The Red Sox signed John Maine to a minor-league deal on Friday, giving them yet another pitcher looking to right his ship with a stop in Boston. Maine's deal does not include an invitation to spring training, unlike those of Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, and seemingly everyone else Boston has picked up in their quest to round out their rotation and bullpen, meaning he will have to prove himself in-season in order to find himself with the Sox.
Maine has spent a lot of time on the shelf as of late, thanks to a bum right shoulder that has plagued him for years (injury data courtesy Baseball Prospectus):
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Maine spent the better part of two seasons dealing with shoulder problems, starting in mid-2008 and culminating in surgery to clean out the area in early 2010. The 2011 season saw him start 11 games in Triple-A Colorado Springs for the Rockies, but he just wasn't very good there. Whether he needed more time to recover, was just rusty, or is just plain bad at this point is still up for debate -- it was just 46 innings after all, even if they were 46 terrible ones.
These shoulder issues might have been a long time coming, too, as Maine was possibly overused before he was even a professional, according to Baseball Prospectus 2003:
He had to work hard to get there: 134 innings, 144 strikeouts and 53 walks made the national (and not just conference) leaderboards, and a rough estimate from his stat line numbers suggests that he averaged over 100 pitches per start. Yes, we like to say that's a little rough for a 20-year old.
Over 100 pitches per start is a lot different for a still-developing 20-year-old's arm than it is for a veteran in the bigs.
Maine has always had a great fastball -- it's why he put up such wonderful strikeout numbers in the low minors 2002 and 2003. It was generally 92-93 with heavy sink, but he could throw it harder than that, too. The problems were his secondary offerings and inconsistent mechanics, but for the relatively inexperienced (and overmatched) youth of the South Atlantic League, Maine's fastball -- which he had plus command of -- was more than enough to rack up the whiffs and outs.
His success translated to the majors, even if the strikeouts didn't match up completely. From 2006 through 2008, Maine posted a 109 ERA+, struck out an above-average 8.0 per nine, and walked 3.7 per nine. While that latter figure was worse than average, Maine made up for it by being a bit difficult to hit -- his career .269 BABIP is better than average, and while part of that is due to pitching in pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium, part of it is also due to his ability to induce pop ups. Almost 13 percent of his batted-balls were infield pop ups, helping to make up for at least a portion of his extreme flyball tendencies. When they didn't become pop ups, though, they went far: Maine allowed 1.2 homers per nine when he was at his best, despite his pitcher-friendly environs.
If Maine's shoulder feels better after surgery, the Red Sox might have picked up a useful arm on a no-risk deal here. That's a significant "if", of course, especially since a year removed from surgery he was getting rocked in the Rockies and mulling retirement at age 30.
As a piece in the pen, Maine has the potential to be pretty good. His fastball was always his best pitch, and the fact he might not have the shoulder to start anymore makes it an easy decision to try him there. Nate Silver wrote about starters moving to relief back in 2006 when trying to figure out what makes a successful reliever:
Walk rate -- command -- is strongly associated with the consistency of a pitcher's mechanics. Pitchers who have difficulty maintaining the same release point from inning to inning, or have trouble keeping their focus, are prone to bouts of wildness. Turning such a pitcher into a reliever can minimize this disadvantage, as he is less prone to fatigue, and may be able to get away with using just one or two pitches.
Maine has had trouble in the past with consistency in his mechanics, and his secondary stuff has never matched up to his heater. Throw in the shoulder and a fastball that might only play up faster out of the pen, and this is an obvious transition.
Boston isn't even going to use spring training innings on him, though, so Maine can come along at his own pace. If it turns out a little of the old magic is there, Boston will surely find a use for him, whether it's out of the bullpen or just as more insurance to put in line ahead of the Andrew Miller Experiment. If Maine has nothing left in the tank? Well, that's why minor league deals exist.