Jun 21, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Bruce Chen (52) delivers a pitch in the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Consistency is the Wrong Reason to Put Bruce Chen in the Rotation

Sep 13, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (3) takes the ball to relieve starting pitcher Bruce Chen (52) in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When Bruce Chen was resigned by the Royals, it was a move that made sense. With question marks at the end of the rotation, particularly with the fourth and fifth starters, it was thought that Chen would be the fallback option. He performed well in that role last season, stepping in after Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza proved that they did not belong anywhere near a starting role. Instead, Chen was handed a spot in the rotation, leaving the fifth starter spot as the only opening in the rotation.

Naturally, the question that everyone wondered was why. Why would Ned Yost start the season with Chen as the fourth starter, instead of Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura, two pitchers with far more upside and potential. It turns out that the reason why Chen is in the rotation is his consistency. Yost knows what he is going to get out of Chen when his turn in the rotation comes up.

“He brings consistency,” Yost said. “Not only on the field, but in the clubhouse with his life and energy and his leadership in there.”

Bruce Chen has certainly been consistent. Over the past four seasons, Chen has been right around six strikeouts per nine innings, with just under three walks per nine. His WHiP has been around 1.35, aside from his excellent 2013 season. In fact, over the past four seasons, Chen has a 1.316 WHiP, a 6.1 K/9 rate and a 2.8 BB/9 rate. Chen has been essentially the same pitcher for each of the past four years.

There is certainly value to knowing what you are going to get every fifth day. However, if that is truly the rationale behind the decision to put Chen in the rotation, then the logic is faulty. While Chen is a solid pitcher, and may have ended up in the rotation anyway, it would seemingly have been in the Royals best interests to let Duffy and Ventura start the season in the rotation. If they prove they are not ready for the role, then Chen would be able to step in and take over.

Starting Bruce Chen in the rotation is the safe option for Ned Yost. Yet, for the Royals to make the playoffs this season, they need their rotation to step up. As they have replaced Ervin Santana with Jason Vargas, and the expected regression of Jeremy Guthrie, the need pitchers that could potentially perform at a high level. Despite what his results looked like last season, Chen just is not that type of pitcher.

Chen has been the model of consistency over the last four years with the Royals. He has also been essentially league average over that time, posting an ERA+ of 99. He certainly has value for the Royals. Yet, if Yost is starting him due to that consistency, he is trying not to lose instead of looking to win. There is a major difference between the two.

Bruce Chen is a certainly consistent. However, that consistency should not be enough to automatically hand Chen a spot in the starting rotation.

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  • Chad Woelk

    Regardless of the potential Duffy and Ventura have in the starting rotation this year, if Santana is not signed to a one or two year deal, I think the Royals are really going to struggle in their starting rotation esp early in the year. The Royals by no means should have paid Ervin long term, but not having a solid number 2 is really going to have a trickle down effect on the rest of the rotation.

  • Marcus Meade

    I think I agree with you, though this is one of those issues that isn’t so cut-and-dry for me. Signing Chen was a good move. If he can give them 120 IP of league average or better pitching (like last year, which was much better than league average), then he’s more than worth the money. And I don’t know that giving him a rotation spot is the most horrific thing in the world, but I don’t think it’s optimal either. Duffy and Ventura give the Royals a chance to have three “top of the rotation” type pitchers (Shields, Duffy, Ventura). I’d rather give them that chance and use Chen as a very valuable fall back option than play it safe from the beginning. Of course, my great fear is that Chen starts to struggle mightily at some point and Yost/Moore stick with him, as is their way. How many games did sticking with Wade Davis cost the Royals last year? If Ned’s going to give Chen a rotation spot, he has to be quick to shelve Chen, especially when he gets to that 15-20 GS range.

  • moretrouble

    Very nice piece today, David. You make a good point upon which I agree. The effectiveness of Chen rests on his ability to “slow down” bats — and that’s dependent on who starts the night before him. If you’ve got a hard thrower in front of him, Chen has a pretty good chance at success. It’s just that Vargas and Guthrie don’t happen to be those kind of guys. In my opinion, using Vargas and Chen in the same series is a bad idea.

    It may be that they want to limit the innings for Duffy and Ventura this season and by summer, we’ll see one of those two take Chen’s place. But, they also need to limit Chen’s innings and since he performed well in the swing role last season, I’d rather see him there rather than in the rotation.

  • Tyler_KC_Fan

    The issue with giving Ventura the starting rotation spot to start the year is based on his contract. We run into arbitration issues. I’m not totally sure on the fine print of it, but I know that the contract issue is a reason why he will start in Omaha this year. Essentially, the way the Royals are going to see how he matches up against majors and send him done to work out any kinks. Plus, Ventura will have more gas in the tank if we bring him up mid-first half or at the ASB. I’m not so worried about Ventura playing this year, but if he isn’t a starter by next year then we have a problem.

    The 5th spot is between Duffy, Hoch and Davis; and it’s Duffy’s spot to lose. If Duffy has problems then they might send him to Omaha for a little. I want Duffy to start because he has a high ceiling and could eventually become a #2/#3 starter.

    In my opinion, we start the year with Sheilds, Vargas, Guthrie, Chen and Duffy. By the end of the year we will have Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Duffy and Ventura. At the ASB we trade either Hoch or Davis and Chen takes their spot in the ‘pen. That is my opinion on the year and what I hope happens.

    Also, Guthrie hasn’t shown any decline. He flirted with a high 3 and low 4 ERA all year. He consistantly comes out and pitches 7 innings and keeps the team in his games, if not win the games for the team throughout his time with the Royals. Guthrie is a prime example of a #3 starter and he does a great job of it and his “regression” that you’re expecting will more than likely not happen.