Kenta Maeda was a rock for the Dodger’s rotation in 2016. He pitched 175.2 innings posting a 16-11 record with a 3.48 ERA in 25 starts. He struck out 9.2 per nine and his strikeout to walk ratio was over 3.5-1. Maeda was solid, but he tired in the second half of the season. The Japanese right hander is used to the shorter season in the NPB and it showed when he posted a 4.25 ERA in the second half of last season, as compared to the 2.88 ERA he put up in the first half.
This season Maeda was slowed by inconsistency and injury. He spent time on the disabled list earlier in the season with hamstring tightness, struggling through the first part of the year. Maeda pitched to a 6.58 ERA in April before succumbing to the hamstring problems.
Maeda’s health and command improved considerably but he didn’t put up the same numbers he did in 2016. Overall he tossed only 134.1 innings and posted a 4.22 ERA in 25 starts. Maeda struck out 140 while walking 34 while striking out 9.4 per nine this season. His numbers were similar to 2016 but slightly less effective. In 2016 he allowed 7.7 hits per nine and this season he allowed 8.1. Advanced peripherals suggest he was slightly above average.
Maeda’s main problem was that he was unable to pitch deep into games. High pitch counts and poor sequencing led to short outings. Maeda had only 6 starts where he pitched past the sixth inning this season and only four that saw him pitch into the seventh inning or later.
I’ve been saying this to a lot of people, and by many people I mean my sister and a few of you guys over here that Maeda is better as a reliever than a starter. The Dodgers are finally realizing this year that his arm plays better in shorter stints. This October the Dodgers saw the sheer force of this in the playoffs and utilized their new weapon wisely.
During the regular season Maeda posted an ERA of 2.25 as a reliever and 4.35 as a starting pitcher. Granted that was a Small sample size, but he struck out 10 and walked only 1 across eight relief innings. In those frames he allowed just two earned runs on seven hits. On June 9 the Dodgers brought him out of the bullpen to record a four-inning save. He tossed four innings allowing one earned run on three hits while striking out six without issuing any free passes.
The Dodgers used Maeda out of the bullpen in the NLDS against the Dbacks and his star shined bright. He looked sharp as a tack pitching two effective innings and picking up the win in relief in the Dodger’s 8-5 game 2 win.
In that game he pitched a scoreless frame and struck out two while not allowing a hit. The Dodgers then used him again in the eighth inning of their game 3 win to setup Kenley Jansen. In that game he tossed another scoreless inning striking out two. Overall he pitched two shutout innings and didn’t allow a hit or a walk while striking out four. He retired every batter he faced.
I’m not saying Maeda should never start again. He’s generally a good pitcher and I know he would probably like to remain in the starting rotation. However he’s been fantastic as a reliever and could be another secret weapon for the Dodgers as they continue their historical march towards their first World Series championship in 29 years.