The Dodgers' pending deal with pitcher Kenta Maeda gives them another in a growing legacy of Japanese-born pitchers for the franchise.
Again, it is important to note that the Dodgers' deal with Maeda isn't yet finalized, something that could take days to complete per Jeff Passan of Yahoo. We don't even know the terms of the deal, though it is expected to be at least five years (per Joel Sherman of New York Post) and possibly as long as eight years (per Christopher Meola).
But should the contract with Maeda come to fruition, he would be the eighth Japanese-born player in Dodgers history. Two were position players, including new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts (his mother is Japanese, and he was born in Okinawa) and infielder Norihiro Nakamura.
Pitching is where the Dodgers have made their mark, with starters Hideo Nomo, Kazuhisa Ishii and Hiroki Kuroda, and relievers Takashi Saito and Masao Kida.
The Dodgers also have accounted for 19.4 percent of all major league innings pitched by Japanese-born pitchers, with 2,595⅔ of 13,323⅓ innings through 2015 coming with Los Angeles.
The Dodgers also agreed to a three-year deal with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma in December, only to see that fall apart because of a reported failed physical. Iwakuma ended up returning to Seattle on a one-year contract plus incentives, with a guarantee ($12 million) less than a third of the Dodgers' deal ($45 million).
Maeda, heading into his age-28 season, is seven years younger than Iwakuma, and with no recent history of arm trouble. Maeda threw 206⅓ innings in 2015, the fourth time in the last six years he topped 200 innings in the Japanese Central League, and has averaged exactly 200 innings per season the last seven years.
It was Nomo who opened the floodgates for Japanese players to join the majors over the last two decades. When he signed with the Dodgers in 1995, he was just the second Japanese-born player to appear in the majors, and he made an immediate impact.
Nomo in his first season set a Dodgers' franchise record with 50 strikeouts over a four-start stretch, and set a franchise rookie record with 236 strikeouts, which led the National League. He made the All-Star team as the starting pitcher, won Rookie of the Year, then followed that up in 1996 with the unthinkable, a no-hitter at Coors Field.
In two stints with the Dodgers (1995-98, 2002-04), Nomo had a 3.74 ERA, a 104 ERA+ in 191 starts, with 1,200 strikeouts in 1,217⅓ innings. In parts of 12 major league seasons, Nomo won 123 games and pitched 1,976⅓ innings, both tops among Japanese-born pitchers.
Ishii was next, signing with the Dodgers in 2002. The left-hander won his first six starts with Los Angeles, and after 12 major league starts was 10-1 with a 3.15 ERA. But problems with control would limit his effectiveness throughout his four years in MLB. He led the majors with 106 walks in 154 innings in 2002, and walked 305 in his three years with the Dodgers (a 14.5-percent walk rate), going 36-25 with a 4.30 ERA, a 90 ERA+ with the Dodgers.
Kida pitched mostly in relief in his five major league seasons, which began in 1999 with Detroit. After not pitching in the majors in 2001-02, Kida pitched in a total of six games for the Dodgers in 2003-04, including two starts, putting up a 2.16 ERA in 16⅔ innings, a 196 ERA+, with 13 strikeouts and four walks.
Takashi Saito was a dominant reliever for three years in Los Angeles (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn | Getty Images)
Saito was a relatively unheralded addition to the 2006 Dodgers, signed to a minor league deal. The 36-year-old was ultimately put in the unenviable position of having to follow Eric Gagne as Dodgers closer (with a brief "Ghame Over" tryst with Yhency Brazoban in between in 2005 when Gagne was hurt), but Saito came through with flying colors.
In three years with the Dodgers, Saito saved 81 games and put up a 1.95 ERA and 2.14 FIP, with 245 strikeouts in 189⅔ innings, making the National League All-Star team in 2007. In the 132-year history of the franchise, among all pitchers with at least 100 games in relief, Saito leads the Dodgers in ERA (1.95) and ERA+ (227), and his FIP (2.14) is second only to current closer Kenley Jansen.
The Dodgers signed Kuroda to a three-year contract before the 2008 season, and he proved to be a durable rock in the rotation in his four years in Los Angeles. He put up a 3.45 ERA, a 113 ERA+ in 115 games, including 114 starts with the Dodgers, with 523 strikeouts and 135 unintentional walks in 699 innings. Thanks to poor run support, Kuroda was 41-46 with the Dodgers.
He pitched three more seasons in the majors with the Yankees, and despite not joining the majors until turning 33 Kuroda averaged 30 starts, 188 innings and 141 strikeouts in his seven MLB seasons. He ranks second to Nomo among major league starters born in Japan in wins (79), starts (211) and innings (1,319).
Maeda in 2015 won the Eiji Sawamura Award, given annually to the top starting pitcher in Japan. It was the second Sawamura Award for Maeda, along with 2010. Nomo won the award in 1990, as did Rangers starter Yu Darvish in 2007 and Iwakuma in 2008. Other two-time winners currently in the majors are Masahiro Tanaka (2011, 2013) with the Yankees and Koji Uehara (1999, 2002), now a reliever with the Red Sox.