What happened in 2016: Despite initial worries about former Japanese pitching star Kenta Maeda‘s health, the 28-year old MLB rookie was the most reliable Dodgers’ starting pitcher last season.
Maeda’s transition from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, where he played for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp for eight seasons, to the MLB was successfully seamless. He was the only Dodgers starter to remain healthy the entire season. His incentive-laden eight-year, $25 million contract, an extremely team-friendly deal, has been a win-win for the Dodgers and Maeda so far. He led the team in starts (32), innings (175 2/3) and strikeouts (179) in a year where the team sustained a historic number of injuries including one to their ace Clayton Kershaw.
Maeda’s personality and competitiveness fit in perfectly with the Dodgers, a franchise that has a long history with integration of international talent, a legacy that began with pitcher Hideo Nomo in 1995.
In his first six starts with the Dodgers, Maeda went 3-1 with a 1.66 ERA. Although Dave Roberts provided Maeda with an extra day of rest whenever possible, fatigue eventually set in down the stretch. Opposing batters hit .246 against him in the second half of the season, 30 points higher than the first half (.216). With his first full MLB season under his belt, Maeda struggled in the postseason and allowed 8 runs on 12 hits in his lone start in the NLDS and two starts in the NLCS combined.
Maeda earned nearly $9 million in bonus incentives in 2016, and he finished third in the voting for the National League Rookie of the Year Award behind his teammate Corey Seager and Trea Turner.
There were many Maeda highlights in 2016, but a few stand out in particular.
Maeda struck out a season-best 13, the final batter being former Dodger Matt Kemp, in seven innings in the win over San Diego on July 10.
Maeda’s excellent defense was also a pleasure to watch.
Maeda homered to left field off Andrew Cashner in his Major League debut on April 6 in San Diego, the only home run by a Dodgers pitcher in 2016.
Maeda’s social media presence is A+ as well.
His off-season workouts included torment of his translator Will Ireton, drawing animals on Japanese television shows and eating copious amounts of ramen in order to add muscle and build stamina.
2017 status: Signed through 2023, Maeda is slated to be a mainstay in the Dodgers’ starting rotation for years to come. We have 8 YEARS of this?!