Enter the Pirates, arguably the worst franchise in baseball. Tonight we'll face their ace, Paul Maholm. A little history: the Pirates have a recent history of talented young starters following breakout seasons with absolute disaster. Oliver Perez broke out in 2004, then collapsed in 2005; Zach Duke broke out in 2005 and collapsed in 2006; Ian Snell broke out in 2007 and collapsed last year; Tom Gorzelanny, amazingly, had good years in 2006 and 2007 but pitched so badly last year that he began 2009 in the minor leagues.
Last year, the breakout pitcher was Paul Maholm: 9-9, 3.71 ERA (111 ERA+), 206 1/3 IP, 139 K, 1.279 WHIP, tops on the staff in all categories. Pirates fans are already wincing at the thought that he might follow Perez, Duke, Snell, and Gorzelanny into oblivion. So far this year, though, he's had great results: just 2 earned runs in his first two starts, a 1.32 ERA with a 0.951 WHIP. But he succeeded last year despite great ratios -- a 6.1 K/9 and 2.21 K/BB are not awe-inspiring -- and his 4.20 FIP last year was a half-run higher than his 3.71 ERA. (FIP, Fielding-Independent Pitching, is a Hardball Times stat that attempts to normalize a pitcher's performance by neutralizing defense.) On paper, then, this guy appears to be a middle-of-the-pack guy rather than an ace.
He has four main pitches: fastball, slider, curveball, change. The fastball tops out around 90, and he throws it around 60% of the time. (Pitch F/x says he has a fifth pitch, a sinker, a couple miles slower than the regular fastball.) His second-most frequent pitch is the curve, which gets thrown nearly 20% of the time and is around 15 mph slower than the fastball; he throws the slider and change about 10% of the time, and both are around 80 miles per hour. Not worldbeating stuff: he doesn't get a lot of strikeouts or swings and misses, and he gives up around 20 homers a year. There's just one thing: he's left-handed, and you know what young lefthanders with mediocre stuff usually do to us. He's faced us twice, and has a 2.77 ERA and 6 K against 3 BB in 13 innings.
Hopefully Kelly can continue his torrid hitting against lefties -- and the Pirates will play like they're the Pirates. It's time to start another winning streak.