Going Deep: Kenta Maeda Still Has It
In 200 batted ball events, Kenta Maeda has the second-lowest average exit velocity at 84.8 MPH and the third-lowest hard-hit percentage at 27.5%. He is in the top 50 for starters in two-strike percentage at 25.29%. He is in the top 15 for starters in two-strike SwStk percentage at 20.2% and two-strike whiff percentage 33.3%
Maeda is sitting around pitchers like Matthew Boyd, Lucas Giolito, and Blake Snell. That’s not bad company. However, he’s averaged a little over five innings per start the past two seasons, which limits his value in quality start leagues.
Last year, Maeda used the four-seamer 41.9% of the time, which was a career-high. His usage has now come back down to 2017 rates at 35%. Maeda really pounds the zone with the pitch, with a zone% of 57.5% and it generates contact 83.5% of the time. Even though he throws it in the zone more than half of the time, his BB% has increased to a career-high 13.9%.
There are two reasons for this. The main one is batters have just stopped swinging at the four-seamer. Back in 2017, the pitch had a swing% of 51.1%, which has dropped all the way to 40.7% this year. The other reason is basically not executing in later counts. In 2017, Maeda threw balls in 3-0, 3-1, and 3-2 counts around 5% to 13% of the time.
So far this year, the number has jumped up to 7% to 25% of the time.
Even though the BB% has increased, the four-seamer is still really effective against right-handed batters. They are hitting .162 with a .324 SLG, to go with a ground-ball rate of 41.4%. With an average exit velocity of 80.1 MPH, it’s no wonder why righties have such a low average on the pitch.
The four-seamer to lefties is not a pretty picture. They have been absolutely murdering this pitch this year, to the tune of a .391 AVG and .766 SLG.
Last year, Maeda was able to get the ball up in the zone to lefties.
This year, not so much. The pitch is going away and down.
Maeda’s slider is his best pitch and he uses it mainly against right-handed batters. In fact, he uses it 51.7% against them. His slider is an absolutely beautiful pitch. It has an O-Swing% of 43.5%, Zone% of 46.8% and a SwStk% of 21.8%. Money Pitch Alert! When righties do manage to make contact, it is very weak and pulled toward left field.
Any pitch that can make Mike Trout look like that is an absolute winner in my book. The slider this year is the best it has ever been. We are a little over halfway through the season and it already has a 12.7 pVAL which puts him in third behind only Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. In two-strike counts, the pitch allows a .089 wOBA, so as soon as Maeda has two on you, it’s over.
The pitch also has a 38.3 CSW rate, which would be the sixth-highest CSW rate on that pitch (minimum 1,000 total pitches thrown). It also might not be a coincidence that May was his best month and he was using the slider 41% of the time. All other months, he is only going to the slider around 25% of the time. On top of the slider being an excellent pitch, it is also generating more pop-ups, which are essentially easy out. Last year, he got six batters to pop up and this year he has gotten 21 batters out by the way of the pop-up.
The biggest change in pitch mix for Maeda this year is increased usage of the changeup, especially to left-handed batters, from 24.9% to 41.6%.
Maeda has typically struggled against lefties, especially last year. Batters were hitting .280 with a .459 SLG. However, the increased usage of the change has really helped him defeat lefties. The pitch has an O-Swing% of 47%, with SwStk% of 22% and perfect placement down and away.
Just like the slider, the changeup has been getting more pop-ups this year. Last year, Maeda generated two pop-ups and this year the number has jumped all the way up to six.
Along the lines of pVAL, Maeda has the 12th-best changeup at 5.6, his second top-15 pitch. However, there are some concerning signs with it, as he’s traded swinging strikes for contact. Last year, Maeda had a 26.5 SwStk% with a 54.2 Contact%. This year, he has a 19.9% SwStk% to go along with a 64.3%. However, when batters do make contact, they pull it and with an average launch angle of 8 degrees, they are mostly soft grounders.
Even with the decrease in swinging strikes, the changeup is still an excellent pitch, just not as good as last year.
What should fantasy owners do?
If you are a Maeda owner, you know that July was a very trying time (5.11 ERA). However, his strikeout rate rose to 28.6% from 24.5% and his walk rate dropped from 9.4% to 7.6%. Also, keep in mind he also faced the Red Sox in Fenway and the Rockies in Coors. Hyun-Jin Ryu was also placed on the IL with a neck strain so the Dodgers should be forced to keep Maeda in the rotation, instead of putting him in the bullpen like in previous years. I’m expecting Maeda to bounce back in the last couple of months of the season.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)