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“Hamilton Sound” Kan I Interest You in a Buy-Low: Kenta Maeda

When you are looking at a pitcher coming off a 3.48 ERA and that pitcher has increased his strikeout rate and maintained an elite ratio of strikeouts to walks, you would imagine that you’d have a pitcher with an ERA in the mid-to-low-3s again, no?  Well, Kenta Maeda has increased his already stellar strikeout-rate from last year to a nice 10.16 per nine (9.17 last year) and maintained his walk rate of 2.61 per nine (2.58 last year) … but … his ERA sits at a whopping 5.61 and his 4.58 FIP says he’s deserved that high ERA.  The issue: homeruns.  After giving up 20 long-balls all of last year in 32 starts, Maeda has given up 7 already this year, including four in one start in Arizona.

For those that spent a high-round pick on Maeda, things have not gone well, but I am optimistic moving ahead.

I would expect positive regression for any pitcher giving up home runs at that rate, but there’s actually more room for optimism with Maeada and a real buy-low opportunity.  Let’s look a little deeper.

Why is Maeda giving up so many homeruns?  The 4-seamer.  Per Eno Sarris at Fangraphs on April 28, after Maeda’s dismal first four starts:

Last year, Maeda threw two four-seamers for every two-seamer. This year, he’s throwing eight four-seamers for every two-seamer. This isn’t quite the reverse Ramirez, since Maeda gets three times the whiffs from his four-seamer than his two-seamer, but there is something to this: his four-seamer has given up five times the homers as his two-seamer over his career. In very related news, Maeda’s whiffs are up and his fly balls and homers are up too.

As someone who is looking for buy-lows, this last paragraph caught my attention:

More likely, it seems that, for whatever reason (hopefully not injury), Maeda is throwing his four-seamer too much and his sinker too little. Maybe he thinks he needs the whiffs. Throwing that pitch too much has led to putting it in bad places, though. Places he should put his two-seamer. The good news is, that seems like a somewhat simple fix.

(emphasis added).

Digging a little further, though, I am not so sure that the prescription for success for Maeda is more reliance on the the sinker, but rather a move to his other pitches.  As explained by pitcherlist.com about Maeda’s ’16 season (that website can burn through hours and hours of your time; super-cool website):

Maeda rotated between Four-Seamers and Two-Seamers, though the latter simply wasn’t working as it should – just a 36.2% zone rate and only a 23.2% O-Swing rate doesn’t instill faith moving forward. However, his Four-Seamer got the job done, with a 54.2% zone rate and limited batters to a low .210 BAA across 806 pitches thrown.

In other words, the two-seamer is kinda bleh, but as pointed out by Eno Sarris too, the 4-seamer gets the strikeouts.  So maybe keep the 4-seamer in the arsenal for the Ks and start to rely a bit more on his stellar slider or his new pitch, the cutter?  I think this is what we’ve seen with Maeda in the last two starts with dramatically better results.

Brooks Baseball does not have records for Maeda’s first start of the year versus San Diego, but in Maeda’s next three starts of the year he threw the four-seamer 58%, 47%, and 26% of the time, yielding the aforementioned terrible results.  That last start was against Arizona when he gave up 3 home runs in the first inning.  My suspicion is those homers were hit off the 4-seamer and Maeda either read Eno Sarris’ article in between the first and second inning or realized the 4-seamer was getting shelled and stopped throwing it half the time.

On April 28 Maeda faced the Phillies and threw the four-seamer only 20% of the time, reverted back to the 2-1 ratio of 4-seamers to 2-seamers that he relied upon last year, and leaned heavily on the new cutter.   Voila, 7 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 8 strikeouts, 1 walk, 5 hits and the win.  Last night he faced the Padres and although pitch stats are not posted on Brooks Baseball as of this morning, I watched the start and can tell you there were a shit-ton of sliders thrown on the way to giving up 1 earned run, striking out 8 with 6 total baserunners (3 hits, 3 BB) over 5 innings.  I think the we are onto something.

I get that he faced the Phillies and Padres, but everything else looks pretty stable from last year.  Although velocity has been hard to track this year, given the changes to the way it is measured, he looks to be sitting right where he was last year.  His swinging-strike rate, which was elite last year, is actually up from last year (15.2% versus 11.6%) and batters are actually making less contact too (Contact percentage of 74.5% in ’15 versus 68.4% this year).  That combination of swinging-strike rate and contact percentage is comparable to what we’re seeing from Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.  Not bad company.   His BABIP of of .305 is actually 30 points higher than last year, but we only have one full year to go on so it’s tough to tell what his BABIP “should” be but should either stick where it is or come down a bit.  There is always the injury risk, but he is a pitcher … at least he doesn’t pitch for the Mets …

All in all, we have a guy that was a “simple fix” away from reverting back to the pitcher that landed in almost every expert’s top-30 rankings.  It looks like he had made that fix and the results have followed.  I think we can expect a mid-to-low 3 ERA a 1.20 WHIP and 9 k/9 from here on out.  I bought in after looking deeper on Maeda after his start against Philly.  Have I convinced you to do the same?

Till next time!

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join guest host Andrea Lamont, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday April 30th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #85 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, a 5 year veteran in MLFB leagues, and a really handsome guy. His articles publish every Sunday. He helps “Pick Your Spots” for the coming week.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

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(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday May 7th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #86 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.

Our guest this week is Bryan Luhrs. Bryan is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, and the owner of Real Deal Dynasty Sports.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

I have been playing fantasy baseball for about a decade over just about every format. Long time player, but first time writer. Hope to provide you helpful, informative, and entertaining insight throughout the season.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: “Hamilton Sound” The Case for Selling Strasburg

  2. Pingback: “Hamilton Sound” Maikel Franco, Buy Low

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