Is Kenta Maeda Worth It?

If you were to dabble in the fantasy baseball community on Twitter you would find many analysts and writers posting interesting, compelling, and sometimes unbelievable statistics. Ones that sometimes bring forward hidden gems. Often they are lists that combine multiple metrics. Last offseason Kenta Maeda was on a lot of those lists.

He backed up all of his underlying metrics from 2019 by producing a fantastic 2020 season and making the entire fantasy baseball community look like geniuses. Since December 1st Kenta Maeda has been drafted as the 46th player overall and the 15th pitcher off the board. That’s some high praise but drafting is about acquisition cost and begs the question, are we taking Maeda at his ceiling leaving little room for any kind of regression?

On the surface level, Maeda’s season looks legit with a 3.00 FIP, 2.92 SIERA, and 28.2 K-BB%. Sure the .208 BABIP and 80.2 LOB% call for regression but it still looks like a low three ERA is attainable. Something you need from him at his current draft price. 

Maeda was able to take a step forward by making a pitch mix change no one saw coming.

Kenta Maeda Pitch Usage
Year Slider Changeup Four-seam Sinker Curveball
2019 31.5 23.7 33.7 3.7 7.4
2020 38.6 29.4 18.8 7.1 3.4
Difference 7.1 5.7 -14.9 3.4 -4.0

In theory, he did what we all love to see, lower the fastball usage and increase the breaking usage. As usual, we like to rip open the seams a look a little deeper.

Let’s start with the four-seam fastball that he dropped dramatically in terms of usage. Maeda did this for a reason and it’s because it was never that great and he never utilized it very well. Between 2018 and 2019 it averaged a 148 wRC+ against and .226 ISO against. Both very high numbers and proved that when hitters got a handle on the pitch they hit it hard.

The drop in usage really came against left-handed hitters (LHH). Throughout his career, his fastball usage against LHH was roughly 30% but in 2020 that dipped to 16.8%. A great move because LHH always had success against it.

When it comes to right-handed hitters (RHH) Maeda used it 23.3% of the time, his second most used pitch against them. Last season opposing hitters only had a .000 ISO and .000 SLG against it. An impressive feat. But in his career, RHH averaged a .174 ISO and .366 SLG against it making me think regression has to be coming.

Could it be improved overall because of the change in utilization and pitch mix? Sure can. But against RHH his utilization stayed the same and it didn’t increase in vertical movement compared to previous years. It’s hard not to be at least a little suspect about this pitch moving forward.

Maeda’s most used pitch was his slider and with a .349 wOBAcon, 19.2 SwStr%, and 39.1 O-Swing% it makes for a great option. The main issue with his slider comes down to command. When he threw it 31.5% of the time in 2019 he hit the heart of the zone at a 24% clip. That changed dramatically last season. That percentage rose to 31.8%, the second-highest in the league.

It becomes significant because opposing hitters had a .524 ISO and .456 wOBA against his slider when he left it in the middle of the zone. Compare that to other sliders and you see how much this could really hurt Maeda.

Pitchers With Similar Slider % Over The Zone
Pitcher % Heart of The Zone Iso wOBA
Yu Darvish 30.9 0.150 0.184
JT Brubaker 30.0 0.368 0.385
Kershaw 29.1 0.239 0.311

The three pitchers above put it over the plate almost just as much but look at their results. They can afford to do so while Maeda simply cannot. This might be due to a lack of movement and bad pitch sequencing.

This enlightens the big question in will it catch up to him? Well, it kind of did already in 2020.

Slider By Month
Month wOBAcon Barrel% ISO SLG
August 0.250 8.1 0.133 0.311
September 0.474 15.4 0.235 0.412

As you can see his overall contact numbers on his slider worsened as the season went on. It’s a tough call with a limited amount of starts but I’d like to think this shows that his slider was starting to take a step back. Could I just be pessimistic? Possibly.

You can certainly claim this all to be nit-picky which is somewhat true, but when you are taking a pitcher this early in drafts you want as little risk as possible. You want as few flaws as the eye can see. Maeda is great and I didn’t even mention his best pitch in the changeup. A pitch that is seemingly flawless. But with the consensus worry on what his innings count will look like and now if you tack on a probable over achieving fastball and lack of slider command you have to ask yourself the question, is he worth it? Is Kenta Maeda worth your third-round draft pick?





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NBiscardi17
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NBiscardi17

I’m fading most AL Central pitchers, only guy I’m really in on at high end is Giolito. His ability to do well in the zone I think translates anywhere.

carter
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carter

Agreed, and I’d add nl central pitchers to the mix as well. With that said, we have no clue what this season looks like. It has all been confirmed it will be a late start, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they make some alterations to the schedule as well. Even though the players are going to insist on full pay, the owners aren’t going to let that happen. I’d bet there will be some sort of compromise, 120 games, and less travel. I don’t think it will look like last year… But some variation of that. There is also a good chance that states lockdown again, as basically the entire world is locking down again.

airforce21one
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airforce21one

If everyone else is also fading on AL central pitchers, won’t they be properly valued come draft time?