The evolution of Chien-Ming Wang

Even the AA versions of Yanks-Sox are intense
Yanks set to shatter all sorts of attendance records

When Chien-Ming Wang first arrived in the Bronx, it was clear from the start that Wang had the stuff to be successful. Throughout his first three seasons in the Bigs, we grew to know and love that heavy sinker and Wang’s stellar groundball rate. But something’s changed this year, and it’s for the better.

This year, as we’ve seen over Wang’s first seven starts, the right-hander — once so reliant on his sinker to get outs — has picked up a few stellar secondary pitches and has learned how to pitch in a way that lets him dominate a game. Look at his numbers: On the season, Wang has thrown 45 innings, and he’s 6-0 with a 3.00 ERA, and over his last three outings, he’s given up 4 earned runs on 17 hits in 19 innings.

Of the numbers, the most important one to me is Wang’s strike out rate. In the early going this year, Wang’s K totals are well above his career norm. Over his last 19 innings, he’s struck out 19 batters, and on the season, he is average 6.40 Ks per 9 IP. With his normally stellar walk rate, his K/BB is now 2.46.

For the last few years, stats-minded analysts have blown their collective gaskets trying to figure out the success of Chien-Ming Wang, and were it not for my seeing him pitch every five days, I’d be right there with them. How did a guy with a career K/9 IP of under 4.00 prior to this year find a way to win more games in the Majors than anyone else over two years while keeping his ERA under 4.00? It didn’t make sense.

Now, we all know that Wang’s non-traditional success came via those groundballs. When he is on, he can command a double play at will, and Major League hitters look foolish topping his pitches. This year, though, with sliders, sinkers, fastballs and a few change ups, Wang has upped his pitching in a way that cements his status as the Yankee ace. He’s keeping runners off base, and he’s keeping balls out of play. That is a sure recipe for success.

As we all know — and as Hank Steinbrenner reminded us tonight — the Yankees have had a tough go of it lately. They’re one game under .500, and the offense isn’t doing much of anything right now. But every five days, Wang takes the mound, and it’s a beacon of very bright light every day. Watching a pitcher put everything together is a real pleasure, and Wang is living the dream. He will lose a few games this season, and he’s facing Cliff Lee and his sub-1.00 ERA next week. But it’s been quite the roll for a pitcher who almost ended up signing with the Mariners seven years ago.

Even the AA versions of Yanks-Sox are intense
Yanks set to shatter all sorts of attendance records
  • Jamal G.

    Yeah, I saw that piece by Mark of the Daily News as well, ‘family wearing Seattle hats’. Guess that gives us some hope for a certain 16-year old mythological, 5-tool beast in the Dominican Republic.

    I didn’t catch the game tonight but by all accounts he just owned the Ms yet again. It’s ironic that it was a secondary pitch that ended CMW’s bid for a perfect game last May against the Mariners and now it’s his secondary pitches that are allowing him to dominate the American League.

    Imagine a post-season rotation of Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes in 2010. Nasty. What makes it so great to dream of is that the order of which I listed that rotation is in no way a knock on Hughes, that’s just how amazing of a rotation we potentially can have in the next couple of seasons.

  • Joltin’ Joe

    I’m beginning to wonder if Hughes is going to be riding the injury train a lot during his career…

    Wang + Andy + Joba is a pretty good postseason rotation THIS year.

    We should acquire a pitcher at the deadline. Burnett if possible, Millwood for cash back and junk or maybe Harden if the price doesn’t include our favorite prospects.

    If Albaladejo gets to pitch the one inning at a time that he should, he could be our next 8th inning guy.

    If we’re getting bad production from 1B at the break, we should inquire on a good stopgap/solution. Perhaps Joe Koshansky or Scott Hatteberg? Would be cheap. Koshansky could be an everyday man.

    Why don’t we have Marte? Pirates probably waiting ’til the deadline to milk the most they can out of him. Grabow is lousy.

    I’m done.

    • mustang

      Don’t you think it might be jumping the gun a bit by having Joba in postseason rotation? The guy has never started a game in the majors.
      How about let see if they can get to the post season.

  • r.w.g.

    Wang is a good pitcher with some natural stuff. He throws hard, has a dominant pitch. Right now he’s mixing his pitches because he can get more of his secondary stuff over for strikes. This helps because he can better adjust as games go along if his sinker isn’t sinking that day.

    He throws a ton of innings, too. Might be the best pitcher in baseball right now, but we’ll see how the season goes.

  • marc

    anyone else notice thats wang is in the 90-91 range mainly with his fastball. i wonder if hes learned that he’ll get more sink if he tones it down a bit..?

    • Jamal G.

      It was the weather, his velocity has been sitting 94-96MPH all season.

  • barry

    If Wang continues these types of outings I foresee a very wealthy future for him. It’s good to see him attacking more batters and he throws what seems to be 4 different fastballs and his location has been money.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    He’s the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball because he doesn’t seem to instill fear in the batters. Which is good I think. If they think they can adjust to him and they can’t, it’s a good thing.

    The fun thing about watching Mo pitch is watching guys chase the same pitch over and over again.

    Mo could just stand there and announce “I’m going to throw a cutter right down the middle. Got that? Got it? Are you ready for it…it’s going to land right there…yes right there…Jose show him where it’s going to land….okay…got it? Here it comes!!!” and it’s still not hittable.

    What’s fun lately about CMW is that no one is quite sure what he’s going to throw. He’s doing a fantastic job building his repetoire and keeping batters off balance. Nice job. Not Joba fierce or Mo dominant…but very very nice.

    And because it’s so nice he’s underrated. It’s ace-quality nice but they’re never going to call him an ace.

    Even though he is.

  • meg

    You’ve answered many of my questions about Wang. He’s such a mystery and yet such a superstar on the mount. Great article!

  • Realist

    The man has won 19 games the past two seasons and gets no respect. Now he is 6-0…………I think the respect is coming ;-)

    In a less than stellar start to this season, Wang has quietly produced fantastic numbers!

    • Realist

      Meaning a less than stellar start for The Yanks……..though it could be ALOT worse :-)

  • Mike P

    Wang clearly isn’t an ace. Strikeouts win ballgames. He’s just been lucky this year. He’ll never win 20 games in his life.

    • Newman

      Wow, that’s a moronic statement if I’ve ever seen one. Now, I’m not QUITE sure, but I was under the impression that outs win ballgames, regardless of how they come. Guess I never read that part of the rulebook

      • Ben K.

        He was being sarcastic.

  • adam b.

    great points about wang, i’ve been saying ever since he came up if he just developed his other pitches to compliment his outstanding sinker he would dominate consistently and that’s what he’s showing right now. Wang has truly become a pitcher in the last few starts instead of merely relying on his “turbo sinker” as so many like to call it. he’s keeping you guessing he’s throwing something there and he’ll suprise you with something else. i never thought wang could do it to b e honest and if you look at the history of low strikeout pitchers they don’t last very long but he’s truly matured to an ace-type of guy, and not a minute too soon.

  • GoYankees

    Wang carreer stats 52-18 are up there with Gator and Whitey Ford. He’s that good, folks. He does it by command of his pitches and keeping the count down.

  • EUL

    Wang is not an ACE—in New York. Never will.

    He is low profile ( not flashy), high efficiency ( 1 pitch ground out vs. 3 pitches strike out) is totally opposite New Yorker style. And people refuse to call him an ace. Only compliment his work is ACE-LIKE.

    Yankees does not even want to sigh him for more than one year contract even with his steady performance for the past 3 years. While Pavano still enjoying his 4 years contract by doing nothing, cause he has one good year out of his 7 career year.

    I am anxious to see which team/city will get Wang next year and actually respect him and call him ace.

    • Ben K.

      You can’t be serious. Did you bother to, you know, read the post and the comments? We’ve long called him an ace, and that’s what he’s doing this year.

      The Yanks don’t sign arbitration-eligible pitchers to long-term deals because of the injury risk. In fact, few teams sign pre-free agency pitchers to long term deals. It’s just dumb business.

      Wang’s a Yankee for now and the time to come. Why I bothered to respond to this, I don’t know.

      • EUL

        I ‘ve been following Wang’s news for many years. I read all the news about him and visit different forums. And I noticed while other teams call Wang the ace of Yankees. New York newspapers still only complement his “ace-like”, “ace-quality” performance. And the Yankees fan forum is still arguing if he is a “true ace”, or “respect to come”. Didn’t he already has the most wins for the past two years?
        Compare to Joba Chamberlain, he just start pitching last year, already he is called “future ace of Yankees”. It is all about the difference styles between them.

        Renew contract before it expire is a cheaper way to keep good player without outside competition. Guess Mr. Cashman do not think Wang is good to keep and offer him the Cano deal( 57M/ 6 years).
        If Mr. Cashman would rather wait for Wang to become a free agent so he can compete with other teams and offer Wang the Zito deal(126M/ 7 years) or the Santana deal(137.5M/ 6 years). Well, that is even better for Wang.

  • meg

    I bet Mariners will be eager to sign Wang back to stop their losing streak against him. And they definitely will treat him with more respect than Yankee fans.

    • Ben K.

      This is getting to be — no offense, folks — rather idiotic. Where does this notion come from that the Yanks and their fans don’t respect Chien-Ming Wang? Because they won’t sign a pre-free agency pitcher to a long-term deal? Hardly any teams are willing to do that. The Yanks already gave him a $1.9 million just to sign with them in 2000. That’s a pretty big sign of respect right there.

  • Stanny

    Chien-Ming Wang IS an ACE. It doesn’t matter how people call him or whether people call him an ace or not. Strikeouts don’t make you win games, they make you look better when you win. What’s important is that you get the batter out. Chien-Ming Wang has won 38 wins in the last two years, that is the most in the MLB. This year he’s improved his slider, and he’s starting to become really good at strikeouts. He is 6-0 so far, and he will get at least 19 or 20 wins this year.

  • californiac

    Very nice analysis Ben. I completely agree. Here is our in-depth look at Wang, with comparisons to other elite pitchers over the last couple years: