According to certain reports, Zack Greinke is unlikely to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Whether it’s the Dodgers’ desire to trim spending, or Greinke’s displeasure with the clubhouse culture (cough, Yasiel Puig, cough), the 2015 NL Cy Young runner-up and the Dodgers could be on the outs. It still seems unlikely to me that Greinke and the Dodgers will split, but if it happens the Dodgers will likely look to fill Greinke’s void with a pricey candidate like David Price or Jordan Zimmermann. If the Dodgers are serious about cutting costs, however, there is another interesting candidate for the team to consider — Wei-Yin Chen.
Chen, the 30-year-old left-hander from Taiwan, is coming off the best season of his four-year career with the Baltimore Orioles. For much of the 2015 season, Chen maintained an ERA below 3.00 before seeing a late season jump. Over the past two seasons, Chen has gone 27-14 with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.223 WHIP in 377 innings. For his career, Chen has a 46-32 record with a 3.72 ERA. He is a strike-thrower who eats innings. Despite what the peripheral numbers say (FIP is never kind to flyball pitchers), Chen is a reliable starter who should not be viewed as a regression candidate.
On the open market, Chen is likely a $15-16 million per year pitcher — half of the likely asking price of Greinke and Price. For a team like the Dodgers that supposedly wants to save money, Wei-Yin Chen warrants a long hard look. He is essentially a poor man’s, left-handed version of Zack Greinke.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look into the numbers.
Prior to signing with the Dodgers before the 2013 season, Greinke had compiled a 91-78 record in nine seasons with a 3.77 ERA in 1,492 innings with the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Los Angeles Angels. Greinke’s WHIP before joining the Dodgers was 1.247. Minus Greinke’s epic 2009 American League Cy Young season, he was a solid, above average starting pitcher. Joining the Dodgers, and taking advantage of pitching in one of the most pitcher-friendly divisions in baseball is what led to Greinke’s ascension to true superstardom. In three years with the Dodgers, Greinke has registered 17.5 WAR. In seven years with the Royals, Greinke was worth 26.2 WAR, and 10.4 of that WAR came in one season. Greinke is now 51-15 with a 2.30 ERA in 92 starts with the Dodgers, and more importantly, is now 29-5 with a 2.00 ERA in 47 starts at Dodger Stadium.
The numbers that Wei-Yin Chen has posted over the first four years of his career are extremely comparable to the numbers Zack Greinke put up over the first nine years of his career. Greinke had that one dominant season, but otherwise was never an All-Star. Both pitchers have very similar profiles, if not from different sides of the rubber. Chen and Greinke both hover around 93 mph with their fastballs and mix in sliders, changeups and curveballs effectively. They change speeds, move the ball around the zone, and keep hitters off balance without racking up eye-popping strikeout totals. This approach has worked extremely well for Greinke with the Dodgers. Dodger Stadium and the weak-hitting NL West have turned him from fringe All-Star into a pitcher with a 1.66 ERA and borderline Hall of Famer with five to six more years of continued excellence.
In no way, shape, or form, should Chen be projected to begin pitching to sub-2.00 ERA seasons should he join the Dodgers, but he could easily shave another half a run from his ERA and give the Dodgers 200 innings of 2.75-3.00 ERA pitching every year for the next five seasons. Chen will come at a massive discount compared to Greinke, Price, and Zimmermann, but in the right setting, he will blossom into one of the better mid-tier starters in the league with upside to become a capable two in most rotations. The only factor that could keep the Dodgers out of the Chen market is a desire to avoid becoming too lefty-heavy in the rotation.
While most of the bluster surrounding the Dodgers and Greinke should be viewed as nothing more than free-agent vs. front office posturing at this point, Wei-Yin Chen should be another target for the Dodgers regardless of where Greinke signs. The 30-year-old could be the next pitcher to blossom into an All-Star thanks to the pitcher-friendly environs of Dodger Stadium.