Kenta Maeda continues to win, gets them out like Greinke

Kenta Maeda is looking like he’s going to be a huge bargain for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Maeda allowed one run in seven innings in a series-clinching win over the Giants on Sunday Night Baseball. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that in doing so, Maeda became the first pitcher in Dodgers history to begin his career with three straight appearances of six innings and one or fewer runs allowed.

Also per Elias, Maeda is the first Dodgers pitcher since Pedro Astacio in 1992 to begin his career with 14 straight scoreless innings.

How he’s winning

Much like former Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke, Maeda is excelling by keeping his pitches away from opposing hitters.

Maeda has kept nearly 75 percent of his pitches on the outer half of the plate or off the outside corner. That’s the highest such rate by any starting pitcher this season and a near match for Greinke’s rate last season, which was second among ERA-title qualifiers.

In his three starts, Maeda’s outer-half rates have been 67 percent against the Padres, 72 percent against the Diamondbacks and 84 percent against the Giants. On Sunday, 82 of his 98 pitches went to that location. The payoff has been good. Opponents are hitting .208 against Maeda's outer-half stuff, though he did walk three Giants with it on Sunday.

Most importantly, Maeda is limiting hard contact. His hard-hit rate against all pitches (determined by video review) is 9 percent so far this season. The major-league average typically hovers around 14 percent.

Maeda is a true four-pitch pitcher, and he has to be because his fastball averages 89 mph. But he mixes his other pitches in very effectively. He has thrown 56 percent offspeed pitches this season, the third-highest rate of any non-knuckleball throwing starter (behind Masahiro Tanaka and Felix Hernandez and just ahead of Hisashi Iwakuma). As a result, hitters have been caught off-guard by Maeda's fastball. That pitch has produced 19 outs and yielded only two baserunners.

Looking good

How does Maeda compare to the most notable Japanese pitchers at the beginning of their careers in the States? He fares pretty well.

Former Dodger Hideo Nomo got off to an odd start in 1995, when he allowed 10 runs and 13 walks in 13 2/3 innings in his first three starts. Nonetheless, Nomo-mania eventually took hold. He had a 2.33 ERA in 25 starts the rest of the season and won NL Rookie of the Year.

Two other prominent pitchers the Dodgers signed from Japan were Kazuhisa Ishii and Hiroki Kuroda. Like Maeda's, Ishii’s career began with two scoreless starts, including a 10-strikeout game in his debut against the Rockies in 2002. Ishii starred for the first two months, then encountered trouble. His ERA in his final 17 starts was 5.34 (he walked 62 in 86 innings). His season ended when he was hit in the head by a line drive in early September. He pitched four seasons in the majors before returning to Japan.

Kuroda, a 33-year-old rookie in 2008, pitched well enough in his first three starts, with a 2.89 ERA. He finished the season with a 3.73 ERA but had a number of impressive outings, including a four-hit shutout and a one-hit shutout in a four-start span

Daisuke Matsuzaka debuted with a flourish for the Red Sox in 2007. He struck out 10 in two of his first three starts. But Matsuzaka’s first season was an erratic one, and it set the tone for his career. He finished with a 4.40 ERA.

Yu Darvish struggled with his control and walked 13 in 17 2/3 innings in his first three outings in 2012. Darvish showed flashes of brilliance for the Rangers, but he really excelled at year’s end, when he posted a 1.85 ERA in his last six starts.

Masahiro Tanaka matched Matsuzaka with a pair of 10-strikeout games and an eight-strikeout effort in his first three starts (in which his ERA was 2.05) in 2014. Injuries hampered Tanaka’s debut season and limited him to 20 starts, though he pitched well in them. He went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA.