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Wei-Yin Chen: Changing Speeds and Beating FIP


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What follows is a table showing qualified pitchers who most often changed speeds by more than 15 miles per hour in 2015:

[Table omitted, but it shows Clayton Kershaw 1st, Chris Tillman 4th and Wei-Yin Chen 15th.]

Perhaps this table would be more instructive in analyzing Clayton Kershaw, because my goodness, but hey, there's Wei-Yin Chen near the top of the league in drastic speed changes. And if you're like me, something else stuck out about this table.

Present in the table is the king of low BABIPs and FIP-beating, Jered Weaver. Alongside Weaver is notorious FIP-beater Zack Greinke, and notorious FIP-beaters Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller, and longtime FIP-beater Chris Tillman, and recent FIP-beater Mike Fiers.

Naturally, this piqued my interest, so I ran some numbers with this group and found that the group, as a whole, posted a soft contact rate of 20%, where the league average is 18.5%, and a BABIP of .286, where the league average is .296. If single-year BABIP doesn't strike your fancy, the group's three-year BABIP is .284.

Certainly, this is far from any kind of rigorous study, and even then the results aren't overwhelming, but the back of the envelope findings seem to support Callaway's statements, and perhaps common logic, that pitchers who can drastically change speeds can keep hitters off balance, and keeping hitters off balance can help generate soft contact. Chen is one of those guys.


Interesting analysis. I've always felt that soft contact isn't just (or even primarily) a function of velocity, but of keeping the hitters off balance.

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Changing speeds to keep batters off balance has been a pitching staple since before Cy Young. Read The Head a Game. Funny that stat guys are just getting around to verifying it.

I agree, but the analysis IMO really does not show enough of a difference in soft contact and BABIP versus the league average to cause statistically different results. I mean, a 20% soft contact rate versus a league average of 18.5% might result in an additional two or three outs every 100 hitters or every 100 balls in play.

Maybe this combined with info on BBs and Ks will start to show why statistically these pitchers are much better off.

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If you’re not into ERA, Chen doesn’t look all that great. Though he had that 3.44 ERA over the last two seasons, his SIERA during that time was 3.91. Chen’s skills suggest he’s more Wade Miley/Jon Niese than Jose Quintana/Francisco Liriano. I’m not just citing an esoteric stat here. Chen’s strikeout rates have always been pedestrian, generally at or below league average. His groundball rate ranks 42nd among qualified starters over the last two years, and his attendant home run rate is the sixth-worst in baseball. To succeed, Chen needs a strong defense and a big ballpark. Even then, the expectation should be league average innings.


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Ability to keep off-balance; bonus if you have lots of movement.

Which I see being a problem for him. He's got the change of speeds down, no doubt. His FB has little movement and his CH is a below average pitch. The sequence the writer discusses is a very good one, but it presupposes that Chen can continue to be successful with two pitches. I'm not convinced he can.

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