Note: This post is a bit disorganized, because my thoughts on the issue are disorganized. Rather than just wait for things to resolve, though, I figured it would be worth putting them forth in a disorganized manner. We didn’t have anything else for today anyways.
Fact 1: The Dodger rotation is extremely crowded
This is something that the Dodgers have been building towards for a long time, and it’s now about to cause some problems (explained later). Of the five rotation spots, three are pretty much guaranteed right now:
Alex Wood has been pitching well enough to argue that he has secured the fourth spot, at least for now. I’m as high on him as anybody, and right now I think it’s easy to argue that he’s the second-best pitcher of the above group. This leaves two potential odd men out: Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda. Both of these pitchers have had their issues, and both have their promise.
Fact 2: Kenta Maeda has been very bad this year
This post is not designed to dispute this. In four starts, Maeda has pitched 19 innings, allowed an 8.05 ERA, a 6.55 FIP, and a 6.98 DRA. He has allowed seven homers, second in the National League behind Jered Weaver‘s 10. His fastball command has been poor, which is a worry for a pitcher who has spent his career living off of command that occasionally bordered on elite. As Chad pointed out earlier this week, there are some issues with his fastball that are extremely uncharacteristic from what we’ve seen so far.
By merit, if the Dodgers need to go down to five starters right now, Kenta Maeda is likely the odd man out. Maeda starts tonight at Dodger Stadium, and he could very well be pitching for his job.
Fact 3: Kenta Maeda’s contract exists
As fans, we should not forget about Maeda’s contract. His base salary is $3 million. He starts earning incentive bonuses at 15 games started and 90 innings pitched. It was an incredibly unique contract when signed, and was considered extremely team-friendly. It was structured this way due to issues found in Maeda’s physical, which theoretically could keep him from pitching for long periods of time. These issues have not been further disclosed with respect for Maeda’s privacy.
Demoting Maeda to the bullpen (or a phantom DL stint) would begin to cost him chances to reach those bonus goals. This is where things start getting muddy. There is no arguing that Maeda has been bad this year, as described earlier. There is also no arguing (as much as Twitter wants to) that he was good last year, and an extremely important part of why the Dodgers reached the playoffs (even if he did not help them much once they arrived there). His incentive-laden contract rewarded him for that season, as he only missed the bonuses for 180, 190, and 200 innings pitched. He reached his final $1.5 million bonus for 32 games started.
On most teams, a season such as Maeda’s 2016 would earn him some more time to work through his issues. Four or five starts is not enough to say if a pitcher is definitively broken, unlucky, or the right mechanics have not yet snapped into place. This, of course, changes if Maeda is hiding an injury (potentially due to that contract). However, if this is just a temporary lapse, the fact that Kenta Maeda has much better teammates than an average pitcher could start costing him money. He changes that by pitching better, of course, but I’m not sure if it’s fair to remove parts of his salary because somebody else is pitching well too.
It’s also possible that Maeda is moved to the bullpen and starts pitching very well there. He doesn’t have typical reliever power stuff, but if he dials up the slider and change usage he could be very good there. He has the tools to succeed. If he’s good, does he stay in the bullpen, even if another opening in the rotation is created? What of his contract then?
I don’t know what I’d do if I was in the front office’s place. By merit, a demotion of Maeda is the correct choice (pending tonight’s start), if not premature if their hand was not being forced. I don’t think a demotion would be purposefully malicious, either. I also know that I’d rather Maeda get his max contract value than whatever Guggenheim Partners gets of the leftover incentives. As a fan, that’s leaving me extremely conflicted, with feelings that I’m not quite sure how to parse. However, given how frequently Dodger pitchers seem to get hurt, this may not be an issue for very long.