Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

» 24 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb »

In recent weeks, I’ve written about some of the better MLB prospects who are currently active in Japan, and looked back at some of skills that have translated well from NPB to MLB. Now we’ll see how Japan’s Next Top Pitcher, Kenta Maeda, stacks up against his most recent predecessors.

Maeda let the cat out of the bag during his 2014 contract negotiations that he wants to play in MLB in the future, leading to widespread speculation that he’ll be posted following this season. Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that he enjoys another Maeda-esque season in 2014 and is indeed posted after the season. What will he bring to the MLB negotiating table? Here’s my breakdown of his strengths and weaknesses:

Maeda’s strengths:

  • A fastball that won’t be a liability at the MLB level.
  • An ability to locate at least two breaking pitches, a slider and a changeup.
  • He gets his curve into the strike zone as well.
  • An ability to suppress hits. Maeda has allowed just 7.51 per 9IP over his 1116.1 inning career. In 2013, he allowed just 6.61 hits per 9IP.
  • Health and durability. Maeda has never had a serious injury, and has topped 175 IP in each of the last five seasons.
  • Consistency. Maeda’s WHIPs over the last four years: 0.98, 1.02, 0.99, 0.99.

Maeda’s weaknesses:

  • Overall his stuff is just not as whiff-inducing as Yu Darvish’s or Masahiro Tanaka’s.
  • He has lacked the eye-popping K:BB ratios of guys like Tanaka, Koji Uehara or Colby Lewis, though he is no slouch at about 5:1.
  • I’ve noticed he can nibble a bit.
  • On my list, Maeda’s build and stuff resemble’s Kenshin Kawakami’s more than anyone else.

I started off being pretty lukewarm on Maeda, but I’ve warmed up quite a bit. He doesn’t measure up to Darvish or Tanaka, but that’s setting the bar pretty impossibly high. Kawakami might be the best comparable among NPB starters who have made it to MLB in the last five years, but Maeda is younger, healthier and more consistent than Kawakami was. And let’s also remember that Kawakami was something like an average National League starter in his first MLB season. My guess is that Maeda can hack it in MLB, though he’s probably a mid-rotation guy.

Of course, the 2014 season hasn’t yet begun, and anything can happen. But I don’t really expect Maeda to deviate much from the consistent performance he’s shown over the last five years.

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  1. Patrick
    26/02/2014 at 12:14 pm Permalink

    I agree that Kenta Maeda would probably be a good third or fourth starter in MLB, but that’s still worth about $10 million a year a year now. I’m definitely hoping he stays healthy, has a 2014 in line with his career norms and is posted for MLB next off-season.

  2. Patrick
    26/02/2014 at 12:23 pm Permalink

    Not sure Kenshin Kawakami is a good comparison to Maeda. Kawakami didn’t come into his own in Japan until age 27 and he was 34 when he came to MLB. Maeda won’t be 27 until 2015, when he may be starting his MLB career. I definitely think Maeda is a better bet for MLB success than Kawakami was.

  3. Patrick
    26/02/2014 at 1:09 pm Permalink

    Yeah, I think I made that point in the article.

    Maeda is more similar to Kawakami in terms of height, fastball velocity, and breaking stuff than he his to Tanaka, Darvish, or Iwakuma. He’s younger, healthier and more consistent than Kenshin was and certainly a better prospect overall.


  1. npbtracker 24/02/2014 at 1:25 am

    Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

  2. samueljosue_19 24/02/2014 at 5:52 am

    RT @npbtracker: Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

  3. npbtracker 24/02/2014 at 8:43 am

    Tweet re-run: Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

  4. CamdenDepot 24/02/2014 at 8:49 am

    RT @npbtracker: Tweet re-run: Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

  5. kylecunoads 24/02/2014 at 9:16 am

    @npbtracker Should mention he's working on a splitter. Threw 2 late-season last year and they were nasty.