Over the weekend Dodgers rookie Kenta Maeda threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the Rockies to improve to 3-0 in his four starts on the season. The 28-year-old signed a unique eight year, $25 million contractover the winter, coming to the United States with considerable less fanfare than fellow countrymen pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, and Masahiro Tanaka.
Aside from not being as talented as those three a big reason Maeda has not been hyped too much is because we have not yet seen a Japanese have sustained success in MLB. When Dice-K first came over people legitimately thought he had a never before seen pitch called a gyro-ball. Although Mastuzaka had a successful first couple of seasons in the majors, including winning a World Series game, the remaining four years on his contract were an utter disaster. Darvish has been the best of the group but is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and while Tanaka has been good he has not been the ace he was advertised as. The shelf life for Japanese starters seem to be about three seasons.
There are a number of reasons Japanese pitchers struggle when they transition to the majors. Aside from culture shock the toughest adjustment is transitioning from pitching every seven days to every five days. You would think front offices would want to keep their investments as comfortable as possible but teams have been reluctant to plan their entire pitching schedule around just one arm. Other transitions to MLB include traveling through time zones (Japan is a single time zone), a different mound, and even a different ball.
This brings us back to Maeda. In addition to his 3-0 record he has a 0.36 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched. The early success is a good sign but MLB fans have seen this story too many times to get caught up in the hype. For every Ichiro or Hideki Matsui we have seen multiple Kei Igawas. It is great that MLB has a relationship with the Japanese professional league. Not every player that comes over is either a star or bust. There are contributors such as Koji Uehara, Tadahito Iguchi, and Hideki Okajima. These players improve the MLB product, just don't expect fans to get too worked up about "the next big thing".