Last year I wrote about Jen-Ho Tseng being a viable starting rotation option for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. His chance came in one game and he lasted a total of two innings. Perhaps the time has come to move on from the soft-tossing right-hander?
Position: Starting/Relief Pitcher
Chicago Cubs: one game, two innings pitched, a WHIP of 2.00, an ERA of 13.50, a DRA- of 48.9, and a WARP of 0.1
Iowa Cubs: 26 games, 136.3 innings pitched, a WHIP of 1.49, an ERA of 6.27, and a DRA- of 83.0 (Baseball Prospectus does not have minor league WARP statistics).
Year in Review: What happened to Tseng in 2018? That’s a hard question to answer because at the onset, 2018 seemed like it was going to mirror 2017 in many ways. Tseng came out and was his usual dependable self. He was sitting in the low 90s with his four-seam fastball and mixing in secondary pitches that were improving. Then, even before his call-up to the big league club, everything started to fall apart.
The main issue that popped up for Tseng, from game one in Iowa onward, was his inability to throw the ball where he wanted. He walked more guys in 2018 than he did in 2017, but walks themselves weren’t the issue. Tseng missed far too often in the zone, and when he missed he was missing badly. Watching Tseng rapidly losing his ability to locate was difficult because without said ability, Tseng became a very hittable pitcher. As the season progressed that was what one could expect from a Tseng start: lots and lots of hits. He gave up the most contact he had since his stint with the Cubs Double-A ballclub the Tennessee Smokies in 2016.
The amount of contact Tseng gave up in 2018 was more concerning than it had been in 2016. Tseng was still a prospect in 2018, but he wasn’t the unpolished prospect he had been in 2016. The Tseng who took the mound in 2018 was supposed to be big league ready, one of the Cubs option to spot start or fill in long-term in the rotation if needed. That ended up not being the case, and with the amount of regression Tseng showed it’s hard to see him making the big league club again anytime soon.
Looking Ahead: The Taiwan native isn’t a free agent in 2019, and he’s on the 40-man roster so he’s not at risk of the Rule 5 Draft. That being said, the Cubs may have different ideas about that 40-man spot. I could realistically see the Cubs designating Tseng for assignment and giving his roster spot to someone else who they want to save from the Rule 5 Draft. That’s worst case scenario for Tseng, although maybe it’s not. Perhaps in the case of Tseng, the best outcome is a fresh start in a new organization. No matter what Tseng will be playing pro ball for many years to come, I just don’t see that time being spent with the Cubs. The longer he stays in the Cubs organization, the more likely it is that I see Tseng leaving Major League Baseball for another league like the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Time will only tell with Tseng, but his days with the Cubs are most likely numbered.
Lead photo courtesy Kamil Krzaczynski—USA Today Sports