by John Viril—
I know that’s a harsh sentence to write, especially following two consecutive strong outings by LHP Bruce Chen. Yet, with the Royals committed to improving their starting rotation, someone has to go. One of those “someones” is Bruce Chen.
As I stated a few days ago, I actually like Bruce Chen. I like how he takes the ball every 5 days. I like how he uses hard work and intelligence to survive with marginal stuff. I think Bruce Chen is a great example of a player that can turn around his career through perseverance. He shows young pitchers just how valuable it is to learn the craft instead of just relying on a gifted arm.
Even with all of that said, Bruce Chen must go.
Bruce Chen is the player in the rotation with the least upside. He is what he is. He will never be more. Oh, he can have better seasons—perhaps. In fact, Chen is pretty much the same pitcher as the guy that posted a 3.77 ERA with smoke and mirrors in 2011, while getting much less successful results this year with an ERA of 5.13. If we look at xFIP (adjusted Fielding Independent Pitching) his last two seasons have been virtually identical, with Chen at 4.68 in 2011 and 4.61 in 2012.
If the Royals are indeed serious about obtaining two new starters this offseason, Chen no longer has a place on this rotation. With the two new guys at the top and top prospect Jake Odorizzi somewhere in the mix, that leaves two rotation spots open—with four guys in place to fill those spots (Chen, Hochevar, Will Smith and Luis Mendoza).
Mendoza has been simply better than Chen this season with an xFIP of 4.47 and an ERA of 4.44. Will Smith has better results, but a similar xFIP rating (ERA 4.88, xFIP 4.60). However, both Mendoza and Smith are league minimum players with numerous years of future control. Chen has been better than Luke Hochevar (ERA 5.43, xFIP 4.32*), but the Royals have clearly expressed a desire to bring Hochevar back and aren’t ready to “give up” on him.
*[Note, while Hochevar’s xFIP looks better than Chen’s, Hochevar is a player that habitually under-performs vs. his xFIP]
Chen’s roster prospects look even more remote when you consider that RHP Felipe Paulino and LHP Danny Duffy will return mid-season 2013 from Tommy John surgery.
All of this leaves Chen out in the cold.
As hard as many will find it to believe, Chen actually does have some (limited) trade value. He’s a guy that eats innings (186.0 IP this season), has won 10 games for 3 consecutive years, and has posted a WAR of 1.4 (fangraphs) this season. With the open-market rate of $5 million per WAR prior to this offseason, Chen is actually something of a bargain with his $4.5 million contract for 2013. He might be an even better value than that estimate ($7 million) if I am correct in how the winter market will develop, given that teams will have $30 million in new TV revenue to bid for a free agent class that has only one top-of-the-rotation starter (Zack Greinke).
Good luck Bruce Chen.
I don’t think enough people appreciated you here.