Pittsburgh Pirates: Top Five Starting Pitching Free Agents To Pursue

Who are the best free agent starting pitchers the Pirates should pursue?

Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during
Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
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Number Four: Kenta Maeda

Kenta Maeda was a Cy Young candidate in the shortened 2020 campaign. But he missed a large chunk of 2021, and the entirety of 2022 undergoing and recovering from Tommy John surgery. Maeda returned in 2023 with a solid and relatively promising season, one that could make him a target for the Pirates.

In 104.1 innings of work, Maeda pitched to a 4.23 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP. Maeda’s 27.3% K% is the second-highest single-season rate of his career (min. 100 IP), while his 6.5% walk rate is better than his career average of 7%. The only downside to Maeda’s season is that he struggled with the long ball with a 1.47 HR/9.

But some of these numbers are slightly inflated. On April 26th, Maeda allowed ten earned runs in three innings against the New York Yankees. If this one outing does not happen, Maeda’s ERA is 3.46, his FIP is 3.93, and his WHIP comes in at 1.08. This happened right before landing on the IL and missing all of May and a few weeks in June. After getting activated from the IL, Maeda allowed more than three earned runs in his final 17 outings just once. He owned just a 3.36 ERA, 3.94 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP from this point onward.

Maeda’s underlying numbers help paint a better picture as well. The Japanese right-hander had a 3.98 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA, 3.77 xERA, and 97 DRA-. From June 23rd onward (after he was activated from the IL), he had a 3.82 xFIP and 3.61 SIERA. That all paints him as an above-average pitcher. Maeda is older as 2024 will mark his age-36 campaign. But he’s never been one to rely on velocity, but rather command and finesse.

Maeda’s solid rebound season should earn him attention in the free agent market. The Pirates desperately need a starting pitcher, and Maeda should be well within their price range. Even though he’s an older pitcher, he might still be able to get a one-year deal with an option for another year or two.