Sunday, August 5, 2012

Appreciating Wei-Yin Chen

Orioles fans didn't know what to expect when the team signed Taiwanese starter Wei-Yin Chen to a three-year, $11.3 million contract this past offseason. But Chen, now 27, has been better than expected and currently has a pitching line of 3.46/4.05/4.32 (ERA/FIP/xFIP) after pitching seven scoreless innings and getting the win against the Rays in Tampa Bay last night. He leads all rookies in innings pitched (135.1) and is tied for second in AL rookie pitcher wins above replacement (2.1 fWAR) behind Yu Darvish (2.4).

Chen's FIP and xFIP indicate that he's probably due for some regression, mostly because he's not a ground ball pitcher and he's gotten a little lucky BABIP-wise (.260), plus he doesn't have completely overpowering stuff (19.3 K%, 7.8 BB%). But even if he's not quite this good, he's still been a very good signing, particularly for an O's team that's struggled to find any kind of starting pitching consistency. And he's also doing this while pitching in arguably the best division in baseball, the AL East -- no small task.

When Jason Hammel went down in mid-July (knee surgery), the O's needed Chen to step his game up. He's done just that: Since July 14, Chen has five consecutive outings of pitching at least 5.2 innings and allowing three runs or fewer. In the process, he's lowered his ERA from 3.93 to where it is now, 3.46.

There's no guarantee that Chen continues to pitch this well or that he's this effective in his future years in Baltimore. This is his first year in the majors, and teams very well may adjust to Chen the more they face him. But the O's rarely have cost-controlled, effective starting pitchers under contract period, let alone for multiple years, and with Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton currently unable to live up to their expectations, Chen's effectiveness has been crucial for a 56-51 O's team.

By the way, if Chen's contract wasn't looking like enough of a bargain, his three-year deal also includes a club option for 2015 at $4.75 million. So, yeah, that'll probably work out.

Stats via FanGraphs. Salary info via Cot's Baseball Contracts.