Lou Hennessy Twins Daily Contributor Posted March 2 Share Posted March 2 In 2020, Kenta Maeda ran the game and had the whole world talkin'. After a brilliant stretch of 11 starts, he was crowned the king of the Twins rotation. But Tommy John surgery has kept him out of action for nearly 18 months. What are reasonable expectations for King Kenta as he makes his triumphant return to his kingdom? Image courtesy of William Parmeter While the pandemic-shortened 2020 season consisted of just 60 games, it gave Twins fans a performance that they had been begging for. Finally, a pitcher was able to break through as a true frontline starter, even if it was an abbreviated campaign. Kenta Maeda assumed his throne that year as he twirled 67 innings of 2.70 ERA ball across 11 starts. He established new career-bests in strikeout rate (32.3%), walk rate (4.0%), swinging strike rate (17.2%) and WHIP (0.75). That led to a second-place finish in the Cy Young award competition, and vindicated the franchise’s years-long pursuit of a true ace-level pitcher. Or so we thought. Maeda took an expected step back in 2021. He was still serviceable through July (4.40 ERA, 24.6% strikeout rate, 7.1% walk rate) but it became clear that his ailment was becoming increasingly more troublesome. He ultimately succumbed to Tommy John surgery in August 2021, and was banished from his kingdom while he recovered. Now, he’s returning to the rotation after roughly 17 months of recovery. But what should Twins fans expect from their former king? Two of the most-popular projection models agree that his per-pitch numbers will closely resemble his pre-injury self from 2021. ZiPS and Steamer both predict he’ll finish the year with an ERA around 4.15, slightly lower strikeout rates at around 22% and a 1.27 WHIP. Their differences however, lie in Maeda’s ability to remain in the starting rotation. Steamer thinks he’ll start 24 games and they project him for 150 innings pitched. That raises his predicted wins above replacement to 1.4, which is totally respectable for a starter’s first season after returning from Tommy John surgery. ZiPS, however, thinks that Maeda will only manage to start 15 games, and will be limited to just 83 innings pitched. This limits their predicted WAR figure for the veteran right-hander to just 0.9 in 2023. Upon first glance, it would be sensible that the ZiPS projection is factoring a mid-season role change for Maeda due to an inning limitation. However, they only predict that he’ll make three appearances out of the bullpen, even with the low games started prediction. That essentially means that they think Kenta Maeda will have trouble staying healthy in 2023. That’s not unheard of for players coming back from an extended absence, and injury limitations are certainly not uncharted territory for this Twins roster. One model thinks Maeda bounces back as a starter, and stays relatively healthy. The other sees him breaking down and only pitching about half as many innings. Time will tell which projection will be more accurate. Perhaps a look at another arm that recently bounced back from Tommy John surgery can help provide some more reasonable expectations for King Kenta in 2023. Noah Syndergaard had this procedure in March of 2020, just after spring training was halted due to the pandemic. He also had an extended recovery period, as he didn’t return to game action until late-September in 2021, roughly 18 months after his surgery. Even then, he only appeared in two games as a one-inning opener before having another five months of recovery in the off-season. Syndergaard returned to full-strength heading into the 2022 season, where he finished the year with a 3.94 ERA across 24 starts between the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies. He tossed 135 innings last year, and though his strikeout rate slipped considerably (26.4% from 2015-2019, 16.8% in 2022), he still managed to accumulate a respectable 2.2 wins above replacement. Syndergaard was able to be this successful by limiting hitters to soft contact – which has also been a calling card of Maeda throughout his career. It should be noted that there are a handful of differences between Syndergaard and Maeda when comparing their respective recoveries. Notably, the former was one of the hardest throwers in the history of the game before his surgery, averaging 98.1 MPH on his heater in that time. Maeda, on the other hand, has never relied on fastball velocity, but rather the quality of his secondary offerings. In his first spring training appearance last week, his fastball did average about 90.3 MPH. That’s an encouraging sign, as it averaged about 91.6 MPH in his brilliant 2020 season. Of course, remaining healthy is going to be the defining factor for the 35-year-old this season, and for the rest of his career for that matter. But if he can have similar production to Syndergaard in his first year back in action, the Twins would gladly take that. He may not be returning to the throne that he held in 2020, but King Kenta is no longer banished from his kingdom. What are your expectations for Maeda in 2023 and beyond? Can he follow Syndergaard’s lead in having a relatively successful season? Let us know what you think in the comments below. View full article wabene and glunn 2 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.