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Kenta Maeda Is Everything the Twins Needed

The ace: It is a mythological creature described in ancient texts – a supernatural being, impervious to the most skilled batsmen and impregnable in the biggest moments. Rarely found in nature, the ace is fancied by every starry-eyed baseball fan near and far, revered as the ultimate key to championship glory.

In reality, aces are ephemeral and unpredictable. For now, the Twins have found theirs, and that's a victory worth savoring.
Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson, USA Today
Madison Bumgarner used to be an ace. In fact, he is the exact type of specimen that fuels the term's modern mythology. His World Series performances are nothing short of legendary. They loom large in the minds of fans, and even front offices. The echoes of Bumgarner's long-removed ethos were enough to draw free-agent interest from the Twins and many other teams last winter, but the left-hander was steadfast in his desire to go to Arizona, so he did. (At an ostensible bargain, no less.)

Thus far with the D-backs, he's gone 0-4 with a 8.52 ERA in seven starts, already besieged by back issues. Imagine if the Twins had simply signed him for $100 million and called it a day.

Thankfully, they "missed" on Bumgarner and pivoted to Plan C, or D, or whatever it may have been. Any way you slice it, trading for Kenta Maeda has worked out better than any aspirational fan could have dreamed.

Frequently prodded throughout the offseason by fans and media for procrastinating on their promised addition of "impact pitching," the front office ultimately landed one of the best pitchers in baseball, and a proven World Series performer to boot.

Maeda's Mastery

A first impression is only that, but the start to Maeda's career with the Twins won't soon be forgotten.

Within his first nine starts as a Twin, the right-hander has:
  • Taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning
  • Set a franchise record with eight consecutive strikeouts
  • Led the team to a 7-2 record while on the mound, posting a 2.43 ERA and an MLB-leading 0.74 WHIP
  • Gone 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA against the Indians and White Sox
  • Posted the eighth-highest bWAR (1.6) and ninth-highest fWAR (1.3) of any pitcher in baseball
  • Posted the fourth-highest whiff rate of any pitcher in baseball (15.7%), trailing only Jacob deGrom, Lucas Giolito and Shane Bieber

He pounds the zone with oft-untouchable stuff, and he rises to the occasion. That showed through again last Friday when Maeda took the mound and fired seven shutout innings against Cleveland, another dominant effort against a top contender in the division. In big moments, Maeda steps up. It's the pedigree of a guy who owns a 3.31 ERA in 32 ⅔ postseason innings.



Classy Kenta

The delightful impact of Maeda's arrival doesn't end with his performance on the field. He's also proving to be a person worth cheering for. How can you not love the earnest goodness of Maeda's story, shared in a YouTube video and translated on the Minnesota Sports Fan blog, about the fallout from his near-no-hitter-turned-near-loss after Taylor Rogers came in and promptly blew the save?



As Kenta explains, Rogers felt bad enough about costing his new teammate a well-earned W (and even tagging Maeda with an earned run) that he left an apology letter at the starter's locker.

"I told him not to worry about it," Maeda explains. "It’s not like my pitching line gets erased or anything and we won the game anyway. But Rogers just felt so bad that he initially offered to buy me some alcohol. Some of my translators and trainers told him that I don’t drink, though. So some of my staff just casually said maybe if we go out to drink you can pay the bill or something."

Maeda continues: "But he insisted that it has to be something that benefits Kenta directly. So one of my trainers told him about this really high-quality Japanese rice from a store I like, and he purchased that for me as a gift. So along with this letter, he presented me with this ticket to trade-in for the rice. I can’t read the letter myself so I had it translated. Basically, it says 'I am so sorry for ruining your phenomenal pitching performance yesterday.' This really made me happy. I don’t think there are that many pitchers out there who care this much to go out of there way to do this."

It's a great (but unsurprising) story about Rogers, who is a respected and beloved leader in the clubhouse. This connective moment between an organizational stalwart and the rotation's newly acquired phenom really warms my heart, transcending language barriers and cultural divides.

It serves to reinforce what we're seeing on the field. He might be a big-market fish in a land of 10,000 small ponds, but Maeda is fitting right in, and he's just what this team needed.

On Thursday afternoon in Chicago, he'll face the White Sox with the division more or less on the line. If the Twins can win behind him and split the series, they'll be one game behind in the Central with 10 days to go, and Minnesota will hold the tiebreaker.

It'll be the biggest spot of Maeda's Twins career. At least up until he starts Game 1 of the playoffs in a couple weeks. He's under contract for three more seasons, so I'm sure there will be plenty more to come.

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24 Comments

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terrydactyls1947
Sep 16 2020 10:08 PM
So you post a Japanese language video with Asian subtitles (presumably also Japanese) to help us get insight into Maeda. Not really very helpful.
Great article. I admit I was on the Bumgarner trainwreck... as well as the Kimbrel car crash. How does KKKKKKKenta compare to Ryu? Might see a matchup in Game One of the playoffs.
    • Joey P likes this
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Nick Nelson
Sep 16 2020 10:56 PM

 

So you post a Japanese language video with Asian subtitles (presumably also Japanese) to help us get insight into Maeda. Not really very helpful.

The translation of the relevant portion is right there, below the video. I simply thought people might enjoy clicking through it and seeing him tell the story himself. It's quite joyful.

    • USNMCPO, h2oface, Monkeypaws and 4 others like this

I love the grunt with each pitch. Falvey wins this deal, even though Graterol was my fave. Maeda is just what the doctor ordered.

    • biswrest, wabene and Joey P like this

It's absolutely right that hunting down that elusive 'ace' is something of a crapshoot. Bumgarner is probably past his prime, never to return. However, the comebacks by Lance Lynn and Yu Darvish suggest that a crappy stat line one year do not necessarily mean you're forever damaged goods. Of course, in Lynn's case, he was also a jerk, so there's that. Sounds like Maeda is the 'real deal' on multiple levels.

    • Joey P likes this

 

Great article. I admit I was on the Bumgarner trainwreck... as well as the Kimbrel car crash. How does KKKKKKKenta compare to Ryu? Might see a matchup in Game One of the playoffs.

Ryu has been very good. Maeda has more innings, more K's, a lower whip and ERA, but Ryu has a higher war (probably bc of facing better division); Ryu is 4-1 with a 3.0 ERA. They're about the same age. Of course, Maeda is much, much cheaper and doesn't have an injury history like Ryu. 

Great trade from Day 1! Hope some of our young pitchers can learn a few tips from him. His split/change is just nasty
    • wabene, BeatTheRich and Joey P like this

 

Ryu has been very good. Maeda has more innings, more K's, a lower whip and ERA, but Ryu has a higher war (probably bc of facing better division); Ryu is 4-1 with a 3.0 ERA.

Yup -- the teams Ryu have faced have scored 5.13 runs per 9 innings overall; Maeda, only 4.22. Additionally, B-Ref grades the Toronto team defense as poor and the Twins as solid. Those two factors give Ryu a better bWAR than Maeda.

 

Fangraphs gives the advantage to Maeda, though, due to a better FIP.

 

Still, both have had very good seasons, by either metric. Would be fun to see them face each other in the postseason!

 

Great article. I admit I was on the Bumgarner trainwreck... as well as the Kimbrel car crash.

It's still a suspect contract, and I am always suspicious of investing that much money in a reliever, but Kimbrel is actually on the comeback trail! Since giving up runs in his first 4 outings this year, here's his line:

 

12 G, 11.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 7 BB, 24 K, 1.59 ERA, opponents batting .108/.267/.108 for a .375 OPS

 

In September, he's been even better: 6 G, 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 11 K.

 

No guarantee it will last, of course, but it looks like we'll get a chance to see him in high leverage in the postseason again, which should be interesting either way!

    • wabene likes this

I'm still ambivalent about labeling Maeda as an "ace"Has he delivered far more than expected?Absolutely?Is he one of the better pitchers in the AL?Yes.But should we make this judgement after only nine starts?After all, the article stated that maybe Lynn shouldn't have been judged as a bad pitcher due to his one year with the Twins (my take on that part) so I believe the same is true for Maeda.I am very happy to see him doing so great, but I just need more before I'll put him in that category. 

I was happy when we made the trade, mainly because who we traded away was slotted to be only a pen arm, and our pen clearly has not missed him.Gratoral has been fine this year with better FIP than last year but pretty low K rate for someone with his stuff.He has only pitched 19 innings, Maeda has given much better value, because if you fliped the two, we would be down to Smeltzer or Thorpe getting Maeda starts.  

 

I was very high on Ryu as well, and wish we could have brought in both, but Maeda has been great so will need to settle.Will he be this way for years to come, who knows.But lets enjoy this year.Hope he picks up a W in first round of playoffs, looking more and more likely against the Yankees.  

 

Could you imagine if he pitched a shutout against the Yankees in the playoffs?The statute of him would start getting carved.Black Jack would get bumped from most iconic pitching performance in Twins post season history.Well, maybe not that far, but we would be talking about it for a long time. 

    • Joey P likes this

 

Yup -- the teams Ryu have faced have scored 5.13 runs per 9 innings overall; Maeda, only 4.22. Additionally, B-Ref grades the Toronto team defense as poor and the Twins as solid. Those two factors give Ryu a better bWAR than Maeda.

 

Fangraphs gives the advantage to Maeda, though, due to a better FIP.

 

Still, both have had very good seasons, by either metric. Would be fun to see them face each other in the postseason!

Would have been fun to have BOTH on our roster...

 

I was happy when we made the trade, mainly because who we traded away was slotted to be only a pen arm, and our pen clearly has not missed him.Gratoral has been fine this year with better FIP than last year but pretty low K rate for someone with his stuff.He has only pitched 19 innings, Maeda has given much better value, because if you fliped the two, we would be down to Smeltzer or Thorpe getting Maeda starts.  

 

I was very high on Ryu as well, and wish we could have brought in both, but Maeda has been great so will need to settle.Will he be this way for years to come, who knows.But lets enjoy this year.Hope he picks up a W in first round of playoffs, looking more and more likely against the Yankees.  

 

Could you imagine if he pitched a shutout against the Yankees in the playoffs?The statute of him would start getting carved.Black Jack would get bumped from most iconic pitching performance in Twins post season history.Well, maybe not that far, but we would be talking about it for a long time. 

You are so right. I would carve the statue myself out of granite if no one else offered. 

 

Wish they would have also gotten Dallas Keuchel.
    • ChrisKnutson likes this

Great find by the FO to fill a huge need of the Twins. Don't know if he is a true ACE, but he sure seems to be a very good Twins #1. 

 

Speaking of contracts, his contract is as good as the Bumgarner contract is bad. Also gotta expect Kenta is happy that the Twins are letting him start and pitch as deep into games as he can rather than banning him to the bullpen to limit his innings and dollars.

 

Maybe the word will begin getting out that the Twins are a class organization to play for? 

 

Thanks for this report, Nick.

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FritzDahmus
Sep 17 2020 09:46 AM

What I like about Maeda ---- he actually can go the distance....as in 7+ innings.

 

Most of them get praise for going 5+ innings.....and leaving the rest to bullpen guys, who may or may not be on that day.......all of them.....one per inning!!!

 

Dobnak is gone. A move that is sad but was a move "waiting to happen". A miracle worker this year...enough to give the Twins a boost at the start with 6 wins and enough good innings. 

 

Maeda, Pineda, and Odorizzi will not be phased by the Yanks. Especially Pineda.

I love watching him pitch. He is a master at his craft. If only he spoke Jose's language...
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puckstopper1
Sep 17 2020 10:20 AM

 

Great trade from Day 1! Hope some of our young pitchers can learn a few tips from him. His split/change is just nasty

I am also glad that this trade happened.

 

Remember when the Red Sox were part of it and tried to muck it up for the Twins?

 

Because of this I'm loving the Bosox struggles this season...

    • BeatTheRich likes this
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BeatTheRich
Sep 17 2020 10:39 AM

 

Because of this I'm loving the Bosox struggles this season...

I'd still be loving the Bosox struggles, but the attempted sabotage makes the love a bit stronger. Maeda has been terrific.

 

I am also glad that this trade happened.

 

Remember when the Red Sox were part of it and tried to muck it up for the Twins?

 

Because of this I'm loving the Bosox struggles this season...

 

 

I'd still be loving the Bosox struggles, but the attempted sabotage makes the love a bit stronger. Maeda has been terrific.

 

Not to rehash the whole debate, but the results so far have pretty much supported the Red Sox position in that trade. They are bad enough that Graterol's relative chance of starting long-term was a very important consideration for them. And given how he has been used by the Dodgers, it seems quite possible that there was something in the Twins medical disclosure that implied starting was even less likely for Graterol than his on-field track record would have suggested.

 

On the larger question of the trade, yeah, they could have afforded Betts, but Betts probably wouldn't have salvaged the Red Sox in the near future. And Verdugo has been one of Boston's better players (albeit not as good as Betts, but obviously much cheaper going forward). Judgement still pending on the minor league prospects they received, obviously.

Bumgarner is a lesson that is hard for teams to learn.Signing an older star in their thirties is paying for what he has already accomplished and not what he is going to do.The Twins might regret the Donaldson signing eventually - especially if he maintains this years line and injuries.  

 

The Maeda move was terrific and while he is producing he is not harming the teams finances.  

 

I am leery of big FA signings. Gerrit Cole was the big catch and so far he is 6 - 3 with 1.5 WAR - is that good enough for his contract?Madison Bumgarner is 0 - 4 with 8.53eraand -0.8 WAR, like Maeda, Hyun Jin Ryu with 2.1 WAR has been worth it for the Blue Jays where he is 4- 0 and a 3.00 era.Had we succeeded with Zack Wheeler like we tried we would have been happy too.He has 4 - 0 2.62 era and 2.8 WAR.Our old friend Kyle Gibson is 2 - 5 with no WAR and 5.18 era.Cole Hamels is 0 - 1 with 8.10 era and -0.1 WAR.You can even add our pickup of Odorizzi who has a - 0.2 WAR is 0 - 1 with a 6.59 era.  

 

I know injuries hit some like Odorizzi, but that is also part of the FA problem if you are signing older players.  

 

There are more, but you can see that the FA market big names are not a sure bet.Better to do what the White Sox have done and raise your own.  

    • rdehring likes this

 

There are more, but you can see that the FA market big names are not a sure bet.Better to do what the White Sox have done and raise your own.  

I don't think anyone disputes that, in general. The question is, what do you do once you've failed to raise your own? (Or enough of your own?)

 

Although the White Sox specifically haven't "raised their own" pitchers entirely either -- Giolito, Cease, Dunning, and Kopech (and yes, even Reynaldo Lopez) were all acquired by trading good players under contract for several more years (at good prices too). And it took several poor performance years after those trades for them to get to this point. Not every team can (or should want) to emulate that strategy.

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Twins_Fan_For_Life
Sep 17 2020 11:53 AM
I would have enjoyed the video more if it would have had English language voice-over like the old kung fu movies

Maeda is on his game today. Concerned about Sano and Cruz...both mired in miserable slumps. Cruz has fanned 9 times in 23 AB's over last 7 games. Sano has whiffed 11 times in 23 AB's over last 7 games. Both hitting way under .200 and leaving boatloads of runners on base. Lets hope those two very important players snap out of this. Neither looks good today either....so far.


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