When it was announced that the Hiroshima Carp had decided to post Kenta Maeda, the right-hander finally got his long-awaited wish to play in the big leagues.
Us fantasy owners also got our wishes — the chances to own the long-time Carp ace on our respective teams. We’ve already started wondering what his fantasy value would be. Since I’m knows as an NPB guy here at TDG, this post was inevitable.
First, let me introduce his brief background.
Drafted out of PL Gakuen High School, which used to be one of the best powerhouses in the Japanese HS ball scene in 2006, Maeda has been one of the best pitchers in the NPB since his sophomore 2009 season. In his eight-year career, he’s posted a 2.39 ERA, given up ninety-even long balls, struck out 1233 while walking just 319 over 1509.2 innings. In each of his seven full seasons, he’s thrown no fewer than 175.2 frames.
Now, let’s take a look at his arsenal. Here’s Maeda pitching to major league hitters in last November’s MLB-NPB Series:
As you can see, he has quite a few pitches. According to one website, his pitch mix consisted of a fastball (31.4%), slider (37.8%), change up (10.4%), shuuto/sinker (12%), curve (7%), with occasionally showing a cutter and splitter, to go with impeccable command, not to mention his off-the-chats pitch face. While none of his pitches is overpowering, with the fastball sitting in the 88-91 range and topping out at 94 this past season, the slider induced whiffs a respectable 17.9% of the time.
The general consensus thus far is that he could be a solid, if unspectacular, inning-eating mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter. Last month, Eno Sarris of FanGraphs looked for a Maeda comp and came up with Kenshin Kawakami, Aaron Nola, Jordan Zimmermann, and Rick Porcello. These names sound decent to me, except for Kawakami. Even if Maeda ended up as a Porcello, there’s still a value in deep leagues. I’d like to throw in another name in this mix: Anthony DeSclafani.
While potential back-end starter I think he could be something more than that. Have you heard of another Japanese righty with excellent command and unimpressive stuff?
Enter Hisashi Iwakuma. When the recent Dodgers signee came over to the big leagues, no one thought he’d be a front-line starter, let alone a top three Cy Young finisher. Even the Mariners, who appeared to be the highest team on him, didn’t think so, using him in a mop-up duty for the first three months.
Since moved to the rotation in the beginning of July 2012 until the end of the 2013 season, in which he he finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting, Iwakuma posted a 20.9 K%, 5.6 BB%, and 69 ERA- over 214.2 innings in 49 starts. Obviously, his home park and .262 BABIP did him a favor, but he was a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starter during the stretch, even though averaging at 90.7 miles-per-hour with his fourseamer.
Iwakuma struck out 19.1% of the batters while walking 4.0% in his final season in Japan, when the league’s average was 17.9 and 6.3, respectively. For comparison, Maeda struck out 21.3% and walked 5.0%, both figures are above league average of 18.6 and 7.9, respectively. So it’s possible that Maeda pulls the same trick Iwakuma did. And unlike Iwakuma, Maeda is still on the right side of 30. He’s got several good campaigns in the tank.
It might come down to his home park we’ve yet to know. His decision in a few weeks from now will determine his value in both the real and fantasy worlds. But Maeda does have the potential to be more than a back-end starter. Even if he fails to meet my expectation, his floor is a safe one to bet on, with the likeliness of sufficient contribution while not hurting badly in any category.
And if your league has the peculiarity of pre-game routine as a category, he’s a must-get.