04 January 2016

Kenta Maeda Seems Underpaid

Go through the media and you get a general feeling that there is good reason to doubt Japanese phenom Kenta Maeda's ability to start games in Major League Baseball.  The predominant view is is that Maeda is a back of the rotation arm who might have some difficulty carrying a full load.  That certainly is the general thought coming from Keith Law and Ben Badler.  From ESPN's Eric Longenhagen:
Maeda's fastball will sit in the 87-92 mph range. It has touched a bit higher in the past but will likely do so less frequently as he moves from pitching once a week to every fifth day. His repertoire is deep, as is the case for most Japanese exports, featuring a heavily used slider, changeup, cutter and curveball. The slider has been front and center among those, used around 25 percent of the time in PITCHf/x charted outings; its velocity sits in the low 80s and is generally considered average to above-average by scouts in the Pacific Rim. The changeup has come along lately and flashed as a plus pitch during this autumn's Premier 12 event. Pitchers with short, quick arm actions like Maeda's tend to develop some kind of useful changeup eventually, so it is not unreasonable to think what scouts saw late this year will stick and his changeup will be consistently above average. The cutter and low-70s curveball are fringe and below-average pitches respectively.
With that in mind, the expectation would be that Kenta Maeda would be looking at something in the backend rotation ballpark.  In this market, that appears to be something around three years and 30-36 MM.  Preliminary reports are that the Dodgers, after paying the 20 MM posting fee, will sign Maeda to an eight year deal with 24 MM ensured to reach his bank account.  Incentives (likely Games Started, Innings Pitched, Awards because incentives cannot be directly performanced based) can earn Maeda an extra 10-12 MM a year.  In other words, Maeda's deal is for eight years and somewhere between 24 MM and 120 MM with another 20 MM going to his previous club.

To me, this looks like a steal.  He should be seeing something in the 3/15 range with maybe a team option or two tacked on.  That would be in the ballpark of what Wei-Yin Chen made in his original deal with the Orioles.  Chen, a lefty, was similar to Maeda in that he too had an upper 80s fastball (which could get into the lower 90s when employed as a reliever) along with a very effective slider.  The concern was that his command and control were not enough to overcome.  The Orioles were the only club that offered him a starting rotation role without qualifications.  It wound up being a resounding successful for the club, getting a league average or better starter for four seasons at the cost of what it would to pay for one season of a similar starter on the free agent market.

Maeda has better pitches than Chen had.  He uses them better.  Maeda was more adept at pitch sequencing in Japan as well.  It is certainly not a powerful looking mix of pitches, but it has played amazingly well in Japan and, according to one front office employee, he is someone any National League team should jump at.

All Levels (8 Seasons)2.391509.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/24/2015.

NPB Translation and Comp Model
Of course, my translation model knows nothing about pitch quality.  It only understands performance and it actually does a decent job figuring out what Major League performance winds up at.  Keep in mind though that there might be a selection bias in that we are only looking at pitchers who crossed the Pacific and logged a decent number of innings.  It could be that guys like Tsuyoshi Wada and Hideki Irabu are more similar to Maeda than Yu Darvish or Chen.  Briefly, I utilize several different metrics that have been shown to impact major predictors of defense independent pitching.  The model significantly predicts strikeouts and homeruns (p < 0.05), but is less successful with other metrics (i.e., walks (p = 0.29)).  Anyway, the model is a bit more complex than that, but not much more so.  Anyway, it does well enough for me to think there is value in it.

Translations for Past Three Years (abbreviated)

2013 175 70 151 4.38 1.9
2014 187 52 133 3.21 4.7
2015 207 58 173 3.04 5.6

From there we compound the uncertainty and institute a comp model approach to predicting what we might expect from Maeda.  Using that translated history from age 25 to 27, the closest statistical match comps are as follows:
Tim Hudson
Roy Halladay
Brandon Webb
Dan Haren
Josh Beckett
Roy Oswalt
Adam Wainwright
Mark Mulder
Barry Zito
Gavin Floyd
Scott Baker
Brad Penny
That is a rather impressive collection of talented pitchers who used a wide variety of ways to be successful in their youth.  Many of those pitchers continued to be useful deeper into their careers.  Regardless, they were by and large all reasonably successful and had better than average health.  Below are the three main tracks.

Low Mean High
2016 2.9 4.0 5.1
2017 2.6 3.5 4.4
2018 1.4 2.6 3.9
2019 2.1 3.2 4.3
2020 1.5 2.6 3.6
2021 0.4 1.8 3.2
Value 83 MM 138 MM 193 MM

From this, you can see that the translation and comp model approach values Maeda completely different than how MLB is valuing him.  This stat model thinks it would make sense to offer him a 6/118 MM contract while the Dodgers are offering him about 100 MM less than that.  The model thinks that it would be cautious to offer him a 6/63 MM deal, which is what the Dodgers will pay him over six years if Maeda hits all of his alleged incentives.

Typically, when a rather simple model like this says one thing and MLB says another, you trust the ever more sophisticated MLB.  Those guys get paid decent money to focus on decisions like this while I simply am frittering away my leisure time.  That all said, when you see the money being spent on Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, betting a little bit more on a light tossing right hander who has dominated Japan seems like a rather prudent thing to do.  Perhaps 2016 will put a major dent in this model.  I would think though that with the money problems the Orioles have, a pitcher like Maeda is someone you would want to take a chance on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Potential injury issues. Would probably never pass the O's physical.