Like clockwork, when Dodgers‘ boss Andrew Friedman speaks to reporters during his end-of-season press conferences every year, he reiterates that righty swing man Kenta Maeda will be an integral part of the club’s starting rotation at the onset of the following season.
This year was no exception.
Despite his value as a starter, though, the 31-year-old native of Japan just keeps getting better when he throws in relief. When considering the wave of young starting pitchers the Dodgers have emerging, the time to shift Kenta exclusively to the bullpen may be very soon.
In the 2019 NLDS against the Nationals, Maeda was absolutely brilliant. So much so that he was hands-down the team’s best relief option out of the bullpen. Over four appearances and 4-2/3 scoreless innings pitched, he allowed just one hit while striking out seven.
It was a common occurrence to see his fastball hit 95 MPH. And, his slider looked more effective and filthier than ever.
Maeda has been moving back and forth between the rotation and the relief crew for several years now, specifically towards the end of the regular season in efforts to transition to relief duties in time for the playoffs.
Consequently, his starter vs. relief splits are significant.
Lifetime as a starter, Maeda has logged 103 games and has produced a 3.92 ERA, a 1.163 WHIP and a 9.6 K/9.
In 34 career regular-season appearances as a reliever, he has tallied a 3.18 ERA with a .992 WHIP and a 12.3 K/9.
Lopsided numbers, indeed.
Here’s the crazy part: In 22 career relief appearances during the postseason, he has a miniscule 1.64 ERA with 27 punchouts over an even 22 innings of work. In the playoffs as a starter, he has a 7.83 ERA over 10-2/3 innings.
Many fans believe that management is sympathetic to Maeda because of the way his contract is structured. In addition to his $3 million base salary, he earns $1 million for each of 15 and 20 starts, and $1.5 million for each of 25, 30 and 32 starts. Furthermore, he earns $250,000 for each of 90, 100, 110, 120, 130, 140, 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings pitched, and $750,000 for 200 innings.
During his four-year tenure as a Dodger, he has made 32, 25, 20 and 26 starts, respectively. His high innings count was 175-2/3 during his freshman campaign in 2016. His low was 125-1/3 in 2018.
With Julio Urias set to return to the rotation in 2020, coupled with the emergence of arms like Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, it may be time to consider converting Kenta to a permanent reliever, especially when reflecting on the uncertainty behind the current pieces of the Los Angeles relief crew.
Seemingly, there’s more than enough money floating around to restructure Maeda’s contract.