The hidden value in Kenta Maeda

When all the details were worked out on the Mookie Betts trade, it initially appeared that the Minnesota Twins were the losers of the deal as they shipped out top pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol, outfielder Luke Raley, and a compensatory draft pick. In return, they got Dodger’s pitcher Kenta Maeda as their main course of the trade. In 2019, Maeda had a record of 10 wins and 8 losses with a 4.04 ERA across 153.2 innings. Those are decent numbers, but you usually wouldn’t think about trading a top prospect for someone like that. So, what sort of impact can the Twins expect out of Maeda? Perhaps more than you think.

For anyone interested in the analytical side of baseball, I highly recommend they check out Baseball Savant. It has great in-depth analysis for players and the website monitors everything that happens on a baseball field from batting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning. It gives us a new perspective as to how we look at players. Kenta Maeda is one of those players that when you look at his statcast profile, it’s not hard to see why the Twins acquired the right-handed hurler. 

So, what can we learn just from looking at this chart? We can see that Maeda has a below-average fastball velocity, which is true. He averages roughly 92mph and carries average fastball spin. However, in 2019 Maeda ranked in the 73rd percentile for K%, 81st Percentile for xBA, 96th percentile for average exit velocity, and 95th percentile for hard-hit%. Maeda was one of the top arms in all of baseball when it comes to generating soft contact while also striking out a decent number of batters.

Maeda not only kept batters from hitting the ball hard, but he also kept them from getting on base. Expected batting average (xBA) is a statistic used to determine the likelihood that a ball put in play will become a hit. Due to the elite amount of soft contact Maeda could produce in 2019, Maeda had an xBA of .216, the lowest mark of his career. This ranked him 9th lowest in all of baseball when compared with pitchers who faced at least 600 batters (this removes relievers). Ranking ahead of players such as Jack Flaherty, Charlie Morton, Walker Buehler, Shane Bieber, and Patrick Corbin. All of which, received votes for Cy Young in 2019.

When looking at a pitcher’s expected ERA (xERA) we are essentially looking at the amount of contact a batter makes, as well as the quality of contact and attempting to give credit to the pitcher or batter at the exact moment of contact based on the prior measurables. We remove factors such as defense, weather, and other ballpark elements. Once we convert that to an ERA scale, we can then compare it to the pitcher’s actual era. Maeda had an actual ERA of 4.04 in 2019, but an xERA of 3.26, ranking 6th in all of baseball and 4th in the NL behind deGrom, Scherzer, and Strasburg. This tells us that 0.78 points were tacked onto Maeda’s ERA due to factors out of his control, and was a much better pitcher than the statistics show.

What does this all mean? It means that the Twins have a lot to look forward to. They’re getting a high-level pitcher coming into the middle of their rotation who can provide top end numbers. Don’t be so surprised if you see 12-14 wins and a mid-three ERA from Maeda. He adds much-needed stability to a rotation that is sorely lacking it. This will only make the Twins better going forward as they continue to contend as one of the top teams in the American League.