by John Viril—
Kansas City lefty Bruce Chen keeps rolling along. He’s logged at least 6 innings and surrendered no more than 2 runs in five straight starts after joining the starting rotation July 12. Chen continued his fabulous run Thursday night in the Royals 5-1 victory over Boston. The lefty went 7.2 IP and surrendered no runs, allowed 5 hits, 1 walk, and struck out 2. Chen’s ERA is now a ridiculous 1.79.
At age 36, Bruce Chen has never been better.
I cannot help but wonder if the Royals might have another Jaime Moyer on their hands. The recently retired Moyer was another soft-tossing lefty who did not come into his own until his mid-30′s. With a mere 60 victories at age 32, Moyer suddenly became a innings-eating machine who survived in MLB for another 17 years while racking up 209 more wins.
Indeed, Moyer enjoyed the most successful seasons of his career after age 38. He won 20 games twice and went 16-7 for 2008 World Champion Philadelphia.
While Moyer was a significantly better pitcher through age 36 than Bruce Chen with 118 victories and 29.7 career fWAR (compared to 75 and 8.5 fWAR for Chen), the general shape of their careers are similar. Like Chen, Moyer did not establish himself as a rotation regular until age 33—after bouncing around the league for more than a decade. Chen has won 12, 12, and 11 games for Kansas City over the last 3 seasons. He is now 5-0 in 2013 after returning to the rotation mid-season.
Could Bruce Chen have another decade in him like Moyer?
Like Moyer, Chen has learned the art of frustrating hitters with location, varying arm angles, and changing speeds. The Royals defensive strength also perfectly aligns with Chen’s extreme flyball tendencies (50.9%). KC outfielders lead all of major league baseball in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) with a cumulative 36.5 runs saved vs. the average outfield. However, Chen’s low .241 BABIP and sky-high strand rate of 88.5% suggest he’s due for significant regression.
The question isn’t merely idle speculation for GM Dayton Moore. Chen is a pending free-agent. The Royals will kick themselves if they let a guy with a Moyer-like future get away. A cheap innings-eater has tremendous value for any small-market team. Those decisions, however, will be made this winter.
In the mean time, Bruce Chen is making himself a lot of money.
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