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.