The Miami Marlins signed Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year, $80 million deal with a player option after the second year of the deal. For the first two years, Miami figures to pay about $28 million in total including the signing bonus, while the remaining three years have a greater yearly salary attached to them. The deal also has a vesting sixth-year option that could keep Chen in Miami (if he and the team so choose) through his age 35 season.
The Marlins are pinning a lot of hope on the man they just paid the largest sum of any pitcher in Marlins history. The last time the Fish signed a pitcher to a long-term deal, it was Mark Buehrle and it was for one fewer season and $26 million dollars less. So the Fish are hoping Chen can deliver in a big way for Miami, and that starts as the team's second starter in 2016.
Starting Pitcher Depth Chart
1. Jose Fernandez
2. Wei-Yin Chen
3. Tom Koehler
4. Jarred Cosart
5T. Adam Conley
5T. Edwin Jackson
5T. David Phelps
8. Brad Hand
Minor League Depth: Justin Nicolino, Jose Urena, Kendry Flores, Jarlin Garcia
The Marlins are banking on Chen to perform at about the level he did last season, when he posted the seventh-best ERA among qualified American League starters. He kept his walk rates down to minuscule totals, having walked only 41 men in 191 1/3 innings pitched. Chen does not get huge strikeout numbers, but his totals are at least league average and combine well with his paltry walk rates.
Chen's repertoire is not highly impressive, but beyond strong control and appropriate command of his pitches, he has one impressive skill that works in his favor. Chen forces among the highest pop-up rates in baseball, making the impact of his huge fly ball rates more acceptable. Chen's rate of pop-ups since 2013 ranks fifth in all of baseball, and his rate of hard-hit balls is the 18th-lowest in that time frame. He has some ability to force weak contact through a combination of changing speeds and throwing high and tight with great command. This may not last forever, but it should last at least through the 2016 season. Miami fans should not expect a serious decline in performance in his age 30 campaign.
The one concern that has always haunted Chen, especially since he played in Baltimore, was the home run. Luckily for him, this is one of the concerns that will haunt him a lot less in Miami. Chen's fly ball tendencies will fit well in Marlins Park, especially with the presence of one of the better defensive outfields in the game. Of course, the Marlins did move their fences in, and that figures to affect Chen a little more than some of the other starters. Still, the moves are highly unlikely to cause a severe shift in the home run environment from second-stingiest in the league to Camden Yards. For the most part, we should expect Chen to adapt very well to his new, deeper outfield gigs.
The systems are close to agreement when it comes to Chen. ZiPS and Steamer see a three-win player for the 2016 season, while PECOTA is going lower with a two-win campaign out of the starter. The Marlins are hoping more for the former rather than the latter. Could it come down to the home run effect? Steamer and PECOTA see a similar nuber of home runs expected from Chen, while ZiPS thinks he will let through fewer than that. The difference between their homer per nine rates in 180 innings would translate to 2.3 homers, which actually is worth about three runs over a full season, which is not significant enough to bridge the gap.
ZiPS may just suspect that Chen can maintain more of his ability to strand runners than the other systems. It is difficult to differentiate their numbers because so much of Chen's ability goes beyond strikeouts, walks, and homers. Those three runs mean something, but could some combination of more retained pop-ups and run prevention with men on base also be contributing to this? Marlins fans are going to end up finding out on their own when they watch Chen take the mound this season.
The overall numbers are not bad, even when averaged. The average expected ERA is at 3.51, which easily clears anything other Marlins starters beyond Jose Fernandez provided last season. Chen is a consistent player in terms of innings pitched, having missed significant time in only one of four Major League seasons. He has put over 190 innings twice, but it would be safer to guess 185 innings from the left-hander in 2016. That would represent a season worth 3.3 Wins Above Replacement, though due to calculation errors, you could easily just call this three wins even.
The Marlins would be very happy to have another three-win pitcher on board, even if they did have to pay the going free agent rate for him. The team seems willing to invest some money on the right types of players, and at least for 2016, it found one of those guys in Chen.