Okay y’all, I’m going to try to put my biases aside here and write objectively. Just know it’s going to be incredibly hard. Minnesota right-hander Kenta Maeda is an elite right-hander and after finishing second in Cy Young voting last year, he’s a contender to win it again in 2021. I’m bullish on him this season. Many will think that his 2.70 earned run average (ERA) was fool’s gold, but it is not. Sure, his .208 BABIP was far below his career mark, but his FIP and xFIP of 3.00 and 2.63 corroborate the notion that his 2.70 ERA was in fact not a mirage. He made a lot of gains last year, while sustaining the aspects that made him great to begin with. Let’s dive in.

A shift in his repertoire unleashed the beast that was Maeda in 2020. He dropped the usage of his fastball and let his slider and changeup star in his arsenal.

The whiff rates on those pitches remained solid, and it actually allowed his fastball to be even more effective. The whiff rate on his fastball jumped a bit, and batters hit a measly .086 against it. His swinging strike rate jumped to 17.2 percent, after hanging out in the 11-14 percent range in years past. What happened? Well, he generated more swings out of the zone, and less contact. Take a look:

His slider and changeup remained in great marks, and while other pitches might have taken a step back, they are still at solid marks.

Maeda has always been a menace against right-handers, highlighted by a career low .149 batting average against. However, lefties have been a different story. Prior to 2020, his best mark in the average department was .247, which happened in 2016 and 2019. In 2020, it dropped to .182. Additionally, 2018’s 23.3 percent strikeout rate against lefties was a career best, until 2020. It jumped to 28.1 percent. With that in mind, another shift in his repertoire really helped Maeda take a step forward in 2020.

Maeda isn’t getting younger and he’s not throwing harder, so he’s following the ways of many other notable pitchers who have become less reliant on the heater. Maeda’s stuff is nasty, so it will continue to work for him. Also, his wiffleball-esque pitches give batters fits, and when they don’t swing and miss, Maeda is a king of inducing soft contact. In 2020, his exit velocity and hard hit rate clocked in at the 93rd percentile and 98th percentile respectively. Last year, he took it to a different level, but he’s always been far above the league average in these categories.


EV (percentile)

Hard Hit Rate (percentile)
















Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Maeda has the benefit of a strong offense behind him, and a slick-fielding defense as well. He pitches in a good division loaded with strikeout-prone teams and Maeda has proven to be quite durable. He can handle a full workload and can be trusted to reach 180 innings for the season. He’s going to push for 200+ strikeouts, and if he can maintain his excellent command last year, Maeda will be a prime contributor across all categories.

His average draft position is pick 50, and he’s the 16th starter off the board. However, when you look at his draft trends, there are some drafts where he is slipping substantially. Shoot, I wish I was in those leagues! It’s blasphemous to me to think that a solid strikeout arm with excellent command and a profound ability to limit hard contact is somehow slipping in drafts! Through his first nine innings in the spring, he’s allowed just one hit while posting an excellent 12:1 K/BB ratio. I don’t get it. HOW IS HE SLIPPING!? HOW IS HE NOT GOING EARLIER!?

The pitchers going around him, I’ll admit, are sexier picks, with Tyler Glasnow and Corbin Burnes in particular. However, I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, there is safety in security. Maeda is a proven arm that is durable and has a lot going for him this season.

I am confident that he can be a fantasy ace in 2021, and headline your staff’s rotation, but if he slips and you get him as your SP2, good riddance. If you’re able to pull that off, know that I will be eternally envious of you and your fantasy team. Maeda is going to be excellent in 2021 and you’re going to want to have multiple shares of him.


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