy with as much confidence as McLouth had would fall off so quickly. Nate faced a ton of pressure when he was traded to the Braves; he immediately went from a pretender to a contender. Still, it’s hard to understand what exactly went wrong.

One thing we noticed about his approach at the plate this season is that he seems to be standing farther from the plate. Although it may not seem like a big deal, every inch really does matter. Just an inch or two off the sweet spot of the bat can be the difference between a hit and an out. After going into the video vault on pirates.com, here are some screenshots of where McLouth is setting up in the box:

As you can see, McLouth is a decent distance off the white chalk line in 2012. Now, here are some screen shots from his successful 2008 season:

Although it is more difficult to see where he is setting up due to the contrast of the center field camera compared to the left-center camera, it does appear that Nate was a little closer to the plate. Next, we went to the Braves video center and got a screenshot from 2010, his first full season with Atlanta:

Going back to the center field camera, it is evident that McLouth was pretty close to the plate. His back foot is very close to the line, which gives him optimal plate coverage. However, Nate hit just .190 that season in 85 games. Here’s a screenshot from 2011:

Now you can see that McLouth has backed off the white chalk line considerably. The chalk is right about where Chris Carpenter’s head is, but you can still see how far off the plate he is. This could have been an adjustment that McLouth made during that offseason. He raised his batting average to .223 in 2011, but his power was still way down (4 HR, 16 RBI).

The white chalk line of the batter’s box surely has not moved in the last few years. Instead, it is McLouth’s feet and set up in the box that have shifted. Notice that all the pitchers in the above photos are right-handed, so it probably isn’t a “RHP vs. LHP” sort of thing. Unless it was a change by a hitting coach sometime in the last few years, it most likely has to do with his comfort levels at the plate. He needs to go with whatever is comfortable but it seems that he had more success while standing closer to the plate. Nate obviously isn’t a huge guy who can cover a lot of the plate. McLouth is hitting just .167 in 18 games so far for the Bucs this season. Hopefully he can figure some things out at the plate so that he can contribute when his number is called.

Go Bucs

Game Recap: Pirates @ Braves 4/30/12

The 4 game wrap around series in Atlanta came to a close tonight with James McDonald facing Mike Minor.  A win would split the series with the Braves and end the month of April on a good note.

Minor set the Pirates down in order in the first, and Michael Bourn singled to start the bottom of the first.  Rod Barajas threw him out trying to steal second, but McDonald ended up walking Martin Prado.  Freddie Freeman then launched a home run into right field, making it 2-0 Braves early.  The Bucs got on the board in the third, with Barajas walking to lead off.  After McDonald struck out (not sure why he wasn’t bunting), Jose Tabata doubled to put runners on second and third.  Josh Harrison singled to left, scoring Barajas and putting runners on the corners.  Andrew McCutchen hit a sac fly to center, plating Tabata and knotting it at 2-2.  J-Mac struck out two in the third, bringing his strikeout total to 4 on the night.  The offense continued in the fourth, with Yamaico Navarro hitting a one out single.  Pedro Alvarez followed it up with his 5th homer of the year, making it 4-2.

Eric Hinske got a run back for Atlanta in the fourth, scoring Dan Uggla.  From that point on, it was all Pirates.  Yamaico Navarro made it 6-3 in the sixth on a two run homer, and McDonald continued to deal on the mound.  The Bucs tacked on three more in the seventh, with Tabata scoring on a passed ball, and Neil Walker and Yamaico Navarro each driving in a run.  J-Mac struck out the side in the seventh, and K’d his 10th batter in the eighth.  He ended up going 7 2/3 innings, striking out ten and giving up three runs.  Chris Resop got the last four outs of the game, although the ninth inning was a little shaky.  Bucs and Braves split the series, and we’re on to May.

Other highlights:
- The Bucs put up more than 5 runs in a game for the first time this year.
– All eight starting position players had a hit.
– Neil Walker picked up 3 hits, bringing his average up to .278.
– Pedro stayed hot, and his home run really sparked the offense.  When he’s hitting well, the rest of the offense follows.
– The Pirates finish the first month of the year at 10-12 (same record through 22 games as last season), pretty good when you consider the teams they’ve played.

Star of the Game: James McDonald.  McDonald had his second great start in a row, this time picking up a win.  Striking out 10 in 7 2/3 is as good as it gets, and the offense finally picked up their starter.
Goat of the Game: Mike Minor.  He gave up 7 runs in just 6 1/3 innings, and walked 3.  He did strike out 9 Pirates, but his overall start wasn’t very good.

Pirates (10-12) – Braves (14-9)

Win: McDonald (1-1)
Loss: Minor (2-2)

BOX SCORE

Go Bucs