It's the fantasy baseball draft season. To us baseball nerds, few things are more exciting than arguing about player rankings. Today, we'll discuss and compare Kenta Maeda's RotoBaller staff rankings. He was ranked No. 183 overall by Jeff Kahntroff, and No. 96 by Kyle Bishop.
Throughout this series, we'll be using our February Staff Rankings to debate where to draft certain players. In cases where our writers had discrepancies, we've asked them to explain their rankings. These debates will provide us with some well-rounded analysis, and help identify undervalued/overvalued draft picks.
2017 Draft Rankings Debate: Kenta Maeda
Jeff Kahntroff's Rankings Analysis
His Overall Ranking: 183
I look at a pitcher’s whole year instead of prioritizing the second half, unless there is a reason to suggest otherwise. Here, there is. Hitters were no longer seeing Maeda for the first time. In the first half, Maeda had a 2.95 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP, with a 3.38 FIP. In the second half, he posted a 4.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 3.87 FIP (and a 6.75 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in three postseason starts). While some may argue that his second half decline was due to poor BABIP luck (.274 versus .296) and poor homer luck (.87 HR/9 to 1.25), his batted ball profile got worse. His line drive percentage increased (19.0 to 22.4), his infield fly rate decreased (14.9 to 5.9), he allowed more hard (28.6 to 29.6) and soft (19.1 to 21.4) contact and less medium contact (52.4 to 49.0 – the type of contact that results in the lowest BABIP).
Because his second-half performance factors in the league adjustment, it strikes me as a reasonable projection, which is not top 100 to me. Kyle has him ranked ahead of pitchers who either clearly outperformed him (Kyle Hendricks – 2.13 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 8.1K/9 and Rich Hill 2.12, 1.00, 10.5), or pitchers who are young breakout candidates and already performed similarly (Danny Duffy - 3.56, 1.13, 9.3; Aaron Sanchez - 3.00, 1.17, 7.5; Michael Fulmer - 3.06, 1.12, 7.5; and, Julio Urias - 3.25, 1.38, 10.0).
Instead, Maeda belongs near pitchers who were closer to his performance, or who performed worse but have breakout potential. Those pitchers include John Lackey (3.35, 1.06, 8.6), Dallas Keuchel (2.48, 1.02, 8.4 in 2015), Eduardo Rodriguez (3.24, 1.13, 9.2 in the second half), Sean Manaea (2.67, 1.02, 8.0 in the second half), Steven Matz (3.40, 1.21, 8.8), Rick Porcello (3.15, 1.01, 7.6), Danny Salazar (3.45, 1.13, 9.5 in 2015 and3.87, 1.34, 10.6 in 2016), Lance McCullers (3.22, 1.54, 11.8), Joe Ross ( 3.40, 1.31, 8.0), Julio Teheran (3.21, 1.05, 8.0), and Kevin Gausman ( 3.61, 1.28, 8.7). The news that he will be throwing a cutter will move him from the back of this range (183) closer to the front of it (155ish) in my next rankings.
Kyle Bishop's Rankings Analysis
His Overall Ranking: 96
The "hitters/pitchers adjusted to him" narrative is something of a specious argument. Does it happen? Sure. But often, the person making the case for this explanation is simply begging the question - as Jeff does above. That presupposes that the player being discussed is incapable of responding with successful adjustments of his own, which is ludicrous on its face.
The reality is that we have a small sample of MLB data on which to draw with Maeda. That's the other support beam on Jeff's case. But his response is to shrink the source of information. Even just looking at his second half numbers, it's not the apocalypse he's made it out to be. Maeda's K-BB% barely budged. He continued to strike out a batter per inning and actually lowered his walk rate. Overall, even with the post-break struggles (which, as Jeff actually acknowledged, could be at least partly attributable to poor fortune), we're talking about a guy who finished 15th overall among starting pitchers in swinging strike rate. That doesn't really sound to me like the league figuring him out.
I don't think anyone is expecting Maeda to dominate like he did in the first half. But he doesn't need to in order to justify my ranking.