By Alex O’Connor
There is a new face emerging in the market for Japanese starting pitchers moving to the MLB. That new face is Kenta Maeda, who has been projected as the next 100-million dollar signee to come over from Japan. Maeda is currently a pitcher for the Hiroshima Carp. As any pitcher who is receiving this much attention in Japan, he has delivered impressive results. This season, the right-hander owns a 2.56 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. However, players who have been less successful in the majors like Kei Igawa and Hideki Okajima have had much better numbers than those of Maeda. Maeda arguably does not have the best ratings among Japanese pitchers, but he may be a beneficiary of past Japanese starting pitching signees.
Some recent Japanese pitcher signees include Daisuke Matsuzaka (6 years/$52 million and a $51 million bid submission), Yu Darvish (6 years/$60 million and a $61 million bid submission) and finally Mashario Tanaka (7 years/$155 million and a $20 million bid submission). These three players each had tremendous amounts of stock put into them by the media and their coaches in Japan. For example, the Dice-K phenomenon that swept through the MLB. “Dice-K” is a name that stuck between fans and the organization alike. It was easy to say and something that the media bought into instantly. The media not only helps the players, but the organizations as well. In the end, they also benefit from MLB’s increased desire in Japanese pitchers.
The timing of these major signings into Major League Baseball have also proved conducive for Maeda. Matsuzaka was signed in 2007, Darvish in 2012 and Tanaka in 2014. As a result over time, the demand for starting pitchers has increased, and so has their contract sizes. Though Matsuzaka has not panned out as well as Darvish, there was as much if not more stock put in by the media of how successful these pitchers would be. In a general sense, the vast majority of Japanese pitchers getting these lucrative deals had plenty of potential going into the majors. However, as the years go on, organizations go through a much deeper risk when competing to sign for their services.
In addition to demand of pitchers, another aspect that has been working in their favor is the increased popularity of baseball in Japan. This has been partially due to the immense success of players like Ichiro and Hideki Matsui. Once both players were achieving success in the majors, their games would be played nationwide by various Japanese TV stations. This allows MLB organizations to take a closer notice on their players and promotes awareness of their respected leagues. Through media awareness and past trends of MLB organizations, Kenta Maeda is in a great spot to be the next pitcher to reap the rewards of a high-hyped Japanese pitching prospect.