The Player: Wei-Yin Chen

The Terms: Miami Marlins for 5 years, $80 million

Chen's contract has a vesting sixth year that makes it potentially worth $96 million, so he maintains the $16 million AAV regardless. He also gets an opt-out after two years, just in case he posts some shiny stats in his first couple of seasons in Marlins Park and wants to further pad his bank account. For a player who made approximately $4 million per season in his first four years (he signed with Baltimore as an international free agent in 2012), Chen can bask in the security of quadrupling his salary for the next five seasons after securing the richest contract that the Marlins have ever awarded to a pitcher.

Career Stats

















Entering his age-30 season, Chen's MLB track record is a bit limited compared to the other free agents we have put under the microscope. He has just four years of major-league service, and though he has started 31 or more games in three of those campaigns, his innings totals have never broken 195 in a season. The southpaw epitomizes the six-inning starter, though now that he is moving to the National League that innings expectation might be lowered with pinch-hitting representing a threat to his innings count.

Chen has never been a big strikeout guy, relying on low walk totals to limit the damage inflicted by balls in play, of which there were plenty. Chen has given up more than a hit per inning for each of the past three seasons, and his vulnerability to home runs was apparent in the 28 jacks that he gave up last year, a total that was among “leaders” in the American League. He has given up at least 1.1 HR/9 in every season of his MLB career, and his FIP has been much more consistent than his ERA over the past four years—the discrepancy last season was a career-low 3.34 ERA against a 4.16 FIP that was within 0.02 of his career average.

Part of his getting hit up certainly had to do with his being a left-handed starter pitching in a home ballpark that was extremely friendly to right-handed power—RHHs enjoyed a 106 Park Factor last season at Camden Yards, the third-highest mark in baseball—as he had to navigate some platoon-stacked lineups in the tough environment of the AL East. Chen moves to an easier division without changing time zones, and the ballpark that he now calls home will be much kinder to the ERA, as Marlins Park had baseball's second-lowest Park Factor for right-handed batters. The more expansive venue will be key for Chen, who gave up an extra-base hit to a career-high 10.4 percent of batters last season and had trouble containing opponent power while with the Orioles.

The Stuff





FB Velocity





FB Frequency





SL Frequency





SPL Frequency





CB Frequency





The velocity has held firm as Chen has progressed through his twenties, bringing league-average pitch-speeds (z-score = 0.10) that play up a tick due to his left-handedness. He leans heavily on the fastball and slider when a strikeout is in order, choosing one of those pitches 93 percent of the time with two strikes against a left-hander. Those two weapons generated 91 percent of his strikeouts last season.

His baseline frequencies of pitch distribution have remained basically the same all four years, including a tendency to throw twice as many sliders against like-sided hitters compared to when he has the platoon disadvantage, and saving his splitter almost exclusively for left-handed batters.

The Mechanics

Mechanics Report Card


























B –

B –

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Chen had a very interesting season from the perspective of the mechanical report card, but despite those five-point adjustments in multiple categories, his delivery last season was very similar to what he had shown in the first three seasons of his MLB career. His pace was slightly quicker, averaging about 0.05 seconds faster on his stride timing based on the pitches that I have evaluated, and the strong early move of momentum (leading with the hip to get it going from first movement) contributed to his finding an average grade for momentum on his report card. The other power category, torque, gave back five points, though that was due as much to my raising the threshold of “average” for torque as anything else. (I had been overrating torque, as the modern pitcher has greater torque than in the previous generation.) Chen might still spike a 50 grade for his hip-shoulder separation on occasion, using close to a 50-50 contribution of hips and shoulders that weighs slightly heavier on the upper-half due to loading his trunk before firing, but he was a casualty of the adjusted scale for torque.

Chen's balance is on the edge of gaining elite status. His stability in all three planes earned a five-point increase last season due to a more repeatable pattern that stayed strong-yet-flexible in the vertical plane and eliminated some of the wobble in the X-plane. The posture grade was the same, typically finishing above average on the scouting scale but having too much spine tilt to be considered plus. Chen's posture is like the other positioning elements of his delivery in that it is very consistent, but his timing took a small step backward last season, denting his repetition grade. This might seem counterintuitive given Chen's second consecutive season of a walk rate under 5.5 percent, but in the games that I have seen (some of which were his best statistical outings of the year), he got away with several pitches that missed their intended targets yet generated desirable results. He stays around the strike zone and doesn't often miss by much, but the difference between his stellar control (throwing strikes) and less-impressive command (hitting targets) can be seen in the discrepancy between his walk rate and his vulnerability to hard-hit baseballs.

Chen outlines the importance of repetition and timing in the grading process. He was very close to the C+/B- edge, such that the mere addition of five points to his repetition grade pushed him over the edge into a B- grade in 2014. The small adjustments from 2015 left him again with a B- grade, though he fell extremely close to C+ territory and was pushed over the edge by the possibility that his gains in balance and momentum lead to more 65-grade repetition in the future.

The Verdict: Right pitcher, wrong ballclub

I thought that Chen might be the last big free-agent pitcher to sign, with that qualifying offer hanging like an albatross around his neck, and he was the top example of a pitcher that I thought should have accepted the QO rather than reject it. But it only takes one team to make the agent look smart, and in this case that team is one that has cried poor and grabbed from the collective revenue pot for a long time. The Marlins have the seventh pick in the 2016 draft, so that selection is protected, but they will give up a second-rounder for the signing of Chen.

Chen provides some theoretical safety while playing at a young enough age where decline should be far away, while the long-term stability of his stuff, stats and mechanics have formed the foundation of his value. He has survived the gauntlet of the injury nexus, has offered consistent performance year in and year out, and there are few signs of wear to raise the flags of rapid decline. In this sense he's a bit like Mike Leake, with a high floor paired with a low ceiling, while Chen carries the benefit of context in moving to a much more pitcher-friendly venue. It's not a coincidence that Leake and Chen signed for the same AAV, and like Leake, it's a figure that is probably justified given the expected production and the going market rate for starting pitchers.

The problem is the lack of upside, and the best-case scenario for Miami is that Chen pitches well in his new environs and opts out of the contract after two years. There isn't much upward mobility in his statistical profile but there is considerable room to fall in the event that his performance craters, and the price tag only makes sense if Chen continues to be a reliable source of solid innings for the duration of the deal. This reality calls into question whether teams should be handing long-term deals to low-ceiling pitchers, and the Marlins financial constraints make for an even more curious scenario. If the money spent on Chen stands as a barrier to signing Jose Fernandez to a long-term deal, then the Marlins will have poorly allocated their limited financial resources.

Thank you for reading

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As various pitchers continue to show us, ball clubs appear to disproportionately value being able to put someone out there fore 150 innings a year of average to above-average performance. In an era of pitching dominating, owners act like there is a pitching shortage. Go figure.
I couldn't agree more.

Meanwhile the big power bats have sat on the market (Crush finally signed today).

Things that make you go hmmmm...