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2019 Marlins Season Preview: Wei-Yin Chen

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The Marlins’ highest-paid player was lights out at home in 2018, but can he figure it out on the road?

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Miami Marlins
Chen in his comfort zone — the Marlins Park mound.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Wei-Yin Chen enters 2019 as the highest-paid Marlin at $20 million this season and has two years remaining on the five-year, $80 million deal he signed prior to the 2016 campaign. The 33-year-old lefty is coming off one of the weirder seasons in recent memory as Chen’s 2018 saw a Jekyll and Hyde difference in his home and away splits.

How did he get here? Signed five-year, $80 million contract prior to 2016

2018 MLB Stats: 4.79 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 1.34 WHIP, 111 K in 133.3 IP

2019 ZiPS Projection: 4.51 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 101 K in 121.7 IP

Chen was both awesome and lucky at home last season, yet was equal parts terrible and unlucky on the road. A quick glance at his splits on FanGraphs reveals he clearly struggled to throw strikes and keep the ball in the yard when away from Marlins Park’s spacious layout.

FanGraphs

A peek further down at his advanced stats shows the best (read: luckiest) left-on-base percentage, or strand rate, of his career at 85.1 percent at home, while he managed to shatter his career low (least lucky) with a 55.0 LOB% on the road. Simply put, Chen (or the bullpen) stranded a career high percentage of the runners he allowed to reach base in Miami but allowed far more runners than usual to reach the plate when away.

But luck doesn’t account for everything, as Chen still put up 2.98 and 6.47 FIPs, respectively, meaning he earned most of his fortune. Our own Ely Sussman took a look at Chen in August and concluded similarly. For whatever reason, his control simply eluded him when not at home.

Chen’s home success in 2018 is about all he has to show for his time in Miami so far. He pitched just 33 innings in the year before and finished 2016 with a career-worst 4.96 ERA. Gone appear to be the days of the mid-threes ERAs he turned in his last two years in Baltimore.

Given the money he’s owed and his status as a veteran starting pitcher, Chen will start in the rotation in 2019, but do not expect a full season from him. He has a $16 million option for 2021 vests with either 360 IP over 2019 and 2020 combined or 180 IP in 2020. Furthermore, he has not thrown more than last year’s 133.3 IP in his three years in Miami. He should once again be an adequate starter for the Marlins, and while one would hope for more than “adequate” at $20 million a pop, it will at least be interesting to watch to see how his home/road splits shake out and whether they were just a small-sample fluke or if there are other issues at play.