What Wei Yin Chen’s dead arm means for the Marlins

Apr 13, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (54) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (54) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Marlins are hoping that Wei Yin Chen’s time on the disabled list is brief, but a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued his tenure.

When Wei-Yin Chen signed with the Miami Marlins during the 2015 offseason, it was viewed as a safe, and positive step in the right direction. He gave the Marlins another legitimate pitcher in the rotation behind Jose Fernandez, a dependable number two or three pitcher, locked into a five year contract.

A closer look at Chen’s contract revealed that it was a classic “Jeffery Loria/Miami Marlins” type contract. Back-loaded, and without a no-trade clause in place. This meant that we’d likely have Chen for the first three seasons of that five year contract, then move him to a contending team looking for help in the short-term.

The problem with that has been his inability to stay on the field. And while he has looked like a serviceable Major League pitcher at times this season, he has done little to bolster his value. He might be among the best pitchers in the rotation this year, but that isn’t saying much.

Now the Marlins find themselves with a pitcher who is overpaid, regularly battling injuries, and only marginally effective when he is able to pitch. Top that off with the fact that he will be difficult to trade when the time comes, and that the option in his contract is his, and things might get worse before they get better.

But it’s not all bad news!

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Chen was already known to be pitching through a UCL injury. An MRI revealed that he hasn’t further damaged his ligament, and he should only miss one start. The Marlins and coach Don Mattingly have been cautious about protecting Chen’s arm against further injury, and it seems to be working.

Earlier this season, Chen was pulled after seven innings of a no-hitter because of his high pitch count. With another coach, Chen might have been allowed to go 130 pitches that game, and could have done some serious damage.

What is a “dead arm”, anyway?

The short answer is, he’s tired. There doesn’t appear to be a specific area that is causing Chen discomfort, but rather an overall feeling of overuse. The Marlins put him on the 10-day disable list with an injury described as a “dead arm”, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

After Chen’s bullpen session, he told the team he didn’t think he would be able to make his next start. Mattingly said that Chen looked good in the bullpen session and that he was surprised when he told them he couldn’t go.

"“To us it looked pretty good, but he felt like he couldn’t make his next start,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Friday night. “At that point we were like, OK, send him back to Miami to see the doctors.”"

The decision to exercise caution was the correct one, and everyone around the club is hopeful that Chen’s stint on the DL will be a short one.

In a practical sense, the Marlins are in desperate need of pitchers who can go extended innings. With Edinson Volquez already landing on the DL earlier this week because of a blister on his pitching hand, and now Chen, the Marlins already tenuous starting rotation is now paper-thin.

Chen was set to make his start in game two against the Mets tonight, but will be replaced by Odrisamer Despaigne instead. Despaigne is an experienced arm with three years of MLB service. While he is capable of making a spot start on occasion, if the Marlins are forced to lean on him any longer than expected, it could spell trouble.

The 30-year old Cuban right-hander has struggled at the Major League level, and has accounted for a -1.5 WAR in stints with the Padres, Orioles, and now the Marlins.

The Marlins will need Despaigne to pitch the game of his life; the bullpen is exhausted and is showing signs of ineffectiveness, possibly due to fatigue. Seven or eight innings would be ideal, anything less than six will further compound the problems that have lead to a 2-8 record in the last 10 games.

Next: What Should the Miami Marlins Do With Their Bullpen?

If Chen is able to rebound and make his next start, the rotation will be in better shape. The Miami Marlins coaching staff, players, and fans know that he will be a big part of a winning team this year.