The Dodgers Should Stretch Out The Aggressive Kenta Maeda More Often

Kenta Maeda

The Dodgers are in Peoria taking on the Padres this afternoon while they continue their Cactus League slate. Japanese right hander Kenta Maeda will be in the dugout mulling over his new pitching approach for the 2018 season. Ken Gurnick’s latest piece described it as Maeda delivering max effort during his outings. I like to call that pounding the strike zone.

That’s just what Maeda did last October during the Dodger’s run to the fall classic as Maeda pitched out of the bullpen. Thanks to pounding that strike zone or whatever you want to call it, Maeda carried a 1.59 ERA across 10.2 postseason frames in 2017. The only run Maeda allowed was in the World Series as he whiffed 10 and walked only two opposing hitters. Maeda was a fierce competitor in last year’s playoffs.

I thought he took a step back though during the regular season as a starter. Maeda finished the 2017 regular season with a 13-6 record and a 4.22 ERA/4.07 FIP over 25 starts. After posting a 3.48 ERA/3.58 FIP in 2016 and making 32 starts, this was a bit of a drop off. Maeda tossed 175.2 innings in 2016 and logged just 134.1 last year.

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His strikeout to walk ratios were about the same, but his hits per nine clip increased by a tick. He gave up more hits in 2017 than in 2016, but not by much. So what was the problem in last season’s regular campaign? I’m not exactly sure, although the guys over at fangraphs seemed to think it had something to do with a lack of sinkers, different release point and more reliance on his four-seamers.

It’s true that Maeda nearly stopped throwing his two-seamer in favor of his four-seam fastball and cut down on his sinkers almost entirely. That resulted in more strikeouts and a higher fly ball rate, and more home runs allowed. Not surprising in this new era of home runs and strikeouts dominating the landscape. Everyone is going to this philosophy.

But what if the lack of innings played a part as well? High pitch counts and not being able to go deep into games affected Maeda more than anything else in my opinion. As a matter of fact Maeda only pitched past the fifth inning in 5 of his 25 starts last season. That means he averaged about 5.3 frames per start. In 2016 he pitched into the sixth inning in 16 of his 32 starts.

I noticed that Maeda’s pounding of the strike zone last fall was a great thing. Good things happen when you pound the strike zone. First you get ahead of counts, and second you setup hitters for an out-pitch that will get them out the majority of the time. Pitch sequencing and release points are certainly important, but so are innings and stamina.

Look, if Maeda is unable to give the Dodgers more than three or four innings at a time then he’s not actually a starter, He’s a reliever. Innings count too. He was great as a reliever but the Dodgers need him more in the rotation this year because of the thinner starting pitching depth. I love the aggressive Maeda, but let’s stretch him out a little more this season.

Scott Andes

Scott Andes

Scott Andes: Former Co-editor of Lasorda's Lair. Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

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15 thoughts on “The Dodgers Should Stretch Out The Aggressive Kenta Maeda More Often

  1. What you say here does makes sense to me – to a point. Pound the strike zone is what I recommend EVERYBODY do. But I doubt they ask any more of him than what they already have. He’s a 5 inning pitcher. Get it done with 75 pitches and get out of there. There’s a reason they are carrying an extra bullpen arm and this is it. Save this guy for post season innings.

  2. Re: Maeda and “pounding the zone”. Two thoughts:

    1. I wonder if Maeda’s contract has been revisited? If it hasn’t, no way Maeda moves to the pen.
    2. I wonder if teams will have finally adjusted to the Dodgers pitching schema of high in the zone. The Red Sox have followed this path, and the Cubs hitter spoke about it. But with launch angles still the range, I wouldn’t be surprised if Maeda and the other pitchers continue to work exclusively up.

    In more good news, MLB Pipeline has the Dodgers top 30. List at the bottom. It’s an interesting movement in how to replenish a system while picking late in the draft with severe signing restrictions. Of the 30, 21 were drafted, 8 are international signees, and 1 was acquired via trade.

    Personally, I’m bullish on Cristian Santana, the 3B with a crazy swing. I’m not sure what happened to 19 yo Omar Estevez.

    Walker Buehler RHSP
    Alex Verdugo OF
    Keibert Ruiz C
    Mitchell White RHSP
    Yusniel Diaz OF
    DJ Peters OF
    Jeren Kendall CF
    Yadier Alveraz RHSP
    Will Smith C
    Dennis Santana RHSP
    Dustin May RHSP
    Edwin Rios 1B/3B
    Gavin Lux SS/2B
    Cristian Santana 3B
    Connor Wong C
    Caleb Ferguson LHSP
    Starling Heredia OF
    Jordan Sheffield RHSP
    Imani Abdullah RHSP
    Errol Robinson SS/2B/OF
    Morgan Cooper RHSP
    James Marinan RHSP
    Matt Beaty 3B/1B/OF
    Tony Gonsolin RHRP
    Kyle Farmer C
    Drew Jackson SS/2B/CF
    Romer Cuadrado OF
    Ronny Brito SS/2B
    Luke Raley OF
    Donovan Casey OF

  3. Note to Grandal:

    There has to BE a launch before the measurement of a launch angle can be made.

    “It’s an interesting movement in how to replenish a system while picking late in the draft with severe signing restrictions”

    That my friends is the sound of a FAZZ being kissed. Pucker up Blutobvious.

    Interesting movement? I’m going to leave that one alone.

    I kid our favorite FAZophant. You’re mostly all right Bluto.

    Looks to me that a few guys on that list were signed before restrictions and a couple others are first round picks. And I think it’s a little early to start crowing. Prospects are uncertain until they are not. I think I speak for many when I say I look forward to the day FAZ picks, International and local, step into the starting lineup and perform.

  4. Sign Arietta……solves a lot of problems……………trade a couple outfielders….solves the crowded outfield problem……trade Grandal….instantly makes the catching defense better……

      1. If they lose Pederson, Grandal and half of Kemp, they can sign Arrieta.

        I heard he may end up in Washington or Philly.

      2. Probably, but trading some deadwood would give them some salary flexibility. According to some of the stories I am reading they are actively talking to Kershaw about an extension. That’s going to cost some money. Me, I get guys I know can do the job and I do not count on major contributions by prospects. They hit pay dirt with Seager, Taylor and Bellinger. But none of the so called top prospect pitchers have really panned out yet. Stripling is a serviceable reliever, and who knows what a healthy Stewart can do. Urias has been hurt and extremely erratic when he has been healthy. Listening to the Padres broadcast yesterday, you would have thought that Rocky Gale, who the Dodgers signed after he was released by SD when the signed Hosmer, you would think Gale was the 2nd coming of Yadier Molina. Despite being rated as one of the best catchers in the NL, Grandal’s spring work so far is about as bad as it can be. Still has the passed ball problem and he is not hitting a lick. As much as I have always liked Joc Pederson, it is time to fish or cut bait for him. Toles has had a couple of decent AB’s, but Kemp and Thompson have so far outplayed the competition. I do not count Kike since he is a utility player anyway. Bringing back Utley seems like a bad decision at this point since not only is he sick, but he has shown ZIP at the dish. Muncy is also one of those multi-positional guys and he has shown a hot bat and a lot of versatility. But his chances of being on the 25 appear slim to none. I see Toles doing most of his early work at AAA so he can get consistent AB’s. Verdugo has been nothing special so far. He has not stepped up to say “hey, I am your LF option. And with the fact that they are carrying 13 pitchers, openings are limited.

  5. I think the Cubs May be sorry that they gave that money to Darvish instead of Arrieta, at one point in the post season.

    Because Darvish has had more trouble pitching in the post season, then Arrieta has.

  6. I would love us to sign Arrieta. But he is going to cost too much. I just don’t think he’s going to fit under the lux tax cap even if we can unload Grandal.

    Now Lance Lynn is possible. I think he can be had for a back end loaded and incentive laden 5 year deal that gives him the right to opt out after 1 year, where he can test the market again when everyone has reset their cap space and willing to go on a spending spree again. Lynn is a very good innings eater and will be a godsend to our bullpen.

    1. I agree, I would love to see either of them in a Dodger uni…..but a better choice might be a trade package to the Rays for Archer.

  7. Regarding Maeda: When he first signed with the Dodgers, there was a lot of talk about his weak arm strength and his inability to go full games. They put him on a restrictive pitch count. It helped him in the short term, but not in the long term, as his arm cannot seem to adjust to MLB standards for starting pitchers. This was and is the major problem with Maeda. And, it fits with the FAZ philosophy of signing those with something wrong with them in hope of them rehabbing to wellness. I don’t think this philosophy works with pitchers, especially starters.

    Because of the weakness in their starting rotation, Maeda will probably remain a starter simply because the Dodgers don’t have any healthy options! This is a team that has not addressed this problem in the last few years. They tried with Darvish, but he is falling apart. There is something in his makeup that is undermining him, mental or physical, I can’t say. For me, not to sign Arrieta is a sure sign nothing has changed in the FO and they will continue to hope against reality, that they have the goods to go all the way. They just don’t and the bottom line, $$, will win out again.

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