Dodgers: LA Needs to Figure Out the Kenta Maeda Situation
By Sunit Bhakta
Kenta Maeda is coming off another lackluster start which has become the story of his season thus far. The question is, what should the Dodgers do with him?
Kenta Maeda was supposed to improve this season, but the opposite has happened. In ten starts for the Dodgers this season, Maeda has thrown just 52.1 innings and in those innings has a 5.16 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Over his past three starts, he has accumulated just 12 innings and has allowed nine earned runs and eight walks. He’s regressed so much to the point that he has officially become a liability.
As one of only two right-handed starters LA has, Kenta is a valuable member of this team, but at the moment, he is doing more harm than good. His biggest flaw is his inability to go deep into games. He has pitched past the fifth inning just twice this season. Every other start has been either four or five innings, and eventually, that catches up with the team and wears out the bullpen.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Los Angeles’ bullpen had thrown ten innings in their previous two games. Instead of being dependable and giving them a rest, Maeda lasted just four innings and had them throw another five innings.
The biggest reason for this is that he lacks efficiency. A good number of pitchers per inning to be around is 15. Yesterday it took him 92 pitches to get through four innings. The game before that it took him 82 to get through four innings.
Save for his two longest outings of his season, Maeda is averaging almost 18 pitches per inning. His pitch count goes up quickly in games, causing him to leave early. And because he has an elbow issue to manage, the Dodgers can’t leave him out too long.
He’s been missing his spots a lot, throwing a lot of balls which leads to longer counts, and is allowing too many baserunners. The one thing that hasn’t left him though is his ability to strike batters out, but he isn’t able to get that done quickly either. He makes it easier for hitters to work the count against him.
Another concerning element that has shown itself is the increase in his home run rate. In 175.2 innings in 2016, Maeda allowed 20 home runs. This season he has already allowed nine balls to leave the yard in just 52.1 innings. Stretch that over 175.2 innings, and you’d have a 50% increase with 30 long balls.
This problem starts with the fact that he is inducing fewer ground balls and much more flyballs than last season. The splits are almost a reverse of each other. And the rate of home runs per fly balls has also increased, which is a scary combination.
This goes back to his inability to locate pitches which has led to him serving up a lot more meatballs to opposing hitters.
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Because his contract is incentive-laden, the Dodgers will keep their integrity and give him the benefit of the doubt and let him work through his problems. However, to what extent? It’s not the front office’s fault that he won’t be meeting the “innings pitched” requirements that would reward him with financial bonuses.
Yes, they can keep giving him the starts so he can meet the “games started” requirements to receive his extra compensation, but honestly, that would be wrong. They’d be doing it just to do it. A contract works both ways, and the Dodgers signed Maeda in hopes that he would help not hurt the team.They shouldn’t necessarily feel obligated to start him so that he can meet the thresholds.
In business ethics, there’s a thing called “Stakeholder Theory” where managers of companies should make decisions in the best interests of every party that would be affected by a particular decision and not just one party (the shareholders). The front office should follow that thinking and act in the best interests of the team.
Throwing out Maeda every fifth day hurts the team’s performance and their chances of winning, wears down the bullpen which will ultimately lead to a dip in their performance, makes the game harder to manage for Dave Roberts, and (on a smaller note) makes it hard for fans to watch. And you cannot forget the effect on Kenta either.
Leaving him out to dry is not acting the in the best interest of him or any other party involved. It kills his confidence, and performance is positively correlated with confidence.
Either a bullpen or minor league stint is the best option for him. He already has short outings as it is, so a role in the bullpen wouldn’t be bad. It would allow him to slowly work and get back to the way things were. He’d be able to stay “in the moment” and fix things pitch by pitch rather than worrying about having to compensate to last a whole game.
A trip to Triple-A Oklahoma City is less likely, but the idea shouldn’t be brushed away. They can do what they did with Julio Urias and let him work out the kinks that are holding him back. If either of these two strategies were to work, Maeda would get his confidence back, and his performance would follow.
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As of right now though, LA has a huge problem on their hands, and they must deal with it as soon as they can.