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ADP Champ or Chump: Kenta Maeda

Generally speaking, ADP makes sense even if you don't agree with it. For example, this author believes that Kevin Cron would break out in a Pete Alonso manner if Arizona gave him everyday reps, but his path to playing time is questionable even with the recent announcement that NL clubs will have a DH this season. As such, it's understandable why his ADP stands at 581.5 on FantasyPros.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule. If you learned that Pitcher X posted a 10-8 record with identical 4.04 ERA and xFIP marks and a 27.1 K% over 153 2/3 IP last year, you would probably assume that he was a fantasy-relevant starter. If you further discovered that he played for a projected division winner and figures to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the league's geography-based schedule, you might be eager to snap him up for some elusive wins.

Kenta Maeda of the Minnesota Twins is Pitcher X, but his ADP of 172.4 in no way represents his talent level. He strikes out a ton of opposing batters on the strength of two great pitches, has not sustained a significant injury since coming to the United States, and figures to terrorize the weak lineups in both the AL and NL Central divisions. Let's take a deeper look at the value Maeda can provide to fantasy owners in 2020.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Ace-Like Stuff

You need to have great stuff to perform in fantasy, and Maeda has it in his four-pitch mix. His fastball isn't special, clocking in at an average of 92.2 mph in 2019 and generating a solid but not spectacular 7.5 SwStr%. Maeda has excellent command of it though, putting it in the zone 57.5% of the time a season ago. That makes it perfect for setting-up Maeda's twin put-away pitches.

Maeda's slider is one of the best pitches in the game. Its 21.8 SwStr% was nothing short of elite, and batters chased it out of the zone a whopping 41.8% of the time. Maeda can also use it in the zone if need be (44.4 Zone%), and batters slashed just .155/.203/.288 when they managed to put it in play. Notably, the pitch's 47.1 FB% and 38.5 IFFB% produced a ton of harmless pop-ups.

Maeda's change was nearly as good. Its 19.3 SwStr% was slightly lower than his slider and its 30.9 Zone% depends on opposing hitters to chase, but its 47.6% chase rate makes that a perfectly viable strategy. Opposing batters hit .185/.239/.315 against his change in 2019, so it's far from the end of the world if it ends up in play too.

Having two pitches like this is obviously great, but it's even better considering that they complement each other well. Maeda's slider is primarily served to RHB, with a 52.5% usage rate versus just 11.1% against LHB. The reason why is clear: righties posted an xwOBA of just .196 last year against it, while lefties fared much better with a .313 xwOBA. If Maeda's only out pitch was his slider, he would be vulnerable against left-handed batters.

Thankfully, his change has almost the opposite split. It's thrown 40.9% of the time to LHB but only 5.9% against RHB, holding the former to a .262 xwOBA while the latter produced a .330 wOBA in the small sample. Thus, Maeda has a top-tier weapon with which to go after all batters.

Maeda realized that his breaking pitches were better than his heater last year, throwing more changeups (14.6% in 2018, 23.9% last year) and sliders (22.6% to 31.5%) at the expense of his fastball (41.8% to 34%) and cutter (7.3% to 0%). His curve gives hitters a different look, completing an arsenal that should have no problem pitching deep into games as Minnesota's ace.


Strong Peripherals

Some fantasy owners might feel that Maeda's .243 BABIP (.280 career) means that his 4.04 ERA won't repeat in 2020, but his Statcast contact quality metrics suggest that he was actually unlucky last season. His .216 xBA against was slightly higher than his actual mark of .202, but he more than gave it back with his .345 xSLG against an actual mark of .371. The result was an expected ERA of 3.26 based on his strikeouts, walks, and contact quality allowed per Baseball Savant's version of the statistic.

"Is that good?" you might be wondering. Yes, it is. The diagram below illustrates the top 10 starters in terms of xERA in 2019, minimum of 500 PAs:

That's a list of the very best pitchers in baseball, the promising young Chris Paddack, and Kenta Maeda. Does it make sense for anyone on this list to be seen as an afterthought in fantasy?


Boundless Opportunity

Some owners might look at Maeda's low innings totals and see a guy who can't work deep into games, but that's actually more on the Dodgers than Maeda. Maeda's contract pays him incentives for meeting innings thresholds, providing the Dodgers will a financial incentive for phantom IL stints or bullpen banishments that Maeda's performance never warranted. Since the Dodgers generally had the division won by August and boasted limitless pitching depth, they could afford to play these types of games.

The Twins are a win-now team whose greatest weakness is likely pitching, so they won't play the same games the Dodgers did. Every game will have a DH, so there's no reason to remove Maeda early for a pinch hitter either. In short, Maeda should finally get the opportunity to be a workhorse that the Dodgers never gave him.

The recently revealed schedule also calls for teams to play all of their games in their specific geographic region to minimize travel. The Twins will play 40 of their 60 contests against their AL Central foes, of which only Cleveland represents a significant challenge to earning a W for Maeda. Meanwhile, the Royals and Tigers both project to be complete disasters. The NL Central consists of four good-not-great teams plus another disaster in Pittsburgh. Twins pitchers have the easiest schedule this year, and Maeda is the best of the bunch.



Maeda's value becomes even clearer when you look at the other starters taken in the same price range. Sean Manaea (165.4 ADP) has a substantial injury history that figures to limit how many IP he throws this year, and he can't match Maeda's strikeouts even at his best. Carlos Martinez (168.6) has even more injury questions to the point that he may not start at all. Jake Odorizzi (174.6) lacks Maeda's physical talent, and German Marquez (178) is hurt by calling Coors Field home.

Maeda has great strikeout stuff, effectively controls contact against him, and pitches for a strong team in what is easily the weakest of the three geographic regions. How in the world is he outside the top 100, let alone the top 170?

Verdict: Champ (based on clear SP2 potential despite an SP5 price tag)

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