While Chris Tillman was generally considered the ace of the staff - the stopper - one cannot overlook the contributions of Wei-Yin Chen to the immense regular season (and some postseason) success of the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. Let's take a look at Chen's 2014 season - the third and last of a three year deal signed before the 2012 season.
|2014 Stats||Chen (16-6)
As the Orioles number two starting option, Chen made 31 starts and racked up 185.1 innings (an additional 50 innings beyond his injury-plagued 2013 season). The 29 year old from Taiwan went on to lead the team in wins, edging out Bud Norris (15 wins) by one. He also ended up atop the Oriole pitching staff in value at 2.6 WAR. Although he's seen a decrease in strikeouts in each of the two seasons following his impressive rookie campaign, Chen has continued to improve his peripherals. In 2014, he posted a career-best 3.89 FIP, which put him second to Kevin Gausman, although he threw over 70 more innings.
Since entering the MLB, Chen has never been a swing and miss-type pitcher, although he posted a respectable 7.11 K/9 in his first season. In 2014, however, that number was down to 6.59 K/9 - good for just 28th in the American League among qualified starters. So how has Chen allowed more contact yet actually improved as a pitcher?
The 2014 campaign marked Chen's best from a control prospective. Although he's never been a wild pitcher, he would generally allow about two and a half walks per nine innings. In 2014, Chen's impeccable control placed him 5th in the AL and among names such as James Shields, David Price, and Felix Hernandez. He remained susceptible to the home run (1.11 per 9 innings - almost identical to his 2013 season), but Chen took big strides in 2014 to become a more complete pitcher. Expanded use of a two-seam fastball, combined with a slight uptick in his fastball velocity helped boost his ground ball rate from a somewhat dangerous 34 percent to 41 percent in 2014. For reference, no American League starter in the top 25 (based on WAR) had a GB% lower than 36 (and only 4 total were below 34). Considering the Orioles home park and solid defenders such as J.J. Hardy behind him, a greater propensity for ground balls is certainly an improvement. Additionally, Chen's slider of 2014 proved to be a beastly pitch, earning him the best swing rate, yet lowest contact rate of his three-year career.
Over the season, Chen aged like a fine wine, shaking off middling months of April and May to end the season on a tear. His second half FIP was a solid 3.22 and he allowed just 0.66 home runs per nine innings. Some of that can be contributed to the expanded rosters of September (Chen put up a season-best 2.05 in that month), but he helped the Orioles secure the wins necessary to lock up a playoff berth and ultimately win the division. Unfortunately for Chen (and the team), the Orioles ran into two solid lefty-hitting teams in the postseason. During the regular season, the Tigers and Royals ranked 1st and 8th, respectively, against southpaws. Chen was roughed up for 5 runs in 3.2 innings against the Tigers in game two of the ALDS - a game the O's would end up winning - and for 7 hits (2 ER) in 5.2 innings as the game three starter in the ALCS vs. the Royals.
Wei-Yin Chen may not make his way into the same conversations as the Clayton Kershaws and the Corey Klubers of the MLB, but he certainly had himself a solid season at the front-end of the Orioles rotation. The adjustments and improvements he made this past season should have O's fans ready to enjoy at least one more year of the lefty in 2015.