Well, that “all-lefty rotation” sure didn’t last long. In what has seemed inevitable for some time, the Dodgers have signed Kenta Maeda:
Hearing from a baseball source, kenta maeda and dodgers are in agreement. No word on $. @DfineNrmLC all over this one
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 31, 2015
The Dodgers have been connected to Maeda since he was posted earlier this month, including rumors that he was at Dodger Stadium a couple days before Christmas. Even after the team added Scott Kazmir, it didn’t seem like the rotation was set as-is. Of course, Maeda’s addition makes the starting pitcher depth chart pretty crowded:
- Clayton Kershaw
- Brett Anderson
- Alex Wood
- Scott Kazmir
- Hyun-jin Ryu
- Kenta Maeda
- Mike Bolsinger
- Brandon McCarthy
- Joe Wieland
- Carlos Frias
And so on. This could make a trade of Alex Wood more likely, though to me it makes more sense to hang onto him until spring training as insurance against Hyun-jin Ryu’s health. There’s a good case to be made that Wood is still the Dodgers’ second-best starting pitcher, too. The Dodgers have had “too many starting pitchers” recently, and that year they started Stephen Fife in April. Depth is a good thing, and that’s one thing the Dodgers have. Considering the amount of injury risk on that list, they will almost certainly need it.
Unfortunately, that list lacks upside impact beyond Kershaw, and Maeda likely doesn’t solve that problem. Maeda owns a shiny 2.39 ERA in eight seasons of NPB play, though when I profiled him last month, I found some reasons to be a bit pessimistic:
He tops out in the lower 90s, is more of a grounder/soft contact pitcher than one who will get a lot of strikeouts. He can be a bit of a nibbler at times. His secondary pitches are decent but not ace-level, but he commands those pitches very well. It’s a good combination, but one which will require a lot of skill to move over to the majors. There aren’t a lot of comparable pitchers who made the jump.
Despite Maeda’s dominance in Japan, he seems more like a number three or four starter in MLB than he does an ace.
Those looking at former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda for optimism may have to look further. Kuroda was a splitter-heavy pitcher, and that pitch famously played up in MLB and led to a successful US career. However, Maeda relies more heavily upon his slider to get batters out. Sliders need high spin to be effective (one thing Maeda has had in a limited pitch fx look, though that was with a non-MLB ball), and splitters rely on low spin. The NPB ball has a different seam height than the MLB ball, so Maeda is essentially hoping for the opposite effect as Kuroda. It’s not a directly comparable situation.
Overall, Maeda could be a good addition to the Dodgers, though at the moment we still know nothing about the contract. He adds starting pitcher depth to a team which needs it, and he doesn’t cost a draft pick. Unfortunately, he’s not a Zack Greinke replacement, so it’s still hard to not be a bit puzzled by what the Dodgers have done this offseason. He’s something like the fourth or fifth number 3-4 starter on the Dodgers, and his floor seems more stable than most. That isn’t bad, but it’s not ideal construction.
At the very least, it’s nice to see a Japanese player back on the Dodgers. It’s been too long.
Update: Here’s a more optimistic take on Kenta Maeda via Kazuto Yamazaki, which includes a very important video of Maeda’s warm-up. Here’s a GIF:
Also, there’s this:
Dodgers fans, are you ready to dance with Kenta Maeda? (Not really dance but) pic.twitter.com/vZ4iZCy0eZ
— Joseph Kim (@blackwings2011) January 1, 2016