The Los Angeles Dodgers surprise player in 2016 was Kenta Maeda, as he filled in admirably in the middle of the rotation. Expectations are high for the soon-to-be 29 year-old in his sophomore season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers received a lot of criticism last year when they allowed Zack Greinke to walk. Then they received even more scrutiny when they decided to take a risk on Japanese rookie Kenta Maeda. It was an eight-year $25 million incentive-laden contract. With those incentives, he would have been able to make up to $106.2 million in total. That would max out at just over $13 million a year. With the way he performed last season, $13 million (at most) is a great price.
Remember, this is assuming that he reaches all the milestones required. Last season he made $10,375,000 which is a pretty good price for a rookie who had a 3.48 ERA, 1.13 WHIP in 175.2 innings. He also struck out 179 batters. He led the team in games started (132), innings pitched, and strikeouts. This made him the most dependable pitcher on the team last season. In today’s market, where salaries seem to be increasing every winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to have received somewhat of a bargain.
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The question now is, what can he do as a follow-up? Before we answer that, we should address what he should do. If he wants to take the next step, he needs to reach 200 innings. Maeda definitely slowed down towards the end of the season, and struggled in the postseason. He wore down by the time the Los Angeles Dodgers needed him most, but that’s understandable.
Japanese pitchers usually need time to adapt to the Major League workload. This is because they aren’t pitching as often and against the same level competition. He’s reached 200 innings a few times in Japan, but it is much harder to reach that plateau when facing the best hitters in the world. Signs show that he is working on reaching that goal.
His ability to stay healthy and pitch deeper into games this season will be even more valuable when you consider that the Dodgers are relying on the perpetually injured Rich Hill as well. Banking on the 37 year-old to stay healthy and pitch at least 200 innings is a huge gamble. Maeda will have to be reliable in both health and production because at some point, we can expect him to have to fill in for Hill.
Personally I think Kenta Maeda will take the next step and be on the verge of becoming a legit workhorse. He is in the middle of his physical prime and I expect him to do everything possible to make his body more durable and stronger. He will go from under-the-radar and jump straight into the conversation for the best number three starter in baseball. I believe that he will make the Los Angeles Dodgers’ front trio (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and himself) one of the best in the league.
He pitched like a borderline front-line arm last season and he will definitely pitch like one this season. I expect him to reach 200 innings (just over) and have a ERA below 3.30, a WHIP in the ballpark of 1.10 and a strikeout rate of around 9 K/9. He would make a solid number two, but an excellent number three.