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Kenta Maeda To Twins - Fantasy Impact


Late Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox triggered a blockbuster, three-team trade that sent star outfielder Mookie Betts to the west coast and brought a couple of top prospects back to Boston. What was lost in the madness was the third team, the Minnesota Twins, making a big addition to their starting rotation by acquiring former Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda.

Looking at this deal from a fantasy standpoint, Maeda may be the player that gains the most value by changing addresses.

You've probably already read up on how Betts and Price will fare in L.A. Now it's time to see how this former Dodger will take to the great north.

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Flying Under the Radar

Maeda has quietly been one of the more dominant pitchers in the game since coming to the Majors from Japan in 2016. He has a 3.71 xFIP for his career while averaging 9.8 K/9 across four MLB seasons. What has held him back, from a fantasy perspective, was lack of innings due to injuries and how the Dodgers managed his workload.

The Dodgers, owners of the deepest starting rotation in baseball, made it a point to limit Maeda's innings throughout his tenure in Los Angeles. In fact, the right-hander averaged only 84 pitches per start last season and was moved to the bullpen in August each of the past two years, presumably so the Dodgers could avoid performance incentives in Maeda's contract that would pay him more for hitting certain thresholds for starts and innings. That could change in Minnesota.

The Twins don't have nearly the starting pitching depth the Dodgers possess. They also didn't trade away Brusdar Graterol, one of their own top-pitching prospects, to have Maeda watch the pennant push from the bullpen. The Twins are very much in win-now mode and clearly believe Maeda can be a pitcher to help them compete with the other top teams in the American League.

Looking at his splits, there doesn't appear to be a valid reason for Maeda's short starts either. Last season, Maeda threw 25 innings while facing the batting order for the third time. Despite the small sample, his batting average against was just .216 with a .269 on-base percentage. Going back to 2018, Maeda's batting average against the third time through the order was just .209 in 24.2 innings. This sample size is obviously small, but it appears that there is no performance-related reason Maeda had to be lifted early from so many starts. If Minnesota lets him go deeper into games, he could put better numbers than we've seen from him in the majors, especially in points leagues.

Potentially gaining more starts and more innings from Maeda would be a big deal in fantasy as he's been one of the best pitchers in the league at limiting hard contact while putting up better than average strikeout numbers. Maeda was fourth in baseball last season with an 85.4 MPH average exit velocity which included being top-10 in the league in exit velocity on fly balls. Maeda was also dominant in a newer metric called xWOBAcon, which measures a pitcher's expected wOBA on pitches where the batter makes contact. His mark of .333 was second-best in the bigs last season among pitchers with at least 100 batted ball events.

Maeda isn't just about limiting hard contact, however. Last season, he struck out 169 batters in 153.2 innings thanks to a strong 27.1 percent strikeout rate. He isn't blessed with an overpowering fastball, but what he lacks in velocity he makes up for with dominant secondary pitches. Last season, he allowed just a .155 batting average against his slider and .185 average against his changeup. Combine those numbers with a swinging-strike rate that has been above 14 percent two seasons in a row and you've got a pitcher overflowing with upside.

 

There's Always a Catch

The downside to drafting Maeda has always been his lack of innings. He spent time on the injured list last season, and his MLB-high in innings is just 175.2 in 2016. That being said, Maeda isn't more of an injury risk than any other starting pitcher and entering his age-32 season there's no reason to think he can't handle a full starters' workload, which he should get with the Twins.

Moving to the American League isn't ideal for pitchers, but the AL Central is the least daunting division to pitch in, especially since Maeda won't have to face his own team's strong offense. It's hard to find a better lineup than the Dodgers, but the Twins should provide plenty of run support as well so there's no reason to downgrade him for his supporting cast. Target Field and Dodger Stadium are both fairly neutral parks as well, so there's little reason to be concerned over his shift in home park.

As of early February, Maeda carries a 195 average draft position on NFBC. That number was likely too low to begin with, but expect it to climb based on this trade. It's reasonable to project Maeda to throw around 170-180 innings of sub-4.00 ERA baseball with solid win and strikeout totals. Pick 150 overall would be a fair time to start looking for a pitcher with all the upside Maeda has in Minnesota.

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