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Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

What can the Detroit Tigers do now?

By meerna Jul11,2024
What can the Detroit Tigers do now?

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Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris has signed one free agent to a multi-year contract during his two-year tenure as the point man for roster building.

That player is right-handed Kenta Maeda.

Harris’ Tigers signed Maeda — who turned 36 in mid-April — to a two-year, $24 million contract in November 2023, guaranteeing him $14 million in 2024 and $10 million in 2025. In 16 starts, Maeda has a 7.26 ERA with 23 walks and 50 strikeouts in 65⅔ innings.

A player with more than five years of experience must agree to a minor league move, so no matter how much fans clamor for a demotion, the Tigers can’t send him to Triple-A Toledo because of his veteran status.

TRANSACTION: Tigers sign right-handed pitcher Kenta Maeda to two-year, $24 million contract

“I definitely feel frustrated,” Maeda said in Japanese through translator Daichi Sekizaki. “Nothing is going well right now, and I’m causing the team too much trouble, and I feel bad about that.”

The Tigers — as a result of Maeda’s season-long struggles — have lost games in 11 of his 16 starts, including losses in each of his last eight. He has given up at least five earned runs in six of his 16 starts and has allowed a combined 15 runs in a paltry 6⅓ innings in his last two starts.

Remember how Harris expected Maeda to help young pitchers learn to control their pitches? These days, when Maeda steps up to the plate, it seems like an automatic failure because he can’t control his own pitches.

BACK TO THE PAST: Tigers Expect Veteran Kenta Maeda to Help Younger Pitchers ‘Get Control’

Maeda, who says he is healthy, will play Sunday against the hard-hitting Los Angeles Dodgers at Comerica Park, the last game on the schedule before the All-Star break.

Perhaps the Tigers will find a way to skip his start and avoid the inevitable beating by the Dodgers. Perhaps the Tigers will hide Maeda in the bullpen for the foreseeable future.

“The break is coming at a good time,” said manager AJ Hinch, who brought Maeda back after throwing 49 pitches with two outs in the third inning of Tuesday’s 9-8 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. “The biggest goal is to get him fixed. We’ve got to unlock the things he needs to do to be more effective.”

There are 121 MLB pitchers who have pitched at least 65 innings in the 2024 season. Among that group, Maeda ranks 121st in ERA (7.26), 120th in fielding independent pitching (5.71), 120th in home runs per nine innings (2.1), 119th in opponents batting average (.305), 117th in WHIP (1.584) and 102nd in strikeout-on-base ratio (2.17).

He also ranks 121st in opponents’ on-base average at .545. By comparison, Juan Soto, an All-Star with the New York Yankees, had an on-base average of .547 in his 89-game season.

“Reflecting on my baseball career, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much,” said Maeda, who played eight seasons in Japan and eight in the United States. “Not finding a solution has led to the results this season. It’s not that I’m not trying. I’m doing what I can and trying my best to bounce back, but it just isn’t happening. Hopefully, I can keep working hard and focusing on finding a solution.”

The main problem: Maeda — a fly-ball pitcher his entire career — is no longer generating swings and misses, which means he’s not generating enough strikeouts, which means there are too many balls in play in the air. His whiff rate fell from 28.2% in 2023 to 22% in 2024; his strikeout rate fell from 27.3% in 2023 to 17.1% in 2024.

All three of his primary pitches — splitter, slider, four-seam fastball — have deteriorated since last season. His splitter remains effective when localized, but opponents often eliminate it as part of their game plan in an attempt to crush his slider and fastball.

“It’s hard to narrow it down to one problem,” Maeda said. “Overall, my pitching wasn’t effective, so I’m hoping I can find a solution.”

GOOD VIBRATIONS: Kenta Maeda believes the Tigers are on track to become a ‘winning team’ in 2024

Maeda hit the 14th and 15th home runs of his 65⅔-inning campaign Tuesday in the first round against the Guardians. He also became the third Japanese-born player to reach 1,000 strikeouts, joining Yu Darvish and Hideo Nomo when he struck out Austin Hedges in the second inning.

Last season, as a member of the Minnesota Twins after returning from Tommy John surgery, Maeda allowed 17 home runs and had 117 strikeouts in 104⅓ innings while posting a 4.23 ERA.

“I’m very happy with 1,000 career strikeouts,” Maeda said. “But my mind is so focused on other things than that.”

Maeda sounds defeated.

There are no answers to your problems.

“I tried to do everything I could to get me out of it,” Maeda said.

There is no reason to believe Maeda will suddenly improve, so how much longer can the Tigers afford to keep Maeda in the rotation every five days?

“It’s still fresh off the game, obviously, so we haven’t talked about it,” Hinch said of Maeda’s role. “Whatever we do, we’ve got to figure him out and find a way to get him to throw more clean innings.”

Will the Tigers pick up the rest of his $24 million contract?

This is a question for Harris.

Contact Evan Petzold at [email protected] or follow him @EvanPetzold.

Listen to our weekly Tigers show “Days of Roar” every Monday afternoon on demand on freep.com, Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. And catch all of our podcasts and daily audio briefings at freep.com/podcasts.

By meerna

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