Coming into the 2016 season, the Marlins knew they would have a solid offense but needed some pitching, so they signed former Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen to a five year, $80 million deal. It seemed like a pretty solid deal, as Chen had pitched to a 3.72 ERA and a 3.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117 starts over four seasons with the Orioles.
The Marlins wanted Chen to come in and be their number two starter behind Jose Fernandez, just as Chen had been the number two starter behind Chris Tillman in Baltimore. Unfortunately, Chen has so far not lived up to his numbers he had with the O’s, and to make matters worse, he went on the disabled list in July with an elbow strain and missed two months.
Chen has finally been activated off of the DL and on Monday against the Nationals he will make his first start since July 20. Now that the left-hander is back on the mound for the Marlins, I took a look at how he performed before the injury in his first season with Miami.
For starters, Chen’s ERA has obviously inflated since joining the Marlins. He has pitched to a 4.99 ERA in 19 starts so far this season, which would be the worst of his career. But, the whole story is not told by only ERA.
Chen’s control has been great this season. His 1.88 walks per nine innings is the second best of his career and he has thrown a career-best 50.1 percent of pitches inside the strike zone. The problem is that those pitches in the zone are being hit harder and more frequently than they ever have been off of Chen. Opponents have hit .271 this season off the lefty and 35.4 percent of the balls hit off of Chen have been hit hard, both of which are the highest of his career.
Chen also had a slight problem with giving up home runs in Baltimore, but the thought was that it would change when transitioning to the more pitcher-friendly park in Miami. Instead, Chen has allowed 1.64 home runs per nine innings this season, which is the highest rate of his career.
As the numbers have gone up for Chen this season, the velocity of his favorite pitch, the fastball, has gone down, which could be another reason for his struggles, but could also be due to injury. Chen’s average fastball velocity was 91.4 mph over four seasons in Baltimore but his heater has only averaged 90.7 mph this year in Miami. Along with the drop in fastball velocity this season came a significant drop in fastball usage for Chen. Chen threw his fastball 65.6 percent of the time with the Orioles but has only thrown it 60.9 percent of the time with the Marlins. Chen used to have one of the most deceptive fastballs in the big leagues, but this season it has not fooled hitters like it usually does.
The final stat that really stands out for Chen is his numbers against left-handed batters this season. Chen was usually dominant against lefties with the Orioles, and was especially great in 2015, allowing lefties to only slash .217/.250/.326 against him, which were all career bests. Now, just one year later, Chen is being owned by lefties. They are hitting .301 against him and have hit 32.8 percent line drives.
Wei-Yin Chen hasn’t been what the Marlins had hoped for so far in 2016, but he has his chance to turn it around on Monday night against the Nationals as he returns from his elbow injury. Chen will look to gain some good momentum going into 2017, as the Marlins will need him to live up to that $80 million contract if they want to make a playoff push next season.