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Could Changes In Mechanics Bring Kenta Maeda Back?

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

April has been rough for the Dodgers, and Kenta Maeda’s poor start has hampered the team. Can he bounce back?

It is a mad world we are living in. The Cubs are last season’s champs. The Toronto Blue Jays have the worst record in baseball. The Miami Marlins are in second place in the NL East with a 10-9 record, and that record is just a half-game worse than the Cleveland Indians, who were last year’s runner-up in the World Series. Down is up, up is down!

No division is safe from weird April baseball. In the NL West, the Rockies (THE ROCKIES?!) are in first place and, as of Wednesday morning, the Diamondbacks have the second-highest run differential (+26) in the league. Where are the Dodgers? Well, they’re meandering in third place with a 10-12 record.

The Dodgers have only played 22 games, and there are 140 games left in the season, so there is still plenty of time for the mighty engine to roar back to life. However, as the season waves goodbye to April and enters May, Kenta Maeda presents a glaring issue the Boys in Blue will have to address if they want to be on solid ground come the summer months.

The Pitching

The Dodgers’ starting rotation is currently worth 1.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs. At the end of April last year, the Dodgers starters were collectively worth 3.2 WAR. Their peripherals also paint an ugly picture.

Currently, Los Angeles’ pitching staff is posting a 3.96 ERA and 4.27 FIP. cFIP, a statistic that allows fans to compare pitching against a league average and includes contextual information in its calculation, shows the Dodgers are pitching at the league average of 100 cFIP. What used to be the bulwark when the offense was not producing now seems to be showing some cracks.

IPERAFIPcFIP
Clayton Kershaw35.12.292.4690
Brandon McCarthy24.02.253.1989
Hyun-jin Ryu21.14.645.71115
Kenta Maeda19.08.056.52120
Alex Wood8.15.404.26106
Rich Hill8.03.386.32126
Dodgers116.03.964.27100


Clayton Kershaw and Brandon McCarthy are holding their own with a 2.29 and 2.25 ERA, respectively. Hyun-jin Ryu is off to a slow start, but this is his first season back after missing nearly two full seasons due to shoulder and elbow injuries that required surgery. 

The big question mark is Kenta Maeda. His 8.05 ERA is not just the worst among Los Angeles’ starters, it is one of the worst in the league. Stephen Wright, Josh Tomlin, and Kyle Gibson are the only other pitchers with higher ERAs with at least a minimum of 15 innings pitched.

Yes, Maeda has only pitched 19 innings so the small sample size caveat applies, but cFIP works well with smaller samples and provides better predictive power. It does a better job of crediting a pitcher for their work on the mound by using run expectancy instead of earned runs or runs allowed in its calculation. 

The benefit of this is that a more accurate account of runs is allocated to a pitcher should he not pitch the full duration of an inning. However, like ERA, it does not account for defense. It makes up for this shortcoming by including the effect of the individual batter, catcher, and umpire, the stadium, home-field advantage, umpire bias, and the handedness relationship between pitcher and batter present during each individual plate appearance in its calculation

Regarding Maeda, his 120 cFIP does not bode well for him or the Dodgers going forward. By comparison, Maeda posted a 95 cFIP last season, pegging him above average. Dodgers ace, Clayton Kershaw is currently posting a 90 cFIP.

Interestingly, velocity seems to be an issue but not in a way you may immediately think. He has increased his velocity on his pitches this season compared to 2016.

YearFastballSinkerChangeupSliderCurve
201690.9190.1683.1982.0173.15
201792.0990.7984.0683.5474.48


Chad Moriyama wrote about Maeda’s velocity at Dodgers Digest. Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts believes that the increase in velocity is resulting in poor pitch location, according to Moriyama. Maeda is leaving pitches, specifically his fastball, up in the zone — the part of the strike zone that says “HIT ME!” 

The increase in velocity also seems to be affecting command of his breaking pitches as well. FanGraphs seems to confirm this. There is a decrease in pitch value with his fastball, slider, and changeup — Maeda’s three primary pitches.

To read the table, a positive value shows how many runs the pitch saved. A negative value shows how many runs the pitch gives up.

YearwFAwSLwCH
20169.121.53.4
2017-2.1-1.5-1.4


Fixing Maeda

There is a loud section of the Dodgers fan base that would love to see Kenta Maeda removed from the rotation. Here’s what the rotation’s numbers would look like if that were the case.


IPERAFIP
Dodgers97.03.173.80


While that may seem like a fix, it’s unreasonable to expect the Dodgers to remove him from the rotation, especially when his issues appear mechanical in nature.

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The two graphs above compare the vertical and horizontal positions, respectively, of his pitches between 2016 and 2017.

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The scatter chart shows that his release point remains relatively unchanged from 2016.

The vertical and horizontal positions of Maeda’s pitches have shifted; his pitches are ending up close to the center of the strike zone. Interestingly, his release point remains unchanged.

A change in release point alters where a pitch ends up in the zone. Oftentimes, this mechanical change can have negative effects for a pitcher. That appears to be the case for Kyle Hendricks. Mechanical adjustments will likely right his ship, and that will likely be the case for Maeda.

Though consistency in release point is normally seen as a good thing, in Maeda’s case, it could be his undoing in this nascent season. Tweaking his release point could make a difference in where his pitches end up in the zone and a difference Maeda ends up at the end of the season.

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

SQuiz
Which team did Kenta Maeda play for in the NPB?
Created 4/26/17
  1. Orix Buffalos
  2. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles
  3. Hiroshima Toyo Carp
  4. Hanshin Tigers

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