Kenta Maeda and Seung-hwan Oh Off to Great Starts in MLB
I’m glad to see how well Kenta Maeda and Seung-hwan Oh have pitched so far in their rookie MLB seasons, because I’ve long believed both had what it takes to play and excel at the highest level. Neither has yet allowed a run in the majors.
Entering his third start of the season against the Giants, whom I hope hand Maeda his first MLB loss, Maeda has thrown 12 shutout innings. As expected, his stuff doesn’t appear to be tremendous, but his command and his ability to pitch are exceptional, with only one walk against eight strikeouts.
After six appearances Oh has struck out 11 in 6.2 innings pitched. He’s been wilder than Maeda but also harder to hit.
In the short term, I had more concerns about how Oh would do in the majors this year than Maeda. Oh didn’t pitch as well in 2015, his second year in Japan’s NPB, as he did in 2014. He didn’t throw a whole lot of innings in Japan each season, but he was used very heavily in the post-season, and I had some concerns that he might be nearing an arm injury. Turning 34 on July 15th, Oh is no spring chicken.
In the long term, I have concerns about how Maeda, a small right-hander, will adjust to pitching every fifth game in MLB, as opposed to once a week in Japan. Many Japanese starters have had arm problems after coming over to MLB. However, it’s hard to tell if it’s the result of pitching with less rest in the U.S., or simply the chickens coming home to roost after many years of high innings pitched and pitch count totals in both Japan and the U.S.
Right now, Maeda and Oh have an advantage over MLB hitters who have never seen them before. Now that they have established that they can succeed in MLB, they should continue to pitch well through at least the All-Star Break, by which time MLB hitters will have more opportunities to learn their tendencies and actually face them in game situations. However, with 15 team leagues and more inter-league play, it takes a long time before hitters get to see a new pitcher in even three different games.