Game 3 preview: Wei-Yin Chen, Jim Johnson

Thearon W. Henderson

A scouting report.

The Starter

The Orioles saved the best for last in this series, and the Rays will take on left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen in game three. It's not entirely clear yet just how good Chen is. Pitching in only his second season in the states, the 27 year old has little track record against which to compare his current season. So far, though, he's posted a 3.23 ERA and a 3.63 FIP, but his xFIP is nearly a run higher at 4.33. The difference is due to his tiny 6.5% HR/FB, but last year he put up near league average numbers at 11.7%. Can he sustain the low rate? Probably not.

Chen is also carrying a very high infield fly ball percentage, which combined with his overall flyball tendencies (flyballs end up as hits less often than do groundballs, but they go for more extra base hits) goes a bit toward explaining his low career .272 BABIP.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Chen's fastball averages 91 mph, and his changeup and slider both sit in the low 80s. His curve has very similar movement to his slider, but is another 10 mph slower, so it will look as if it's breaking more.

Chen only throws his changeup to opposite handed batters (righties), and uses his other pitches fairly evenly to batters on either side. He has a pronounced split, though (career 4.52 xFIP against RHB, 3.86 xFIP against LHB), and I think it comes down to the effectiveness of his curve. According to Brooks Baseball, lefties miss his curve 32.5% of the time that they swing at it, but righties only do so 14.5% of the time.

The Closer

The Rays have kept closer Jim Johnson out of a save situation so far this series, but, of the three games, this is the matchup most apt to break the streak. While last year Johnson blew only three saves in 54 chances, he's blown nine in 48 chances so far in 2013. While he's definitely been worse this year than last, he hasn't been all that bad. And standing 6'6", Jim Johnson is a strange bird.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Johnson is all about the ground ball. He actually does have swing and miss stuff, with both his high-80s changeup and his 80 mph curve getting near 35% whiff/swing rates, but he uses them to keep hitters off balance while he pounds the bottom of the zone with his mid-90s sinker. The key to his success is to strike out a few batters, walk no one, and get a ton of groundballs. With this approach it takes luck and good sequencing to sustain a rally against him. This season, his regression comes from striking out a few more batters, walking a few more batters, and getting fewer groundballs. I honestly couldn't say if his inferior performance is because of a change in approach (doesn't look like it to me), but I bet there are some lurking Orioles fans who would like to tell us.

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