Height 6-4, Weight 220, B/T: L/L, DOB: 01/16/1984
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #14
In some ways, Matt Maloney is representative of just how far the farm system has come. In years past, Maloney would be one of the best pitchers in a system entirely devoid of quality pitching prospects. However, the renewed emphasis on rebuilding the farm system has finally overcome the years of damage done by Marge Schott's scorched earth approach to scouting. Maloney's remains a good prospect, but he is overshadowed by those young pitchers already residing in the MLB rotation and by a handful of impact pitching prospects down on the farm.
Still, Maloney is talented enough to deserve some time in the spotlight.
Maloney was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Mississippi. He acquitted himself well early in his professional career, but his time in the Philly organization was short lived, as on July 30, 2007, the Reds acquired Matt Maloney from the Philadelphia Phillies for Kyle Lohse.
Overall, Kyle Lohse was a very good acquisition for the Reds, as they gave up Zach Ward to acquire him, got one and half years of production out of him, then traded him for a better pitching prospect in Maloney than it took acquire him in the first place. When making player personnel moves, general managers should already have an exit strategy in mind for each player they acquire. In order to maximize the value of each player to the organization, it's important to consider how to extract value from the departure of that player. Kyle Lohse is a prime example of maximizing value to the organization, as by cashing in on his departure the Reds managed to keep that value in the organization in the form of Matt Maloney.
Maloney spent the vast majority of the 2009 season pitching for triple-A Louisville. For the Bats, Maloney continued to roll and put up good numbers. In 143.0 innings Maloney posted a 3.08 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 1.5 BB/9, and a 7.9 K/9. On the season, Maloney walked only 24 batters, while striking out a robust 125. His performance was truly stellar, as evidenced by his ridiculous 5.21 K/BB ratio.
His performance earned him a late season promotion to the majors, where he posted a 4.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 1.77 BB/9, and a 6.2 K/9 in 40.2 innings. Unfortunately, his underlying performance wasn't as strong his ERA, as his Fielding Independent Pitching was an unimpressive 5.41. Additionally, he was likely a bit lucky, as his BABIP was a bit low at .282, while his strand rate was a bit too high at 77.3%. So, he gave up fewer baserunners via the base hit than expected and also stranded a few more of those runners who did reach base than expected.
However, Maloney's MLB performance was reflective of both his minor league strengths and weaknesses. His strong K/BB ratio carried over to the majors as evidenced by his 3.5 K/BB mark. However, he also continued to struggle with the long ball, as he gave up 9 homers in just 40 major league innings. Maloney is a fly ball pitcher and with less than overpowering stuff he has little margin for error. He posted an HR/FB mark of 13.2%, which was higher than all but two full time starters in Major League Baseball in 2009. When you factor in just how many more fly balls he gives up than average, having such a high percentage of them leave the yard is a potential problem.
REPERTOIRE AND MECHANICS
If a lefthanded pitching prospect strikes out almost a batter an inning against advanced competition, then one would think that he would be pretty highly regarded. However, scouts downgrade Maloney on the basis of his repertoire, which consists of four solid pitches.
Maloney throws a fastball that sits in the 87-88 mph range and has good late sink. His best pitch is his plus changeup, which he threw 27.2% of the time and in any and all situations. He also has a big looping 11-5 breaking curveball and a fringy slider. Unfortunately, his velocity lowers his ceiling, but Maloney understands how to pitch and keep hitters off-balance. Both his control and command are strong, as he can consistently hit his spots inside the zone. He certainly gets the most out of his abilities and his understanding of pitching allows his tools to play up a notch.
As for his mechanics, Maloney is fundamentally sound. He holds his hands at chin level and peers over the top of the webbing to look in and get his sign from the catcher. He triggers the windup with a small step towards third base, which allows him to transfer his weight to his plant foot and shift his left foot down onto the rubber. While he's in the process of shifting his weight and his position on the rubber, he is bringing his hands down to belt level. He then brings his leg up into his leg kick and his hands all the way up by his left ear. His leg kick is fairly extreme, as he brings his knee all the way up to his chest, while his lower leg almost reaches parallel to the ground. He doesn't incorporate significant hip rotation, choosing instead to bring his leg kick straight up rather than coil his body. So, instead of their being a rotational differential between his hips and shoulders, they both stay on a line running from second base-to-homeplate which reduces the overall energy he can impart on the baseball.
Maloney has tremendous balance at the apex of his leg kick. He has good body control, which enables him to maintain a strong position over the top of his plant foot. Unfortunately, he doesn't use a strong push off the rubber that would enable him to more effectively incorporate his lower body into the delivery. His move towards the plate isn't very aggressive, seemingly falling naturally towards the plate rather than aggressively driving towards the plate with the lower body. His high leg kick creates substantial potential energy, but by unpacking the leg kick without really driving to the plate, he is inefficient in translating that potential energy into kinetic energy. The limited body coil and the less than impressive push off the rubber prevent him from maximizing the energy generated by his delivery.
Once he does head towards the plate, the defining aspect of his delivery comes into focus. Maloney's plant foot lands closer to the first base side than normal and as a result he has a closed off delivery (which you can somewhat see below in the first photo) which requires him to use a cross-fire arm action. Also, his combination of a closed off delivery and cross-fire arm action often results in his body facing third base on his follow-through. The closed off position of his plant foot forces his momentum to work around his plant leg, rather than heading directly towards home plate. To compensate for the closed off body position and to try to direct his momentum towards the plate, Maloney flexes and locks the knee of his plant leg (almost to the point of hyperextension) when delivering the pitch. When the momentum does work around his closed off lower half, it spins his entire body around to face third base after delivering the pitch. Obviously, facing third base after delivering the pitch leaves him in less than ideal fielding positioning and could cost him a few hits back through the box over the course of the season.
Maloney's height allows him to throw on a downward plane, which he does despite using a three-quarter arm slot. Below, you can clearly see his arm slot in the photo on left, which shows that he doesn't use a pure over-the-top delivery. In the photo on the right, Maloney demonstrates a good arm position, as his elbow isn't too high and it is on pace to be up in throwing position when his plant foot lands, which is what you want to see. As a general rule, the pitching arm should be up in throwing position with the forearm perpendicular to the ground when the plant foot lands. In the photo on the right, Maloney still has his arm parallel to the ground, but his foot hasn't landed yet and he will bring it up into position in time. If the arm isn't up in throwing position when the plant foot lands, then it is lagging behind and it could create problems with consistency and increase the stress on the arm. You can also see that Maloney takes a nice long stride, which helps with his balance and allows him to get good extension despite the closed position of his plant foot.
Overall, Maloney's mechanics are solid, his arm action is clean, and his less than max effort delivery should lower his injury risk. However, his below average body coil, poor leg drive, and closed off lower body work to cost him velocity, as he is relatively inefficient in imparting the energy created by his delivery to the baseball.
You can access Maloney's MLB draft scouting video here. And, you can see his MLB highlights here.
Maloney is a prime example of the type of "free talent" that exists throughout the game. He's a solid pitcher who lacks elite stuff, but knows how to succeed with it and should be a solid option at the back end of an MLB rotation. All he really lacks is an opportunity. Even so, you see General Managers around the league throwing multi-million dollar contracts at pitchers with similar abilities. A prime example is Eric Milton, who the Reds signed to a massive contract despite his marginal skills. A better strategy would have been to promote or target pitchers like Matt Maloney, who provide similar production for a mere fraction of the price.
At this point, Maloney is in the running for the fifth starter spot, but has pitchers like Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman fast on his heels. He may get an opportunity to start, but may ultimately be forced out of the organization. If so, a bargain hunting GM would be wise to acquire his services, especially if he can put Maloney in a ballpark better suited to his pitching profile. At the very least, Maloney should provide very good production for the cost until he accumulates enough service time to hit arbitration.
For now, Maloney's polish and pitchability are impressive enough to land him at #10 on the list.