In his debut start with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda thoroughly and systematically ran roughshod over the San Diego Padres. It was a pretty amazing display by a rookie pitcher, even for someone as seasoned as Maeda was over in Japan. Just how great was the start, though? Well, let’s find out.
As you’re probably used to by now, there is something called average exit velocity, whiff rate, BABIP, and things of that nature. As Maeda prepares for his second start of the season, a start that sees him pitch his first game at Dodger Stadium, looking back at some of these numbers really puts his season debut into perspective.
Maeda had an average exit velocity given up of just 81.1 miles per hour during that start in San Diego. In fact, he only gave up one batted ball that exceeded 100 MPH. That was a ground out by Alexei Ramirez to Chase Utley. It registered as 101.67 miles per hour. Even more astounding was that Maeda registered three batted balls against in the 60 MPH range. Meaning he generated three times as much supremely weak contact as he did hard contact.
Conversely, Brooks Baseball registered the amount of pitches he threw and generated the stats off of them. His slider was especially unbelievable. Maeda threw 24 sliders against the Padres, and three of his five strikeouts came courtesy of that one pitch. He gave up two hits on them, as well. However, dig a little bit deeper.
Of those 24 sliders, the Padres swung at 17 of them. That’s an astounding figure, but even more incredible was that they swung and missed at 7 of those 17. That’s nutty. Maeda pounded the lower-third of the strikezone with sliders, sinkers, and fastballs in an effort to generate easy outs. And he did just that seeing as how 72.2 percent of the balls that the Padres put into play against him were grounders.
Consider the five hits that he gave up in the game. Four of them have a batted ball speed attached to them. The hardest hit ball? An 89.49 mile per hour ground ball single for Matt Kemp. It was the only hit Maeda allowed all game long where the exit velocity even topped 80 miles per hour. In other words, the Padres were rarely, if ever, putting solid contact onto the ball.
The average exit velocity on the four charted hits was 76.4 miles per hour. The fifth hit, which doesn’t have an exit velocity attached, was a bunt single. So you have a pitcher who generated a ton of swing and misses on his slider, kept the ball down in the zone to induce grounders, got a ton of bad contact, and didn’t get hit hard all evening. That’s a start you can love.
What does this mean going forward for the Dodgers and Kenta Maeda? Hard to say. There’s really nothing to conclude from one performance. There will be a time, or times, this season where Maeda gets hit hard and it looks like the league has figured him out, but you cross that bridge when you get to it. For one night in April, and his first start in the bigs, Maeda was downright dominant, and a king was born.