Position: Relief Pitcher
2018 Stats: MLB: 5 1/3 IP, 11.81 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 4.86 DRA, 108 DRA-
Triple-A Iowa: 38 2/3 IP, 2.79 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 75 K, 39 BB
Year In Review: Dillon Maples is a weird pitcher, which is what makes him so fun. It’s weird to throw a fastball at an average of over 97 mph, and have that be your second best pitch. Unfortunately, it’s his second best pitch by a mile. His slider, which sits 88, seems to be the only thing he can get over the plate in an effective manner. He threw the slider two times for every fastball in his limited major league action.
Miniscule sample size warning, but against fastballs: batters are hitting .615… though he is getting BABIP’d to the tune of .667. I say that only sort of joking. They’re slugging 1.000.
Against the slider? Hitters are hitting .083. So you can see why he wants to throw the slider all the time.
In his July 1 appearance, he was almost even, with 13 fastballs, 14 cutters, and one show-me curve. That game… didn’t go so well. He gave up five earned runs against two outs. The next time he took the mound? He also got two outs, giving up no runs, and his pitch selection was simple: 12 sliders, the end.
Cubs player development director Jaron Madison said Maples “has a slider no one can hit and he can throw it in any count.” Being able to throw it in any count is great. Having to throw it in every count, less great. If he could find a way to even kind of locate his 97-100 mph fastball at the top of the zone, it would go a long way toward a full-time job in a major league bullpen.
His stuff is classically closer, Kimbrel-esque, except for the command. That’s a big “except.” Maples functioned as Iowa’s closer for much of the year, racking up 10 saves.
Looking ahead: Maples turns 27 in May, making him older than Javy, Schwarber, Bote, Almora, Happ, and Contreras. He’s taken the scenic route, after being convinced to turn down a punting/kicking scholarship to the University of North Carolina when he was drafted by Jim Hendry in 2011. There are serious command issues here, and yet…
Look at that Triple-A stat line. There are not a lot of pitchers in the world who, at their best, are as unhittable as Dillon Maples at his best. He struck out 17.5 per 9 in Iowa, but he also walked 9.1 per 9. If he can get the walks more in line with his 2017 (between Iowa and Chicago, he was walking about 6 per 9—not nice, but a lot closer to it), he can at least be in the conversation for the majors.
If you’re looking for optimism, in 44 percent (18 of 41) of his Iowa appearances, Maples didn’t walk anybody. So he either really had it, or he really didn’t, in very Carl Edwards fashion.
Maples is a pitcher you can dream on, but to this point at the major league level, you would have to be going deep into REM to find the best of it. The most effective comp with K/BB rates I could find for Maples’s brief MLB profile is 2017 Dellin Betances:
2017 Dellin Betances: 15.1 K/9, 6.6 BB/9
2018: Dillon Maples (MLB numbers): 15.2 K/9, 8.4 BB/9
Maples’s sample size here is extremely low, but those numbers are in line with what he’s done between the majors and Triple A over the last two years. You can squint and see a Betances in here, but ready for me to bum you out? That walk rate is .15 walks per 9 WORSE than Tyler Chatwood. The righty’s walk rate in Iowa was even worse this year. Yikes.
On the bright side, Betances cut his walks all the way down to 3.5/9 following the year above. It’s asking a lot, but if Maples can do that? Whoa, baby.
I still have hope that Maples can swerve on this, and cut those walks down enough to be a real force. Maybe it’s not “probable,” but then again, after Maples spent five years in the minors without reaching Double-A, so just getting this far wasn’t “probable,” either. His arm talent is improbable. If the next pitching coach can find a way to harness that arm, just a little bit, he could be a huge weapon. If not? He’ll be a supremely interesting arm that bounces back and forth on the Iowa shuttle. Here’s hoping for the former.
Lead photo courtesy MLB.com