Wei-Yin Chen - Baltimore Orioles starter

It’s a fair question, right? Wei-Yin Chen gave up nine hits on Tuesday against the Yankees and 12 in his season debut against the Red Sox. He’s got a 6.35 ERA in 2014 and hasn’t made it out of the sixth inning.

Furthermore, we saw Chen struggle in the second half of last season. He posted a 4.90 ERA and 1.427 WHIP over 14 starts.

What happened? Why the downward spiral? Is he lacking confidence in his stuff?

Hold your horses, er’body.

After the All-Star break, opponents recorded a .329 BABIP against Chen compared to the more league average total of .284 posted in the first half. Over his first two starts this year, that number is an astounding .476.

.476! .476, you guys! That’s insane. It’s ridiculous.

The reason Chen has given up 21 hits is because everything seems to be finding a gap right now. Half of the balls in play against him are landing somewhere and allowing the opposing hitter to reach base.

You know what’s nuts? Chen hasn’t walked a single batter. Not one. He’s also only given up one home run in 10.2 innings pitched (0.84 HR/9).

Have you guys heard of FIP? Fielding Independent Pitching. (If you read my stuff, you have). It’s a stat I love because it gives a fair analysis of how a starter is actually performing. Here’s how FanGraphs.com describes FIP:

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. Back in the early 2000s, research by Voros McCracken revealed that the amount of balls that fall in for hits against pitchers do not correlate well across seasons. In other words, pitchers have little control over balls in play. McCracken outlined a better way to assess a pitcher’s talent level by looking at results a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns.

A walk is not as harmful as a homerun and a strikeout has less impact than both. FIP accounts for these kinds of differences, presenting the results on the same scale as ERA. It has been shown to be more effective than ERA in terms of predicting future performance and has become a mainstay in sabermetric analysis.

Chen’s 2014 ERA: 6.75
Chen’s 2014 FIP: 2.84

Holy BABIP, Batman.

The numbers suggest that Chen will be just fine. Eventually those balls that seem to be finding gaps will be caught or snatched up by the infield. For now, he’s been plagued by some terrible luck.

Image Credit: Keith Allison