Kenta Maeda has been a starting pitcher throughout his career in Japan and during his Dodger tenure. The Dodgers moved him to the bullpen for this year’s post-season, and Maeda excelled.
The Dodgers have a surplus of starting pitchers once again, and although it’s highly unlikely that they all remain healthy, the Dodgers can cut down the competition and beef up their bullpen by moving Maeda to the bullpen. The Dodgers made this move for the post-season, and they were rewarded with a stellar performance by Kenta Maeda. In 10 2/3 innings, Maeda struck out ten batters and posted a 0.84 ERA. By comparison, in Maeda’s previous playoff experience, he posted a 6.75 ERA in the 2016 post-season while throwing the same exact amount of innings.
Not only does Maeda’s playoff ERA in relief look tremendously better, but his other stats also look even better. As a playoff starter, Maeda allowed a 273 average against, but in relief, his average allowed was only 135. In relief, he cut his opponent’s average in half and allowed a minuscule 0.66 WHIP. It’s clear to see that Maeda performed way better in relief which is due to the fact he does not have to go through an opposing lineup two to three times.
The Dodgers will enter the 2018 season with their top three rotation spots locked up barring any injuries. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood will hold down the top three rotation spots. The last two spots in the rotation will be battled for between Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Brock Stewart, Walker Buehler, and maybe even Trevor Oaks. This does not include any off-season signings that the Dodgers could potentially make. Given the front office loves to have a ton of depth, I would bet on them signing at least one starting pitcher this winter.
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For Kenta Maeda, there have always been questions about his workload since his initial physical with the Dodgers showed some irregularities. As a relief pitcher, Maeda would not top 80 innings which will keep him fresh throughout the season since he has a shown a tendency to wear down in September. By Maeda coming out of the bullpen, the Dodgers could also piggyback Maeda along with Wood or Ryu since there are concerns about their ability to handle 200 innings a season as well.
By moving Maeda to the bullpen, the Dodgers could even save money by choosing not to re-sign Brandon Morrow. There is no question that Morrow was an intricate part of the Dodgers this season, but there is a good chance that someone is going to overpay him this hot stove season. Morrow is 33 years old and will be turning 34 years old next July. He has a laundry list of prior injuries and is likely going to command a two to a three-year deal this off-season. As we have seen with Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, and Brandon League, relievers are very volatile from one season to another, and it could turn into a bad signing quickly if the Dodgers pay Morrow big money
The one aspect the Dodgers would need to look into with moving Maeda to the bullpen is his contract. Maeda has a very incentive laden deal that basically pays him three million dollars a year, and then the rest of the money he makes is based off starts made, and innings pitched. If Maeda is moved to the bullpen, the Dodgers would need to restructure his contract to change some of those incentives into relief based targets. They could also only restructure this year’s deal since the Dodgers could lose Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Scott Kazmir after this season.
However, the Dodgers choose to change Maeda’s deal it is clear that Kenta has the potential to be a very good setup reliever. Given how the new era of baseball has a big emphasis on the bullpen the Dodgers would be making a strong bullpen even better by moving Maeda to the bullpen permanently. Maeda doesn’t have the stuff to go through a lineup three times but out of the pen his stuff plays up, especially his fastball and slider.