Four years ago today, the Dodgers introduced Kenta Maeda as a new member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The signing has been a big bargain so far.
Exactly four years ago today, the Los Angeles Dodgers introduced Kenta Maeda as the newest member of their team and rotation. The Dodgers signed Maeda to one of the more interesting contracts in recent memory. It was an eight-year deal that guaranteed Kenta three million dollars a season. With various incentives for innings pitched and starts made each season, Maeda could earn around $11 million a year.
Kenta Maeda was a teammate of former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Kenta pitched in the NPB from 2008 to 2015 and twice won the award for the league’s best pitcher, which is the Sawamura award. He left the NPB with a lifetime record of 97-67 and an ERA of 2.39. Maeda was the youngest pitcher to win the pitching triple crown in Japan so it’s safe to say he had an illustrious career overseas.
How did the Dodgers get the Japanese right-hander on such a team-friendly deal? Kenta’s physical in Los Angeles revealed some “irregularities” in his pitching elbow so the contract did come with some risk for the Dodgers. Then again which pitcher doesn’t? Although it was feared that Maeda could need Tommy John surgery at some point, that has not been an issue so far.
The Dodgers signed Kenta Maeda at a time when the starting rotation needed a boost. Zack Greinke had just opted out and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks while Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy were recovering from surgeries and out for at least half the 2016 season. Maeda was the only projected right-hander in the 2016 rotation that included Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Scott Kazmir, and Brett Anderson.
Kenta’s rookie season may have been his best season so far as he made 32 starts posting an ERA of 3.48 to go along with a WHIP of 1.14. So far through four seasons, Maeda has a career ERA of 3.87 and a WHIP of 1.15. As a starting pitcher, he has an ERA of 3.92 and is averaging 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. His best work has come out of the bullpen.
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As a reliever, Kenta Maeda has pitched to an ERA of 3.19 with a WHIP of 0.99. His strikeout rate jumps to 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched out of the bullpen. The Dodgers have used Kenta out of the pen in the postseason and he has been a valuable asset to the team. In 2019, Maeda was the Dodgers’ best reliever during the NLDS and he should have been used more often.
For the 2020 season, Kenta will begin the season in the rotation yet again and he figures to join Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw as the three locks for the opening day rotation. After those three the last two spots will come down to Julio Urias, Dustin May, and Ross Stripling, among others. For the postseason he should end up in the bullpen again given how dominant he has been in a relief role.
The Dodgers may be better off using Maeda out of the bullpen all season long but due to his contract with starting pitching incentives, the Dodgers will use him out of the rotation for most of the season. That remains the one problem the team needs to sort out with Kenta but so far they have been unable to do so. Regardless, Kenta Maeda remains one of the biggest bargains on the Dodger roster.