LOS ANGELES — Up next on our 2016 Dodgers player reviews is Kenta Maeda, who made the transition from Japanese star to American rookie, and acquitted himself quite well in Year 1.
What went right
On a team racked by injuries, especially to the pitching staff, it was Maeda — whose “irregularities” in and concerns about his physical lead to one of the most team-friendly contracts of all time, an incentive-laden deal with the player assuming the vast majority of risk — who was the only Dodgers pitcher who made it wire to wire unscathed.
Maeda led the team in starts (32) and innings (175⅔), and was a highly-effective third starter on a team that made it to the NLCS.
The 28-year-old with eight years of professional experience in Japan had the second-most wins (16) by a Los Angeles Dodgers rookie, behind only Rick Sutcliffe (17) in 1979.
Maeda also led the Dodgers with 179 strikeouts, the first Dodgers pitcher other than Clayton Kershaw to do so since Chad Billingsley in 2008.
In 18 starts against the National League West, Maeda had a 3.10 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 18 unintentional walks in 98⅔ innings.
"I thought Kenta had an outstanding season. To transition how he had to and adjust, I can't say enough about what Kenta did for us,” manager Dave Roberts said Monday. “And he posted. he's a very, very tough competitor.”
It wasn’t quite a mania in April, but Maeda was terrific in his first month in the United States, allowing one total run in his first four starts, and lasted at least six innings in each of his first six starts.
What went wrong
After those six starts to open the season, Maeda lasted six innings just nine times in his final 29 starts, including the playoffs.
If anything, Maeda was a poster boy for the third time through the batting order penalty. In his first two trips through a lineup in 2016, opposing batters hit just .200/.262/.323 against the right-hander. But after that, batters teed off to the tune of .343/.392/.504.
Maeda faded in the final week of the season and the playoffs, though this followed a 2.01 ERA in his first four September starts and a streak of 12 straight starts allowing three or fewer runs.
Maeda in his final two regular season starts and three playoff starts combined to allow 16 runs and 24 hits in 17⅓ innings (an 8.31 ERA) with 10 walks and 20 strikeouts, averaging 3.47 innings per start.
"You look back at his last three or four starts, probably not ideal. But it wasn't from lack of preparation or lack of will,” Roberts said. "There's a reason he made postseason starts for us, because we trust him."
Stats: 16-11, 3.48 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 179 K, 175⅔ IP, 2.4 rWAR, 3.3 fWAR
Salary: $12.9 million, including a $1 million signing bonus, $3 million base salary, $150,000 for making the opening day active roster, $6.5 million for making 32 starts, and $2.25 million for reaching 170 innings.
Game of the year
While tempted to choose his career-high 13 strikeouts on July 10, I will instead choose a different Maeda game against the Padres. In his major league debut on April 6, Maeda guided the Dodgers to a three-game shutout sweep at Petco Park with six scoreless innings on the mound, but also contributed at the plate with a home run in just his second major league plate appearance.
It was the only home run hit by Dodgers pitchers in 2016.
Nobody in the organization is signed for as long as Maeda, whose contract runs through 2023. For each of the next seven seasons, Maeda will earn a $3 million base salary plus potential for up to $10.15 million in performance bonuses.
On Monday he thanked the fans after his first season in the United States.
Even though we fell short of our ultimate goal, I wanted to thank my teammates, coaches, staff and fans for supporting me in my first year pitching in MLB. I will work hard to make sure I can contribute to the team more next season. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for everyone who has supported me and the team. #dodgers#la#kentamaeda#18#thankyou