Dodgers: The Ryu vs. Maeda Battle for Last Playoff Spot
By Hector Ponce
Depth is a good thing, but it can cause some problems. One glaring one is assembling a 25-man roster for October. A big decision has to be made by the Dodgers when it comes to deciding who makes the roster between Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda. Let’s see who has the advantage between the two.
Coming into the season, many questions were raised about the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Many were questioning whether or not the rotation behind Kershaw would be good enough. Now here we are in August trying to figure out if the original three and five starters are even going to make the playoff roster. Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu will have to duel it out.
Both players look ready to contribute to a playoff team. In fact, both would have had the opportunity to do so had the Dodgers not made the blockbuster deal for All-Star Yu Darvish. The former Ranger stole a spot in the starting rotation from both of them. His acquisition made it, so the Dodgers (barring injury) have four legitimate starters ready for a playoff series. With Kershaw leading the way and Darvish, Wood and Hill to follow makes for a deadly playoff rotation.
So now instead of duking it out for the 4th spot in the rotation, they will have to battle for a spot as the long relief piece in the bullpen. But that role is nothing to scoff at. Julio Urias filled that role last season and pitched two scoreless innings in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS while earning the win. His contribution was not small at all, and it is very important that the right guy is chosen for the job once again.
First, we will start with the Japanese import Kenta Maeda. He currently holds a 3.69 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 100 innings pitched. Solid numbers coming from a pitcher who would be the number 5/6 option if everyone was healthy. The problem with Kenta comes with how erratic he can be from start to start.
For example, on June 27nd Kenta threw seven shutout innings against the cross-town rival Angels. His next start came On July 2nd against the Padres. Kenta was forced out before he was able to get out of the 4th inning giving up five runs in 3.2 innings. Sometimes it just looks like his stuff is flat coming out of his hand, and it can be BP for the opposing teams.
But to be completely fair to Kenta, he has become more and more consistent in his last seven or so starts. We are seeing less of these ugly performances from the 29-year-old right hander. Also, one thing that does plague him that wouldn’t be a factor if he is moved to the bullpen in the playoffs is having to face a lineup for a third time through.
In his five innings of relief this season, Maeda has seven strikeouts and has only allowed one run. He also has one save this year. Maeda could be a nice addition to the bullpen and may even benefit long-term with a move to the bullpen.
Now let us discuss the Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. He has finally been able to maintain his health thus far. His health is what kept him out for all of 2015 and most of 2016. When he was healthy in 2013 and 2014, he was the team’s third starter behind aces Kershaw and Greinke. Ryu has shown that he can be an excellent option for this club.
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This season he possesses a 3.53 ERA with 89 strikeouts in just under 92 innings pitched. His last two outings, in particular, have been phenomenal. In those two starts, he pitched a combined 14 innings without allowing a run and was also able to notch 15 strikeouts and allow just six total hits.
The pitch that puts him over the top is his changeup. He can be dominant when that pitch is located well and moving how he wants. It looks just like his fastball when he releases it but drops last second and causes batters to swing over it. That is his strikeout pitch, and if it is not working, he can have trouble putting hitters away, which can lead to him getting hit and getting hit hard.
Much like Maeda, Ryu may benefit from a move to the bullpen come October. In his only relief appearance this season he threw four shutout innings and recorded a save. He looked mighty impressive in that appearance and proved that he could be used in the bullpen if necessary.
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So Ryu and Maeda have almost identical stats this season so if the decision was only based on competition between the two then it would be darn near impossible to make a decision. But this has many factors to it. One of which is the lack of reliable left-handed pitchers in the bullpen. For this reason, Ryu may very well get the nod in the playoffs, leaving Maeda off the roster.