The Kansas City Royals have re-signed starting pitcher Bruce Chen to a two-year contract worth $9 million. The 34-year old lefty was worth 1.7 WAR last season and will most likely be the team’s number two or three starter next season. Chen isn’t a special pitcher by any means, and this is a testament to the Royals overall weakness in the starting rotation. Dayton Moore is obviously looking to add another pitcher, although the Royals did acquire Jonathan Sanchez in a trade with the San Francisco Giants this offseason.
Chen had a 3.77 ERA last season, but he only struck out 5.63 batters per nine and walked 2.9 per nine. The walk rate is actually lower than his career average but so is the strikeout rate. That K/BB ratio isn’t exactly a good one, and it’s the reason why his FIP was at 4.39. Chen’s BABIP of .278 was right in-line with his career average of .279, but he had a HR/FB% of 8.1 compared to a career average of 12.3%. Thus, his xFIP was at 4.68 last season due to this stroke of luck.
All of Chen’s batted ball rates are in-line with his career average, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. For instance, his career GB% is 35, and it sat at an also paltry 34.6% last season. Bruce Chen just gives out home runs because of his high fly ball percentage and rather poor HR/FB%.
The reason why Chen struggles with his fastball is because it averages 86 miles per hour and is mostly around the heart of the plate. The soft-tossing southpaw has one good pitch, and that’s his slider. Against righties, he spots it on the inside part of the plate, and he tries to get lefties to chase his slider outside of the zone- or get it to catch the zone. Chen used his changeup 16.6% of the time in 2011, and it’s a poor pitch overall because his fastball is so slow. I mean, there’s no use in using the change that much. He spots it down and away against righties, but it’s still a subpar pitch overall.
His paltry strikeout rate tells us that Chen obviously doesn’t generate enough swings-and-misses, nor does he get batters to chase very often. He’s a below-average pitcher who is worth about 1.2 WAR and is paid accordingly at his current 4.5 million dollar rate. The Royals have such a poor rotation that he is one of their “better” pitchers, but they still had to retain him, otherwise they would have digressed even further. It’s a fair deal for both sides involved, as Chen is nothing special; yet he provides value to a team that doesn’t have many pitchers who can actually pitch.
The New York Yankees have re-signed 35-year old starter Freddy Garcia to a one-year deal worth $5 million (according to John Heyman and ESPN.com). The Yanks are reportedly not sold on C.J. Wilson and Roy Oswalt and aren’t sure if they are worthy risks quite yet. I wouldn’t rule out the prospects of the Yanks signing one of them, Wilson obviously being the more attractive yet expensive option, but the team is almost certain that Phil Hughes will have a nice bounce-back season. I am inclined to agree with the Yankees’ brass on this, and bringing back Garcia is a nice little move.
The Yankees obviously have much more money than the Royals, and $500,000 isn’t all that much money in baseball terms. Garcia is also a better pitcher, and he was worth 2.2 WAR last season over 146.2 innings (Chen pitched 155). Garcia struck out just 5.89 batters per nine and had a BB/9 of 2.76, and he was lucky with his HR/FB ratio. The safe bet is that his true ERA was closer to his 4.36 xFIP than his surprisingly strong 3.62 ERA. However, Garcia is a better pitcher than Chen and the extra money is justified.
However, Garcia’s good fortune means that we have to dig deeper to gauge what his value will be in 2012. His .292 BABIP was a little bit higher than his career average, but that can be attributed to an increased line-drive rate. I also worry about his decrease in grounders, but he did have a low enough Contact% to at least mitigate some of those concerns.
The Yankees received solid contributions from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon last season, but it was Colon who faded down the stretch and had a season largely based on luck. While Garcia was also a lucky man in 2011, he was still about an average pitcher when looking past most of the statistical noise. The Yankees are basically paying Garcia a little less than what a mediocre starter makes on the open market, but the 35-year old will obviously undergo regression in 2012 due to both age and luck. But the Yankees don’t really need mediocrity out of a pitcher who will likely be the team’s No. 4 or 5 starter, and the team also has arguably the best offense in the Majors behind him.
I can see Garcia being worth about 1.5 WAR, and he would outperform his contract by about a million under this projection. However, there is a chance that he ends up busting at his age and has a very inconsistent season. This deal carries no risk, and $5 million isn’t very much and is what a 1.2 WAR player makes. I think Garcia will be worth a little more than that, and this was a solid, minor move that the Yankees made this offseason. I also doubt that the team stands pat in free agency, and I expect them to sign one of the bigger named starters; I would suggest Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson. Anyway, Garcia is a below-average starter, but he is being paid like one and will provide slightly above-average production for a back-of-the-rotation starter.