Kenta Maeda Is Dominating Major League Baseball

Maeda has driven in more runs than he has allowed. What is behind his success on the mound?

It’s hard to imagine Kenta Maeda’s MLB career getting off to a better start.

After eight dominant professional seasons in Japan, the 28-year-old pitcher took his talents across the Pacific to Los Angeles, and he’s impressed in his first two big league outings.

Just how good have things gone? Consider the fact that he’s driven in more runs in this one swing than opponents have in 12 innings facing him.

In his 12 scoreless innings, Maeda has allowed 10 hits and just a single walk, while striking out 8. It’s early, but his performance fits the profile he received prior to coming to the states: a pitcher with impeccable control who may not strike out many batters.

His strong performances have also put Dodgers history in his grasp.

(Let’s just hope if Maeda follows in Stewart’s footsteps after his playing career, he has a little better grasp of the trade market.)

Keep Them Chasing!

In eight seasons with Hiroshima, Maeda struck out 7.4 and walked 1.9 batters per nine innings, helping lead to a 1.05 WHIP and 2.39 ERA.

His strikeout rate was above average but does not really stand out, given the average strikeouts per nine innings in the Japanese Central League (one of the two leagues in Nippon Professional Baseball) was 6.7 in his rookie season and 7.1 last year.

Despite ranking 20th in strikeouts per nine with 7.6 last year, Maeda was third in the league in walks per strikeout last year (4.3), thanks to his 1.8 walks per nine rate.

In two starts with the Dodgers, Maeda has 17.0% strikeout rate (6.0 per nine) but just a 2.1% walk rate (0.75 per nine), which is tied for 10th in the Majors.

These numbers don’t tell the full story, though. If you were expecting a pitcher who just pounds the zone, you would be way off.

Maeda is 53rd out of 85 qualified pitchers in terms of percentage of total pitches in the strike zone, per  FanGraphs, and generally works down in the zone or lower. This is evident in his zone profile over at Brooks Baseball.

Kenta Maeda

Maeda has gotten opponents to swing at a third of pitches out of the zone (ranking 15th), according to FanGraphs, explaining the low walk rate despite the comparatively low frequency of strikes (he also ranks 30th in terms of in-zone swing rate, as he is tied for the 13th-highest overall swing rate in the Majors).

On the swings out of the zone, opponents are making contact at a below-average rate (56.7%, relative to the big-league average of 58.6%), and this has helped Maeda post one of the league’s better whiff rates.

In terms of swinging strikes per pitch, Maeda ranks 23rd (11.2%) and in terms of swinging strikes per strike, he is in the 63rd percentile. As for whiffs per swing, he is closer to the middle of the pack, but in any case, if these whiff rates persist, he should see his strikeout rate increase.

When opponents have made contact on his pitches thrown out of the zone, they generally have not been hit very hard. Opponents are only 3-for-18 when making contact out of the zone against Maeda, with an average exit velocity of 83.4 miles per hour, according to Baseball Savant.

He is also running a very healthy 57.1% groundball rate, which should help him keep the ball in the park going forward.

If Maeda can continue to get opponents to chase balls out of the zone, he could easily be the latest successful Japanese import to the big leagues.