Kenta Maeda’s Interesting First Year as a Dodger
After Kenta Maeda‘s win against the San Francisco Giants last night, he is now 16-9. With the injury to Clayton Kershaw this season, it is hard to dispute the claim that Maeda has been the ace of the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitching staff.
What I find interesting is the way the Dodgers have been using him. Maeda hasn’t pitched more than 6.1 innings in a ball game since July 10th. His limited use, at least in terms of being the team’s top starter, has been effective, however. He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since July 17th.
Clearly, the Dodgers feel that Maeda is a pitcher who is great the first two times through the line-up and then tires or gets figured out. Maeda is small by major league standards, and I am almost certain that has something to do with manager Dave Roberts‘ perception about how long to leave Maeda in ball games.
It is no secret that the Dodgers, when they signed Maeda, were very concerned about how he would hold up pitching every five games in MLB. There were concerns about his medical reports, and that was the reason that Maeda’s eight-year contract contained more incentives (based on starts and innings pitched) than actual salary.
However, I don’t believe those concerns have much to do with the way Roberts has been using Maeda in the second half. The Dodgers are trying to win their division, and if they thought pitching Maeda routinely into the eighth inning gave them the best chance to win, they’d be doing it. The way Roberts is using him is best for both Maeda and the Dodgers long term, but with the contract Maeda has, the Dodgers don’t loose much if they burn his arm out sooner rather than later.
The Dodgers’ use of Maeda is a testament to the fact that trend of using more and more relief pitchers to pitch more and more major league innings is continuing and has not yet reached an eventual peak based on the number of pitchers that can reasonably be carried on a 25 man roster. I can’t remember the last time a team had a starter this good (and currently this healthy) who has pitched as little each start as Maeda has done this year.
After 30 starts starts, Maeda has pitched only 169 innings, well under six innings a start. Of the 17 National League pitchers with at least 30 starts so far this year, six others have similar innings pitched totals, but all six have ERAs over 4.00. Maeda’s ERA is now 3.20.
Any way you slice it, the Dodgers’ signing of Maeda was one of the best signings of the off-season. Fangraphs values Maeda’s 2016 performance to date at $26.3 million, which is about the guarantee of Maeda’s contract (although he’s earned more this year by hitting performance incentives), and does not take into account the added value of Maeda’s performance being a major part of a play-off season.
By my calculation and including a pro-rated portion of the contract’s signing bonuse, Maeda will earn at most this year $12.275 million, assuming the Dodgers do not skip Maeda’s final start in order to keep him fresh for the start of the post-season. While that is still a tremendous bargain for the Dodgers, it’s also more than twice as much as Maeda could reasonably have expected to make in 2016 had he remained in Japan’s NPB.
It’s an interesting question also what the Dodgers will decide to do with game 162 of their schedule. Maeda is scheduled to make his 32nd start, earning him another $1.5 million bonus, but if I were Dodgers management, I would consider skipping Maeda’s 32nd start, give him the bonus anyway, and thereby keep him fresh to be the team’s second starter in the post.
However, that may not be necessary. If Maeda makes the Dodgers final regular season start on October 2nd, and Clayton Kershaw starts the Dodgers’ first play-off game on October 7th, Maeda would have sufficient rest to pitch the second play-off start on October 8th, particularly if he pitches no more than 3.0 to 5.0 innings on October 2nd.