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.