Is Kenta Maeda Destined for a Late-Season Bullpen Role?
Image courtesy of © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsRelief Numbers
During the regular season, Maeda has made 34 appearances as a reliever while posting a 3.19 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. He has 58 strikeouts compared to eight walks and opponents have been held to a .219/.275/.381 batting line. While these numbers are strong, his postseason relief appearances are off the charts.
Over the last three postseasons, Maeda has pitched 22 innings and only allowed four earned runs (1.64 ERA). One of those runs could come with an asterisk because it was a home run that came in Houston during the 2017 World Series. Opponents have struggled to the tune of a .504 OPS while he has stranded over 40% of inherited runners.
Last season, Maeda voiced his concern over being moved to the bullpen. One of the biggest issues for Maeda is likely due to his incentive laden contract. His base salary is only $3 million, but he can make an extra $10 million per season if he can hit all the bonuses in his contract. Those bonuses aren’t possible if he is in the bullpen.
Minnesota looks like a great fit for Maeda to be a starter at the season’s start, but later in the year could bring his starting spot into question. Michael Pineda and Rich Hill won’t be in the rotation until later in the season. There are also young players like Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer and Randy Dobnak who are looking to make a big-league impact.
One of the best-case scenarios for the Twins would be that Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi are pitching at an all-star level. At the same time, Pineda returns and pitches like he did before the suspension. Then only one other pitcher in the organization needs to be pitching well and Maeda’s spot in the rotation could be in question.
Time to Decide
The Twins will have plenty of time to decide if Maeda fits better in their rotation or in the bullpen. In his introductory press conference, he was asked if the Twins guaranteed him a rotation spot. He told reports through an interpreter, “Not necessarily a guaranteed position, but it’s been discussed that he’ll be starting in the rotation.”
One of the toughest tasks for Maeda could be the switch from the NL to the AL. Facing a designated hitter versus a pitcher in the line-up can be a difference-maker for some pitchers. If he can pitch well in this transition, there is no question that the Twins will use him as a starter.
Another piece of advice for Maeda could be the same advice the Dodgers gave him when they demoted him to the bullpen the last three seasons. That advice was “pitch better,” and while this might be a no-brainer, it can be tough for a pitcher to hear. If Maeda pitches well, there is no reason to move him to the bullpen and the same is true for any pitcher in October. Teams don’t mess around at the end of the year. If you are pitching better than your counterparts, you will start playoff games.
Will Maeda be a reliever by season’s end? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
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