The Miami Marlins are considering the possibility of adding free agent starter Wei-Yin Chen, as the Fish are interested in adding to their roster to improve their chances to compete according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. The Fish want to improve their admittedly weak rotation, which is currently projected to be the 23rd-ranked rotation in baseball for next season. The next best starter on the Marlins' roster beyond Jose Fernandez in terms of projected Wins Above Replacement is Jarred Cosart, who is projected at 1.6 WAR. Chen is likely about a win better than this level of pitcher, and he would absolutely be a one- to 1.5-win improvement over any of the Marlins' current other starters.
Chen fits some of the things that the Marlins like, primarily a pitcher who throws a lot of strikes. Since 2013, two of the top 20 qualified starters in baseball in terms of percentage of pitches seen in the strike zone are former Marlins in Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi. Jose Fernandez would have also made this list had he qualified since 2013. Chen resides ninth on that list, right behind Max Scherzer and ahead of John Lackey. Former pitching coach Chuck Hernandez stressed the ability to work in the strike zone, even if did mean missing out on having swing-and-miss strikeout stuff. Chen, however, does not wont for strikeouts, as he owns a rate slightly below league average over the last four years.
The issue for Chen has always been the home run, as he has allowed 97 homers in his 706 2/3 career innings, a rate of 1.2 homers per nine innings. This is in large part because he has an anemic ground ball rate of just 38.5 percent for his career. Chen's fly balls simply get hit hard, and combined with a short field in Camden Yards, it led to plenty of long balls. The good news is that the hard-hit trends are not heading in a negative direction, as Chen's hard-hit batted ball rates are stable for the last two years.
Where the Marlins fit in best is the fact that their stadium is the opposite of Camden Yards.
Season Team HR as L HR as R 2014 Rockies 118 115 2014 Reds 112 114 2014 White Sox 106 114 2014 Blue Jays 106 110 2014 Brewers 111 109 2014 Phillies 109 106 2014 Yankees 117 106 2014 Cubs 95 105 2014 Diamondbacks 103 105 2014 Astros 106 104 2014 Mets 99 104 2014 Orioles 114 104 2014 Rangers 109 103 2014 Red Sox 90 102 2014 Dodgers 104 100 2014 Tigers 100 100 2014 Nationals 95 100 2014 Twins 91 98 2014 Mariners 99 97 2014 Braves 100 97 2014 Royals 93 96 2014 Athletics 88 96 2014 Rays 96 93 2014 Indians 109 93 2014 Angels 91 93 2014 Cardinals 96 92 2014 Padres 103 91 2014 Marlins 85 91 2014 Giants 84 88 2014 Pirates 92 85
This is a list of the park factors in the league as of FanGraphs' latest update after the 2014 season, ranked in order of likelihood to allow homers to right-handed hitters. The Orioles' park was a relatively friendly home run stadium, with a park factor of 104 for right-handed hitters; this means that righties hit four percent more homers by playing half of their games in Camden Yards than they did if they played at an average park. In Miami, homers died, as Marlins Park had a park factor of 91 for righties. The disparity for lefties is even larger, on the order of a nearly 30 percent difference.
Overall, Camden Yards had a total home run park factor of 107, while Marlins Park had an 89 park factor. Things are obviously going to change with the Marlins changing the fences, but this difference is still going to be present to a smaller degree even with these changes. The difference between these two is 18 percent, and that 18 percent may have affected Chen's numbers significantly. Assuming Camden Yards affects Chen's fly balls and home runs similar to other pitchers, he would have allowed about 18 fewer home runs during his career had he pitched in Miami instead. That would bring his home run rate down to 1.03 homers per nine innings. This brings his FIP down from 4.14 for his career to 3.82, an expected difference of 0.3 runs, or about the effect of having a one-mph increase in fastball velocity!
That is a huge run difference, and it would have helped the fly ball-dependent Chen greatly during this free agent run. When you also consider that Chen allows popups at a good rate (seventh-highest rate of infield fly balls in baseball since 2013), you can see how Chen's value bumps up even higher. Of course, some of those runs are a part of playing in Marlins Park, but the stadium itself does not appear to suppress runs as badly as one would think with its homer park factor. If Chen's primarily problem is home runs, he may be able to "outperform" the expected drop in run production with the move and look like a better pitcher in Miami.
This does not even consider the Marlins' defense. The Orioles boasted one yearly Gold Glove candidate in Adam Jones, even if his numbers were often more questionable for supposed Gold Glove defense. Jones won the award for center field on the AL side three out of the four years in which Chen played in Baltimore. But Miami is no slouch defensively; the team has one Gold Glove on its side in Christian Yelich, and Giancarlo Stanton and Yelich have both been finalists in the last two seasons. Marcell Ozuna is the weakest outfielder, and he is at least an average center fielder and a cannon thrower like Jones. This is at least an even battle between both sides.
Ultimately, Chen's acquisition will depend on his price, which has multiple factors affecting it. Miami has to determine if the contract and the draft pick are worth the extra win next season and in future years. Scott Kazmir set the market with a solid three-year, $48 million contract with an opt-out, and Chen may be a candidate for an opt-out clause to cheapen the deal as well. But as far as fit, he would be an improvement on the roster with a chance for better play thanks to his fit with the team's cavernous park.