On Sunday evening, Kenta Maeda looks to be the first pitcher in the modern era of baseball, which is since 1900, to begin his Major League career with three straight scoreless starts of at least six innings. His first two starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers have been brilliant, and hopefully his third is, as well.
Maeda’s ability to work both sides of the strike zone, change speeds, and generally keep hitters off-balance has been quite remarkable to watch early on in his professional career in the states. While hitters will adjust as his career goes along, the Dodgers have to love the results thus far and they have to love his pitching style.
Maeda’s early excellence has been about avoiding mistakes in the middle of the strike zone: When he has missed his target on the inside corner, it has been inside and off the plate, or when he has tried to dot the outside corner, he has sometimes missed away. “Good misses” is the way one evaluator put it.
In his first two starts, Maeda has thrown only 22 pitches in the middle of the strike zone. That means up in the middle, down the middle, or at the knees in the center. By comparison, he’s thrown 26 pitches down and away out of the strike zone. That’s just in one quadrant. Maeda gets hitters to get themselves out.
One of the most incredible stats so far this season has been that batters have swung at 35 of Maeda’s sliders, but whiffed on 15 of them. They’re missing on 43 percent of the swings that they take at his slider. That one pitch has allowed him to be successful, and he’s adapted himself well to the big leagues; the Dodgers hope it continues.