The Kansas City Royals are coming off their best season since 1989, and are looking to improve on their 86 wins in 2013. Going forward, we are going to take a closer look at the players that should play significant roles for the Royals in 2014, as they try to make their first post season appearance since winning the World Series in 1985.
If you want read the other completed profiles, just click here. This link will be updated as we add more profiles over the upcoming weeks.
Up next: right-handed pitcher Bruce Chen.
Bruce Chen is so utterly lacking in flashiness, we tend to overlook that he has been a very fine, back-end of the rotation pitcher for the Kansas City Royals. That isn’t a rundown on him as a pitcher. He is what he is, and he is better than what most people realize.
He has had two outstanding years as a Royal, 2011 and 2103, when he was above average, a solid number 3 rotation pitcher. He was pretty terrible in 17 appearances in 2009, his first as a Royals, and in 2010 and 2012, he was average.
The reason Chen is so ho-hum is that he has no “stuff.” He is an artist who paints the plate, changing speeds and fooling hitters. Mind you, he isn’t fooling hitters into missing the ball, just not allowing them to make solid contact.
As a Royal, he is 45-39 (1-6 in those first 17 games in 2009), with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.341 WHIP. In his 5 seasons with the Royals, out of 15 as a major leaguer, he has accumulated 56% of his career wins.
After his disastrous debut with the team in 2009 (how did he ever get a second chance), Bruce Chen has been pretty darn good pitcher for the Royals – 44-33, 4.17 ERA, 1.316 WHIP – not the numbers of a staff ace by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid middle of the rotation pitcher.
Okay, he doesn’t strikeout many out, and but he doesn’t walk a ton either. He is 37 years old this season, so don’t look for this to change, but he certainly can duplicate the numbers from his last 4 seasons.
Chen has always been a fly ball pitcher but last season he took it to a new level. According to Fangraphs.com, opponents hit fly balls against Chen 51.9%, and only hit the ball on the ground 27.7%. Those are extreme fly ball tendencies!
Usually, when a pitcher gives up that many fly balls, he will give up more than 13 home runs in 121 innings. Chen’s Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio last season was extremely low at 6.7%. This low for pitchers in general (that number is usually around 9 or 10%), and for Chen (career average is 11.5%).
Is this number, which certainly makes Chen a better pitcher, repeatable. Well, over the last four seasons, Chen’s HR/FB is 8.1, 8.1, 11.9, and 6.7. He may not be able to hit that 6.7 mark again but he has been trending downward as a Royal.
He is avoiding solid contact by really mixing up his pitches. According to Fangraphs, in 2013, he only threw a fastball, at an average speed of 86.6 mph, 43.5% of the time. He tossed his slider (84.5 mph) 26.1% of the time, his curve ball (73.7 mph) 18.2%, and his change-up (76.3 mph) 12.1%.
For Bruce Chen, it is all about control, changing pitches, and changing speeds. Those are skills that he can hang on to for another season or two or three, but if his control falters, and he starts to hang some of those pitches, he will get pounded.
While it is a bit frustrating the Royals are going into the season with Chen as the number four starter at the expense of either Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura, if he can match his stats from the last 4 seasons, he won’t be the worst 4th starter around. Not by a long shot.
The frustrating part is that Royals fans want more from their team this year. They want Duffy and Ventura to pitch like number twos, and Guthrie and Vargas to be the 4th and 5th starters. Chances are that won’t happen, at least not right away.
Chen is basically insurance toward another year of development for the young starters in the Royals organization. If he pitches as he has as a Royal one more year, then great. If age catches up, or his control slips, then he will most likely be replaced sooner rather than later.
Chen is not flashy, at all. He is just another dependable hurler the Royals are using to bide time. Kansas City could, and has, done much worse.