Kenta Maeda Proving His Worth; Off to an Excellent Start to the Season
Saturday, April 23, 2016 was not just any another day at Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies. The franchise was coming off another impressive, early season win over a very talented Los Angeles Dodgers team the night before. Down 3-0 early and later trailing 5-4; the Colorado Rockies bullpen once again did a superb job in keeping their dynamic offense close enough to let the organization steal a great 7-5 win late in the game.
The final margin was decided in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Brandon Barnes unloaded a 2-run, game-winning triple off of Dodgers’ reliever, Chris Hatcher. When Jake McGee celebrated the final out to notch his fourth early season save for the Colorado Rockies; parties started in every which corner of LoDo, near 20th and Blake.
Kenta Maeda Strikes Again
Fast forward to Saturday’s early evening (6:10 MST at first pitch) game, and the Rockies-Dodgers met again; this time with first place in the NL West on the line. Colorado matched-up Tyler Chatwood (2-2, 3.47 ERA); this seasons early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year following the revival of his second Tommy John Surgery; and the Los Angeles Dodgers countered with rookie Japanese sensation, Kenta Maeda (3-0, 0.36 ERA).
Chatwood’s early season success has come entirely off his ability to set a quick pace opposing hitters have not been especially used to. He has kept the ball down and has done a great job all season of getting first pitch strikes. Maeda is an international import very few players know anything about. His early season success has drawn comparisons to Dodger greats, Fernando Valenzuela and Sandy Koufax. He pitches with a consistent pace, while pounding the strike zone.
While many analysts thought this would be a good pitching match-up; the early inning wildness of Tyler Chatwood and the over-aggressive Colorado lineup set the stage for another brilliant performance by the Los Angeles Dodgers in their 4-1 road victory. Chatwood saw his 2.79 ERA jump nearly a point to 3.47 when he threw 95-pitches in just four innings before the Rockies’ went to their bullpen.
On the other hand, Maeda threw another brilliant performance, tossing 6 1/3 shutout innings before losing a no-hitter with three consecutive sharply hit baseballs in the bottom of the 6th. In total, Maeda would allow 3 hits, 1 walk and strike out 8. His 6th inning performance was probably the most brilliant inning of work to date this season.
After tossing 5 1/3 innings of no hit baseball, Maeda would allow consecutive singles to Rockies 2nd Baseman DJ LaMeihieu, Shortstop Trevor Story, and Right Fielder Carlos Gonzalez. With only one out and the bases loaded, Kenta Maeda went to work on Colorado Rockies’ All-Star 3rd Baseman Nolan Arenado.
Maeda would go ahead on Arenado 1-2 after throwing consecutive sliders and a high rising fastball to the inside half of the plate, pushing Arenado a little further back. With his 1-2 delivery, a belt high fastball, Arenado popped it up into foul territory, where Dodgers’ 1st Baseman, and former Golden Glove winner, Adrian Gonzalez would gather it in for the second out.
Three pitches later, on a 1-2 delivery to Rockies Center Fielder, Gerardo Parra, Kenta Maeda would force a comebacker; where he was able to toss the ball to Catcher, AJ Ellis for the final out, his inning of work line read: 3 hits, o walks, 1 strikeout, 0 runs; a line every opponent he has faced has been seeing when they have looked at the following days box score in their local newspaper.
In total, Maeda’s line (3-0, 0.36 ERA, 4 BB-23 SO, 25 1/3 IP) has been impressive. To some observers, its been more impressive than Chicago Cubs’ Right Hander Jake Arrieta’s (4-0, 0.87 ERA, 6 BB-26 S0, 31 IP) early season stat line. His early season success can only be compared to two pitchers before him, Dodger Hall of Famer, and current broadcaster Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Phillies great George McQuinllan (1907); who are the only other two starting pitchers in modern era to start their first four starts by allowing a single run in their first 25 innings pitched.
In the early going, Maeda has looked like a ten-year major league veteran. When considering he’s 28 years old, he is not major league baseball’s most conventional rookie. Prior to Spring Training, Maeda was a member of the Hiroshima Carp, a member team of the Japan Central League. In Japan, Maeda would finish his career with a 97-67 overall record and a 2.39 ERA. Tossing 1,509 2/3 innings, he would walk 319 while punching out 1,233 for an out of this world 3.88 SO-BB ratio. From 2012-2015, Maeda’s numbers were astounding, going 55-31 with a 2.08 ERA, striking out 665, with 166 walks over 775 1/3 innings pitched.
In comparison; we took a look at the leagues top pitchers and compared their numbers from 2012-2015 at the Major League level, to Kenta Maeda’s numbers in the same time frame. The results are very similar and create a compelling argument (and mutual belief) to the overall expectations many have placed on Maeda’s long term value.
As you can see, the table above shows the comparisons among Major League Baseball’s biggest winners since 2012. These starters, in comparison, have similar numbers to the results Kenta Maeda had in Japan. From the early success of his career at the major league level, if Maeda continues to follow the same formula he has shown in the early going, the Los Angeles Dodgers may not have only replaced the arm of Zack Grienke, but they may have very well have given themselves the right-handed compliment to Clayton Kershaw, giving them another great arm to throw out every fifth day.
With an arm like his, as every NL West team has already seen this year, Maeda may very well take home some awards and hardware this season, just as fellow Japanese Dodger pitcher, Hideo Nomo did before him! With a one-two punch of Kershaw-Maeda; the Dodgers may have a better arsenal to lineup against any team in the post season.
From here, the focus should be simple; win the division. Once they’re in – the Kershaw-Maeda connection – very well could be the 1-2 punch nobody in the National League wants to lineup against come October.
(Kenta Maeda Proving His Worth)