How Much Should Teams Spend on Kenta Maeda?

Reports indicate that Japanese righty Kenta Maeda met with the Hiroshima Carp this week and requested to be posted. He hasn’t been posted yet, but when things like this get public, there can be a growing pressure on the team to fulfill their star’s wishes. We’ve already looked for a comp for Maeda, but how can we use that data to answer the next question on the checklist: how much should teams shell out for him?

The way posting now works, there’s a max bid — $20 million — and any team that reaches that max bid is able to negotiate with the player. Those rules make it a worse deal for Japanese teams, who have their income capped, and for the American teams, who have to outbid the other teams with deep pockets and can no longer suppress the yearly salary much beyond the $20 million in posting they had to spend to get to the table.

It’s better for the player, because he can get a deal more like a free agent deal, and because he also gets to choose where he’ll play. And since that’s true, it’s probably less likely that the whole process gets egg on its face the way it did when Hisashi Iwakuma failed to sign with the Athletics that one year.

In any case, we’re talking about $20 million to get to the table, and then a slightly more limited open market. And the teams would probably like to bake in some of the risk they face in signing a player who hasn’t yet played in the major leagues.

When we took a look at comps, we got a Young Kenshin Kawakami or an Older Aaron Nola, and neither pitcher actually exists right now. Projecting Nola out five years based on 77 major league innings in order to price Maeda seems like a bad deal. Zeroing in too much on what a 34-year-old Kawakami did in America also seems like the wrong direction.

So let’s instead identify current major league pitchers who show similar skill sets to Nola but are closer to Maeda’s age (27). We’re talking right-handers with an average strikeout rate, a better-than-average walk rate, and average or worse velocity. If you limit the age range to 26 to 29, you get two qualified pitchers from this past year. Two!

2015 MLB Kenta Maeda Comps
Name Age IP K% BB% SwStr% HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP WAR
Rick Porcello 26 172.0 20.2% 5.2% 8.5% 1.31 45.7% 14.5% 4.92 4.13 1.6
Jordan Zimmermann 29 201.2 19.7% 4.7% 8.4% 1.07 42.0% 10.9% 3.66 3.75 3.0

We don’t have a great sample size, but at least it represents a range of outcomes fairly well. Because if you were going to hand out contracts to these two players right now, they’d have different numbers attached to them. Vastly different numbers.

Let’s hand out a contract as if Maeda will be Porcello next year. And then re-do it as Zimmermann. In both cases, we’ll use Maeda’s age.

Maeda as Porcello’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $65.9 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Value
2016 27 1.6 $8.0 M $12.8 M
2017 28 1.6 $8.4 M $13.4 M
2018 29 1.6 $8.8 M $14.1 M
2019 30 1.6 $9.3 M $14.8 M
2020 31 1.1 $9.7 M $10.7 M
Totals 7.5 $65.9 M
Assumptions
Value: $8M/WAR with 5.0% inflation
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

And now with Zimmermann.

Maeda as Zimmermann’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $127.8 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Value
2016 27 3.0 $8.0 M $24.0 M
2017 28 3.0 $8.4 M $25.2 M
2018 29 3.0 $8.8 M $26.5 M
2019 30 3.0 $9.3 M $27.8 M
2020 31 2.5 $9.7 M $24.3 M
Totals 14.5 $127.8 M
Assumptions
Value: $8M/WAR with 5.0% inflation
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

That’s a $60 million chasm right there. How do we bake in the risk for Porcello and the upside of Zimmermann?

Well, we’ve already looked at previously posted Japanese pitchers. Of that group, it’s probably fair to say that five of the eight outcomes benefited the signing team. That figure includes Daisuke Matsuzaka, whose major-league career might not have represented a great outcome for Boston. Still, the Red Sox got a league-average pitcher for three of the five years during which he played for the club — that is, the years in which he was healthy.

Using that calculus, we might weight adjust for the risk of signing Maeda by weighing five Zimmermanns (the good outcome) against three Porcellos (the less good). The result: six years and $105 million, ostensibly $20 million of which would go to the Hiroshima Carp.

Maeda is two years younger than the actual Zimmermann, who would get a $105 million contract using the same set of assumptions we applied to Maeda above and beginning with Zimmermann’s projection of roughly three wins next year. But Zimmermann would be a top-tier outcome for Maeda. Clay Davenport has translations for the Japanese leagues in 2014, and his MLB equivalent numbers for Maeda are a little depressing: a 4.09 ERA with a 5.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. That would make him more like a younger Yovani Gallardo, who the crowd says will get $56 million over four years.

Maeda is not the player that Tanaka was. Going into his posting, Tanaka’s league-indexed strikeout minus walk rate was 75% better than the one Maeda just showed over the last three years. Tanaka’s signature pitch, the splitter, is better than Maeda’s slider, and he has more velocity, and he showed a better walk rate. The contract should reflect those facts.

It’s guesswork any way you slice it, and it’s fair to wonder what Maeda himself is expecting. Masahiro Tanaka got so much more than the numbers we are talking about here (seven years, $155 million). But if his new American team gives Maeda any more than six years and $85 million, they’ll be paying only for his upside with no reflection of the risk he represents. A better contract would pay him like a Porcello or Gallardo and hope for a Zimmermann.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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LHPSU
Guest
LHPSU
6 months 5 days ago

Is it really better for the player when the team sees the reduced benefit to posting a player, decides not to do it, thus cutting the player out of a bigger payday in the first place?

jdbolick
Member
Member
6 months 5 days ago

Presumably yes, as the year or two delay in being posted should be more than off-set by the larger contract.

@OutfieldGrass24
Guest
6 months 5 days ago

One thing we’ve considered is signing Maeda to a short term, high AAV contract that allows him to hit FA again before turning 31. If he were willing to bet on himself, although perhaps not the best idea, could he find a larger market by signing for 3/52 or 2/38 first, then look to cash in on a longer deal in a few years? It’s unconventional but there may be teams willing to do it given the short time commitment and it may net Maeda more overall dollars by the time his career is over.

Lenard
Guest
Lenard
6 months 5 days ago

It’s a possibility, but for a major league team, the short term contract would actually be 3/72 or 2/58, factoring in a $20 million posting fee.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
6 months 3 days ago

Does that sunk cost even matter though? I’m assuming the $20 comes out of this budget, so it only affects cash flow this year.
So it’s more like 2016-38M, 2017-17.5M, 2018-17.5M or whatever.

Phillies113
Member
Member
6 months 5 days ago

When looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI inflation calendar, it seems that, if you start in the year 2000, that the value of a dollar increases anywhere from 2-4% per year. Even if we were to compare 2000 prices directly to 2015 prices, $1 then is equal to $1.38 now; that’s about an average 2.4% increase per year.* Why, then, is 5% always assumed when these types of analyses are done? It seems awfully high to me.

*1.38-1.00/16 years = .02375 = 2.4%

SemiPro
Guest
SemiPro
6 months 5 days ago

For salary calculations, baseball’s predicted wage inflation is used rather than actual inflation. Because baseball’s wage inflation is increase much faster than economic inflation, salaries devalue faster.

Phillies113
Member
Member
6 months 5 days ago

Thanks for the reply. That makes sense.

jdbolick
Member
Member
6 months 5 days ago

While true, Dave’s $ per WAR estimates have risen much than just 5%. That’s why the $8 million per WAR assumption he keeps using seems pretty high.

AMartin223
Guest
AMartin223
6 months 5 days ago

It’s not really an estimate though, it’s just a calculation of x salary divided by y war for free agent contracts only. Obviously it’s high if you compare it to how prices would be set if teams did not get to cost control the first half dozen years of a player’s career. Including all of those players, you only end up at somewhere in the $2 million/WAR, but that’s not a fair comparison for free agent salaries.

Steve K
Guest
Steve K
6 months 5 days ago

I don’t think that this is a bad deal for the team or player. The maximum amount may be capped, more MLB teams can participate helping to ensure that a deal is more likely to get through.

It was too easy for a MLB team to be able to sabotage the process. Offering a high posting fee and then low balling the player would prevent anyone else from getting a deal completed.

Eddie Bird
Guest
Eddie Bird
6 months 5 days ago

Baseball salaries have risen much faster than CPI at least since free agency started. That can’t happen forever, but it’s a good bet likely to continue as long as MLB revenues keep increasing at rates much faster than general inflation. A 2 million salary in 1985 would have made you one of the best paid players in the game, there were probably as many 2 million dollar players then as there are 20 million dollar players now. But if you use the CPI inflation calculator, 2 million in 1985 is equivalent to 4.5 million now. It’s pretty obvious that for baseball we need a different estimate.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love
6 months 5 days ago

One more thing to mention, there is at least one avowed big fan with money to spend out there: Stewart and Az.

Hollywood Hills
Guest
6 months 5 days ago

The Diamondbacks should save their money for Shohei Otani, as should everyone else. I’ve looked at the video for Maeda and I see a guy who may end up pitching out the contract for the signers triple-A team as Kei Igawa did for the Yankees.

James Attwood
Guest
James Attwood
6 months 4 days ago

While Maeda is a worisome sign for Arizona (much like Yasmany Tomas was) Otani is not even going to be available for another 3-5 seasons. Maeda’s contract could potentially be coming to an end by the time Shohei Otani becomes a legitimate target.

Palm Beach Mansion
Guest
6 months 4 days ago

Chen is a much better pitcher. Sign Chen. At 5/90 million you get the third best starter available after Price and Greinke.

Johnny Cueto
Guest
Johnny Cueto
6 months 4 days ago

You’re out of your mind.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love
6 months 5 days ago

Thanks. But I am going to go with Stewart, Duncan and LaRussa on pitcher evaluation.

James Attwood
Guest
James Attwood
6 months 4 days ago

Their track record with regards to evaluating pitching and getting the right pieces in place has been suspect at best.

-Jeremy Hellickson was acquired for two of the team’s better position prospects as he was going to be a clear #2 on the team. Sorry, no dead-cat bounce. He was a complete bust, one of the 5-10 worst full-time starters in MLB.

-Yoan Lopez was supposed to be a young, dynamic talent with near-MLB ready TOR potential. He has been middling at best when has been healthy and has shown none of the velocity or movement he was touted to have.

-Touki Toussaint had by far and away the highest potential ceiling of any prospect in the system, but was moved because he was too far away and was not showing the growth expected, despite being only 19 and already pitching in full season ball.

They’ve made some good calls along the way, but LaRussa and Stewart are both still very new to their jobs and it is showing.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love
6 months 4 days ago

Agreed on all but Toussaint. I am not a fan. All I see is no floor…

But this was a reply fail and meant for HHills. Between him and TLR/Stewart/Duncan, I am going AZ all the way.

Palm Beach Mansion
Guest
6 months 4 days ago

Toussaint is a basket case. They ripped off the Braves dealing Toussaint there and dumping money. Toussaint reminds me of Phillipe Aumont. Both can throw unhittable pitches that make you go “Wow!”, but those couple of pitches in that inning might be the only competitive pitches they throw.

Pitchers with this type of control/command issues are a one in a hundred shot to improve and if they are that lucky 100th guy they only make it to the bullpen.

John Hart has turned the Braves organization into an MLB junkyard. I’ve never seen such reckless destruction of a MLB team. When the Marlins destroyed two World Series teams under two different owners they got back real talent, not broken crap, which is an accurate assessment of everyone other than Shelby Miller.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
6 months 3 days ago

Except for what they dealt.

You’re not going to get back a lot for a closer, especially when you attach BJ Upton.
They Heyward deal was fair.
1 year of Justin Upton.
Phil gosselin?
Kelly Johnson/Uribe
Maybin

What else are you really going to get for those pieces? The only 2 trades I really don’t understand are Wood/Peraza and Simmons. Both should have gotten a lot more.

Johnny Ringo
Guest
6 months 5 days ago

Seems like a guy to run away from if you are a Major League team. Average velocity. Above average walk rate. And, a 20 million posting fee? With no track record in the states?

mJWk
Guest
mJWk
6 months 3 days ago

Curious, why would the Jays not be allowed to sign him?

maguro
Guest
maguro
6 months 3 days ago

Everyone knows Canadian money isn’t real.

Jaguaretepo
Guest
Jaguaretepo
6 months 2 days ago

Seeing a lot of similarities between Maeda and Chen. (Especially if those posted pitch speeds are a bit low as indicated by Badler et all).

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/looking-for-a-kenta-maeda-comp-2/
http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/wei-yin-chen-and-the-art-of-changing-speeds/

Eric
Guest
Eric
6 months 1 day ago

Why is it that when I see this guys name in any article I immediately think Hakuna Matada?

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