by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It’s easy to hear about a pitcher making the jump from Japan, especially with the hype that’s surrounded Kenta Maeda, and reach the conclusion that he’ll make an impact much like Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka. However, the production and the expectations should not be quite the same as evidenced by their numbers in Japan:
Simply put, he profiles more as a control pitcher than someone who is going to rack up the strikeouts. That’s not to say that his number won’t rise, especially after posting a mark between 7.5 and 8.1 over the past five seasons and given the unfamiliarity that MLB hitters will have with his repertoire. Throw in pitching in the NL, where he won’t have to maneuver around the DH and deeper lineups, and things look that much better.
Scott Mowers of Minor League Ball (click here for the article) gave a great writeup on Maeda, including profiling his repertoire. Here’s what he features:
- Fastball – “sits 87-92 with the ability to reach back for a couple extra ticks when he needs it, the pedestrian velocity plays up because of an advanced pitching pedigree and the ability to throw all of his quality offspeed offerings for strikes.”
- Slider – “low-80’s slider is known as his best pitch despite true wipeout, bat-missing break because he’s able to flip it for strikes to both righties and lefties in any count.”
- Changeup – “He also mixes in a solid low-80’s changeup that has unorthodox armside movement, coaxing a fair amount of uncomfortable swings.”
- Curveball – “Sticking with the Looney Tunes theme, watching Maeda’s curveball in action may elicit the image of Wile E. Coyote, as he drops the anvil with a 12-6 bender that plays well off his plus-slider with similar elite vertical drop, but thrown 10mph slower.”
- “Shuuto” – “a mysterious version of the common two-seam or sinking fastball that he throws in the high-80s.”
We’d expect the numbers to impress, especially early, with the potential for a slow down as the season wears on and hitters gain experience in facing him. That said, an improvement over his numbers in Japan should be expected and an overall strikeout rate close to 8.5 is a fair expectation.
With his ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, there’s little reason to think that the control is going to waiver significantly. He posted the identical walk rate to Tanaka while in Japan and the latter actually has improved his control since coming stateside (1.5 BB/9 over 290.1 IP). We wouldn’t necessarily expect that type of mark, but he should bring elite control to the table and that’s going to lead to a tremendous WHIP.
Throw in a favorable home ballpark and the ability to keep hitters off-balance, which should limit the damage of home runs, and there is a ton to like. Obviously there is some risk as he needs to adjust to life in the U.S., so we wouldn’t consider him a given, but the following is a fair projection:
180.0 IP, 14 W, 3.35 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 169 K (8.45 K/9), 41 BB (2.05 BB/9)
Given the depth of pitching around the league that puts him outside of the Top 25, so keep that in mind. Don’t make the mistake of valuing him as a SP1/2 on draft day. Instead he’s more of a SP3/4 to help the middle of your rotation. Chances are someone is going to be willing to overpay, given the hype, so at this point we wouldn’t be expecting to own him.
Sources – Baseball Reference, Minor League Ball, Fangraphs
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