Almost one year ago during the 2015 offseason, you might recall the Dodgers having a few problems acquiring players. Most notably was the Aroldis Chapman trade with the that Reds fell through due to domestic violence allegations coming to light, however you might also recall the Dodgers' attempts to get Seattle Mariners' righty Hisashi Iwakuma. The deal was all but complete at 3 years, $45 million when reports of a failed physical caused the Dodgers to back out of the agreed upon deal. Iwakuma had issues with a lat strain and reports of decline on his fastball velocity were probably big factors in the Dodgers' front office nixing the deal and looking elsewhere.
Fast forward to a month later, the Dodgers won the bidding war for Kenta Maeda and signed him to a rather unorthodox, incentive laden deal. An 8 year deal with only $25 million in guaranteed money (along with a $20 million posting fee to his former team the Hiroshima Carp) was a bit surprising when many thought he'd command much more guaranteed. It was seen as an incredibly team friendly contract that would prevent the Dodgers from getting burned too much if Maeda ended up getting hurt and was unable to accrue his performance bonuses. So just for fun, let's look at the performance and money involved in both of these pitchers in 2016.
We'll start with Hisashi Iwakuma. The original agreed upon contract the Dodgers had with him was for 3 years and $45 million (average of $15 million per year). Although he failed the Dodgers' physical, Iwakuma did not miss any starts in 2016 and started 33 games totaling 199 innings pitched. Iwakuma finished with a a 4.12 ERA, 147 strikeouts to 49 walks, a WHIP of 1.33, and a FIP and xFIP of 4.27 and 4.41 respectively. The ERA was a career high and his K/9 at 6.65 had never dipped below a 7 until this year. Reports of declining fastball might have contributed as his fastball runs above average dipped into the negatives for the first time in his career (and have showed a decline each year since his breakout year in 2013). An fWAR of 2.4 and a bWAR of 2.6 were the final tallies for him on the year. Last year, teams were willing to spend on average $7.7 million per WAR for a player which puts the $15 million a year on average a pretty spot on price point for his production (Iwakuma ended up making $11 million on his deal he re-signed with the Mariners making the contract even better).
Now for the interesting part with Kenta Maeda and his performance and contract. Maeda finished the 2016 season making 32 starts and 175.2 innings pitched. He totaled 179 strikeouts to 56 walks, a 3.48 ERA, a WHIP of 1.14, and a FIP and xFIP of 3.58 and 3.70 respectively. With a 3.3 fWAR and 2.4 bWAR, Maeda had a very solid first year in the MLB. Among qualified starting pitchers, his K/9 was 13th in all of the MLB and he was 16th in WHIP. While he faltered toward the end of the season and in the playoffs, he was still a very integral part of the Dodgers injury plagued season. Maeda's contract is an interesting one but he met some pretty big milestones to net him more than just the guaranteed $3 million a year. Since he made 32 starts, Maeda netted himself an extra $6.5 million. His 170 innings pitched got him an extra $2.25 million and just making the opening day roster got him a $150,000 bonus. All in all Maeda's incentives made him about $12 million this year or basically just a small bit (only in baseball is a million difference small...) difference from Hisashi Iwakuma. Depending on which WAR you look at, Maeda made right in line with his contract value or played even above it. Because they play in different leagues and ballparks, you might be hesitant to compare the numbers at face value but if you're into advanced statistics Maeda's ERA+ (ERA adjusted to the ballpark pitched in) was 112 (12 runs above average) and Hishashi Iwakuma's was 99 (1 run below average). It should also be noted that Fangraphs ERA- (ERA adjusted to league as well as ballpark) favored Iwakuma more with a 102 compared to Maeda's 88.
None of these comparisons might amount to much ground breaking information but it's interesting to look back and see how what seemed to be the contingency plan of Maeda after the Iwakuma deal fell through worked out. The results of the Dodgers' season certainly speak to that as Maeda was the most consistent starter to make it through the year in terms of actually making starts (Kazmir was second on the team in games started with 26, a difference of basically a month's worth of starts). Iwakuma, while trending downwards from recent years, still put up fairly solid numbers in the American League with more innings thrown than Maeda (which may have been valuable with the how the Dodgers' starting pitching did not go deep into games). Maeda's peripherals and age seem to suggest that Maeda will have more success in the future and that's why it made a lot of sense and has been so far a very good move for the Dodgers. Whether Iwakuma would've done better or worse for the Dodgers in 2016 is anyone's guess but regardless the alternative certainly has been fun to watch.
|Let's see you do this, Iwakuma!|