A pivotal season for Chien-Ming Wang


In six days, Chien-Ming Wang, the erstwhile ace of the Yankee staff now relegated to the two spot behind CC Sabathia, will turn 29. In pitching years, he is hitting his prime, and for the Yankees and Wang, 2009 will be a pivotal year.

For the better part of four years, Wang has been a mainstay in the Yankee rotation. He has made 95 starts since May of 2005 and has gone a remarkable 54-20 with a 3.79 ERA. What makes his 117 ERA+ even more outstanding are his admittedly terrible peripherals. For his career, Wang has a 4.02 K/9 IP and a 1.54 K/BB ratio. Pitchers with those key numbers generally don’t hold their opponents to a .265/.320/.365.

Wang does this, of course, by being an extreme groundball pitcher. He sports a career 1.58 GB/FB ratio and has induced 94 double plays over his four years in the Bigs. His sinker is so good that it confounds the statistically-minded experts and the BP PECOTA system who see his low K rates and worry.

In New York, Wang is adored by the fans and treated like an ace, but the Yankees have seemingly never quite embraced him as such. In a recent blog post, Joel Sherman voices some Wang-related speculation, and in doing so, he brings up a few good points:

Wang is going to be a free agent after the 2010 season so to keep him the Yankees are going to have to pay him elite dollars over a long-term to stay: He will likely have a case that he should be paid commensurate with the five years at $82.5 million bestowed A.J. Burnett. And the Yanks, internally, are not positive about going to such extents with Wang. He has pitched four seasons in the majors and two have been interrupted by injury. They wonder how a pitcher who does not strike out batters will age as he loses some bite on his sinking fastball, especially since he has been sketchy in developing the rest of his repertoire. And he would begin a new contract in 2011 at age 31, so you almost certainly are buying declining years.

Because of all of this, the Yankees have weighed trade scenarios in the past involving Wang and, I suspect, they will continue to at least listen, especially if they believe that Hughes is capable of being, at minimum, a cost-effective, mid-rotation starter. The Yankee logic would be simple: If they do not think they can go long-term with Wang then would they be better off letting him pitch for them through 2010 or to use him to potentially fill another area of need via trade?

In Sherman’s view, the Wang scenario hinges on Phil Hughes. If the Yanks feel Hughes can handle Major League hitters to the extent we believe he can, the team may be willing to shop Wang for the right price.

Now, Sherman’s argument breaks down in a few places. Wang’s 2008 injury wasn’t pitching-related; rather, it was some baserunning fluke. Sherman also speculates that the Yanks could try to trade for Roy Halladay. If they don’t want to pay Wang for his decline phase, why would the team want Halladay, a pitcher three years older than the Yanks’ right-hander?

But Sherman’s points about Wang’s repertoire carry some weight. Chien-Ming Wang is no longer considered young, and at this point, he should have mastered the rest of his pitches. Yet, that non-sinker out-pitch has continued to elude him. Last year, Wang showed some strike-out promise. His K/9 IP was up around 5.12 before his baserunning disaster struck. Take out his nine-strike out game against the Indians, though, and that figure settls in at 4.60.

Wang’s stuff has often been compared to the heavy, hard sinker Kevin Brown sported in his younger days. By age 27, though, Brown had mastered the strike out. If Wang is to emerge as a true long-term option for the Yanks, he may need to take that big step this year.

In the end, though, I come out with Sherman: The Yanks will sign Wang. Even if he sticks around as a two, three or four starter behind some combination of Sabathia, Joba, Hughes or Burnett, a team can never have too much pitching.

Categories : Pitching
  • steve (different one)

    isn’t Sherman’s fundamental premise wrong, that Wang will be a free agent after 2010?

    isn’t it 2011?

    wasn’t he a super 2? this is his second year of arbitration. he should have 2 more left.

    • Ed

      Yup, you’re right there. It doesn’t really change the premise that much though, just allows the Yankees to wait an extra year before deciding what to do.

      • steve (different one)

        agreed, but there is a pretty big difference between controlling Wang for 2 more seasons and 3 more seasons.

        if it’s 2 more seasons, the time to seriously consider trading him or giving him a long term contract is after this season. hence the premise that 2009 is a “pivotal season” for Wang.

        if it’s 3 more seasons, they have 2 more years to make this call. and 2010 is really the “pivotal season”.

        i hear what you are saying, all of the same issues about his K rate, health concerns, etc. exist. you are right, not trying to argue that. just saying that this really isn’t that urgent if they control him for 3 more years.

        • Slugger27

          plus, i would figure his trade value would go up considerably after this season if he is under team control for 2 years as opposed to 1

      • GG

        I’d say it DOES completely change the premise, the Yanks can just go year to year and if he breaks down then they won’t have to sweat it.

    • Joseph P.

      You’re right.

  • frits

    Nice piece. I agree mostly, but I do think it would be scary if that sinker starts to lose velocity. What would that do to its effectiveness?

  • Rob in CT

    Thankfully, the team has 2009 and 2010 to evaluate him and decide what to do. Assuming decent health, that’s 350-400 innings of more data. On the health front, the worry has to be his shoulder. His foot was a freak thing. The shoulder, on the other hand, is really scary.

  • Ed

    If the young pitchers work out well enough that the Yankees have a surplus of starters, I think Wang is the one to go. Sell high and trade him for a starting position player.

    Wang probably won’t age well – his success is entirely dependent on his nasty sinker. Will he still be successful if it loses a few MPH and has a little less movement? I’d expect there to be more pitchers like him if his approach worked with weaker stuff.

    The other big concern is his shoulder. The Yankees just said it was inflamed during his rookie year, but the press seemed convinced the team was hiding a significant rotator cuff tear. If there really is a tear, eventually it’ll worsen and he’ll need surgery (see Pedro Martinez, the Met years).

  • Reggie C.

    So you wouldn’t let Wang walk in order to break in younger, cheaper options like Brackman or Betances? Sherman also said that Wang would be over 31 by the time he hits FA, and he hasn’t developed a reliable strikeout pitch. Sherman argues age affects those type of pitchers more so.

    We’ve already committed big bucks and years to A-rod, Burnett, CC, and Teixeira. Lets make sure there’s room for another contract for somebody like Stephen Drew or JJ Hardy … somebody who plays a premium defensive position.

    • JohnC

      I remember the Indians exposed him in that 2007 ALDS by laying off his sinker, forcing him to have to get the ball up and thats when they pounded him. One scout remarked after that series that if he had a curveball, he’d be unhittable. Maybe thats what he needs to do. Develop a legitmate curve. As it is, he is now throwing more sliders and change ups to keep the hitters honest.

      • Rich

        I don’t disagree about Wang’s need to give hitters another look, but one game doesn’t expose anybody.

      • Reggie C.

        Whatever Wang is working on will hopefully become an average offering at least. Asking a 28 year old to develop a plus pitch is probably asking too much, but your right. Wang needs a good curve/slider to get more whiffs.

        • http://deleted RollingWave

          he does have a averagish slider, he’s thrown a slider about 15% of the time during his career.

          the most legitimate pitch that he does have now and could help him most if it improve is his change-up, mainly due to the problem of him dealing with lefties. his career split is pretty noticable. .257/.308 /.337 vs righties and .274 /.332 /.396 vs left, his periphals are significantly worse against lefties too, in fact it’s a ugly 102/101 K/BB for his career (in 1269 PA)

          He doesn’t really have a strike out problem, he have a strike out problem vs lefties. his slider is a fairly legit outpitch vs righty, he just can’t do anything against lefty if they don’t hit it into a groudball.

          he needs a changeup to work so he have something else to show to lefty.

      • Rob in CT

        As I recall, it wasn’t that they laid off his sinker, it’s that his sinker simply wasn’t working. They were mashing his fastball b/c it wasn’t doing its normal sinking thing. He was totally out of whack, for whatever reason.

        Normally, guys hit his fastball and the result is a groundball… maybe a line-drive single. The Indians were launching XBHs off him.

        Now, having said that… obviously if he had a plus curveball that would be sweet. He’d be Brandon Webb. What he does have is a so-so slider and a crazy sinker. If the sinker doesn’t work, he’s pretty much screwed.

  • Rich

    If CC, AJ, Joba, and Hughes form 4/5 of the rotation going forward after this season, then the case for trading Wang at some point before 2011 is pretty compelling given that all but one of Brackman, Betances, Garcia, Kennedy, Kontos, Bleich, etc. will be blocked, or if they want to trade for or sign another high end starter. Couple that with their dearth of near ML ready position prospects, and the number of aging position players on the ML roster, and it’s hard to envision how Wang isn’t moved at some point.

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      I think it makes sense to move Wang in the future. It all depends on the development of the pitchers in the minors right now. You don’t have to worry for this season, midseason 2010 would be the time to start thinking about moving him. That gives time to further evaluate several things:

      1.Hopefully Hughes’ adjustment to the majors.

      2.The development of the high-end talent like Brackman and Betances and the development of the middle talent like MacAllister, Bleich, Garcia, Kontos, etc

      3.The development of Montero/Romine as hopefully catcher(s) for the future.

      4.The condition of the aging players on the big league roster.

      Wang is rock solid, so the smartest play, to me, would be to hold on to him until a suitable replacement is ready without rushing them. Thus replacing one relatively cheap and good pitcher with hopefully another relatively cheap and good pitcher. Signing him long term for his decline years seems like a big mistake.

      And yes I said Wang is rock solid….

      • Steve in MN

        Don’t forget IPK. He’s gonna be a #1 any day now…

        • Mattingly’s Love Child

          Yeah, for Scranton once Hughes gets promoted and before Brackman arrives.

  • harold

    sherman wrote in his post this morning that he was wrong and that hes a FA after 2011

  • Mike Pop

    I feel like Sherman is saying that the Yanks are going to trade him in the 09-10 offseason, but I ask why would they do that? Phil Hughes is going to take Andy’s spot, and then trading Wang will leave another hole. Maybe trade him for some young prospects, including an outfielder who can step in and then make a run at Lackey? But, that would still be blocking young pitchers like Brackman, Betances, Z-Mac, etc. I think the Yanks will only consider trading him if Brackman, Betances, and Z-Mac are putting up great numbers in AA and AAA. I know it doesn’t seem like Wang has a long future with the Yanks, but I wish he did. Always have liked him.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Maybe this:

      2010 – CC, AJ, Wang, Joba, Hughes

      10-11 offseason, deal Wang (but not for Halladay; deal Wang for hitting prospects)

      2011- CC, AJ, Joba, Hughes, and throw the IPK/Bleich/Betances/Brackman/McAllister spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks

  • Matt

    I think the most confounding thing about Wang’s success is that he’s had it with such a bad defensive team. There was an article I read saying that out of anyone in baseball, Wang got the most help from his defense (Pettitte and Rasner got the least). That’s pretty shocking, considering the Yankees awful defensive efficiency rating. Perhaps Wang’s sinker is really that good that it can influence the batted ball more than we think.

    • Mike Pop

      Wang tells Jeter and Cano to be ready on various occasions.

      “This one is coming to you.”

    • Joe

      I agree. I feel that his sinker is so good that batters find it almost impossible to make solid contact, therefore hitting it into weak grounders that any major league player can probably field with no problem. Pettitte and Rasner on the other hand probably induces cannon grounders that just bounces out of the fielders gloves.

    • Chris

      I’m surprised that no one has looked into this more deeply. There are articles nearly every day explaining how Jeter is the worst defensive shortstop in history, and yet Wang is still successful.

      • Joe

        If you can, could you link one? I’d be very curious to read it.

      • Doug

        But you know how much more successful he’d be if he had a better defensive SS behind him

  • huuz

    if you decide to pay Wang and thus sign him to a long-term contract, why not go after brandon webb instead?

    webb’s salary is $6.5M this year and $8.5M next year and is sure to be >$15M AAV once he hits FA. i don’t see the d-bags signing him for that. their payroll has been between $52M to $69M over the last five years. paying a single player ~$15M/year puts a big dent in that budget.

    what would be the AAV difference between Wang and Webb? my guess is that it is not that massive…

    • Mike Pop

      I kind of agree with this. The thing is though, the Yanks can probably lock up Wang for 6 or 7 million a year on average, if they lock him up during this year or next.

      But I don’t think the Yanks need another highly paid pitcher on the books for 5 or more years at the kind of salary Webb is likely to get. I love his stuff but the Yanks have so much money invested in CC and A.J., and with all the young arms on the way it will be tough.

      • huuz

        i hear you regarding the signing of another long-term deal…but by the time webb is available, burnett will have only three years left on his deal (and CC *could* opt-out one year after webb is a FA…)

        • Mike Pop

          Ya, you’re right. But you know who becomes a FA the same year that CC could opt out. King Felix ;). I hope we get him even if CC doesn’t opt out. I’m so greedy.

          • huuz

            you’re right. i’d rather have King Felix…but will he make it to FA? the M’s aren’t shy about spending $ (unlike the d-bags).

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              If the M’s are still a horridly bad baseball team, Felix may refuse any extension they offer.

              In any event, I’m sure his agent would tell him he’d be an idiot to take an extension without hitting the open market. Any extension the M’s would offer him would be dwarfed by what we and the Red Sox would offer.

              • huuz

                i completely agree with you.

                …but the dude is three years from FA (right now). if the M’s are smart (big assumption); they’ll try to sign him *now* and buy out his last three years of arb and a few years of FA.

                my sense is that it is a big deal to young players to get the first big contract. getting a $30M-ish guaranteed contract is a bird in the hand. injuries could creep up, freak accidents, etc…you never know.

                if Felix hasn’t signed an a long-term deal w/ the M’s by this time next year…i’d say he’s headed to FA with near certain probability.

                really, i’m playing devil’s advocate as to why felix might not hit FA after the 2011 season.

  • Jacob

    What sort of return could the Yanks expect in return for Wang should they decide to move him?

    • kSturnz

      Heyward!!!! kind of overrated, but i love his upside.

      or an uber SS prospect.

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      I think realistically maybe one A prospect or 2 Bs. And even that may be high. I’m not sure Wang has a lot of value due to his lack of strikeouts. He’s such an exception to the rule, that I’m not sure many teams (Yankees included) really know how to value him.

    • Mike A.

      He’s somewhere between Haren and Blanton, to use recent examples. Haren returned two stud prospects, a fringe big leaguer and three okay prospects when he had three years of cost control.

      Blanton returned one stud prospect and two iffy guys, and he had two years of team control left.

      If he has a typical Wang year and trade him after the year (just hypothetically), I think one stud prospect, one big leaguer (CF if no one steps forward?) and another Grade-B prospect is reasonable.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        Sounds good to me!

  • Doug

    Yes, his career GB/FB ratio is 1.58; however, it has regressed over the past 4 yrs from 1.88 to 1.76 to 1.41 to 1.25. Let’s see how he does over the next couple of years, but in my mind, he’s not worth a 5/$75M contract.

    • Drew

      He’s also drastically improved his K numbers. He’s added more pitches so when he’s not so dependent on the sinker he’s bound to give some fly balls. That’s not a bad thing.

      • Doug

        Very true

      • Drew

        BTW, A 3.6 3.7 ERA is some of the best pitching we’ve seen for a long time. I know you said let’s see the next few years which I agree with but there’s no reason to doubt him other than a bad playoff performance. Holding that view, we might give up on JOBA too.

        • Doug

          Never said he’s not a good pitcher. But not sure he’s a great pitcher deserving of that big a contract.

    • Matt

      Despite that, his HR/9 has fallen (0.70, 0.50, 0.41, 0.38), along with his HR/FB (10.5%, 7.8%, 6.0%, 5.7%) and so has his FIP (4.20, 3.91, 3.79, 3.74). The thing I’d be on the watch for this season is his BB/9. It jumped from 2.15 to 2.66 from ’06-’07 and peaked for his career at 3.32 in ’08. If that BB/9 goes back down towards his career mark of 2.55 or lower, I’ll be able to stomach the lack of strikeouts.

      • Doug

        great point about the walks

  • The man with 33 fingers

    I think Wang has proven he is capable of pitching in NY.

    I would hope our past experience with some FAs will wisen up the front office and realize they have a guy who should be our number 4 starter for years to come. (hopefully number 5)

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      I would agree, but with one large caveat: you can’t pay Wang ace or top of the rotation money. He’ll be already passed his prime, and unless he continues the trend of more strikeouts/less homeruns, he will be extremely overpaid and blocking some talent that may be far superior to him.

      • Doug

        agree 100%. and you know he’s gonna ask for burnett-type $. something in the neighborhood of $15M/year for ages 32-36, doesn’t make sense to me

        • Joe

          Correct me if Im wrong, but I think Derek Lowe just got a 60MM/4 Yr contract, which is like 12MM per year. And he’s not even that good

          • Jack

            60/4 = 15

          • Doug

            like jack said, he got $15M a year. and he was 36. wang would only be 32 in his FA year; i.e., he should get at least a lowe contract

            • huuz

              in which case, you’re better spending another ~$3M AAV to get webb. that costs you a bit of extra $ + 1 draft pick (likely 1st round).

              but you can then trade wang and get

              “…one stud prospect, one big leaguer (CF if no one steps forward?) and another Grade-B prospect …”

              to quote mike a.

              on the surface it sounds better to sign webb and trade wang. but that also requires that we trade wang after 2009…and hope to get webb after 2010.

              …or we could flip some of those prospects to trade for webb (and sign him to an extension) during the 2009-2010 off-season.

  • Steve in MN

    I think CC and his opt-out is going to be a major factor, more so than the development of the young guys. Doesn’t that coincide with Wang’s walk year? Could be trouble to lose two front (or middle) of the rotation guys the same year. Darvish would be awesome, but probably won’t want to come over till his late 20′s from what I’ve read, which is still many years away.

    • Doug

      Great point. They do coincide…the winter of 2011 will be very interesting. Curious as the when (i.e., what date) CC has to decide whether he’s opting out

      • kSturnz

        CC said he won’t exercise teh opt out, but 3 yrs is a long time from now. I know he could probably get more than a 4 yr deal, but at 23mil per? how much better of a contract can he poss get?

        • Doug

          depends on his performance between now and then, but also the economy at the time

        • Doug

          but like you said, may be more the length than the $. since he’d still be only 32, may be able to get a 5+-year deal. what’s better: 6/$108M or 4/$92M?

          • kSturnz

            I’d take the 4 yrs, retire and live off it, but that’s me jaja. pitching isn’t my livelihood.

        • Ed

          I know he could probably get more than a 4 yr deal, but at 23mil per? how much better of a contract can he poss get?

          There was a time we all thought A-Rod would be crazy for opting out of 3/$81m, especially because doing so would screw over the team most likely to pay him top dollar.

  • kSturnz

    omg, i know what cash did… anyone remember AJ saying he didn’t want an opt out this time around. Cashman must have offered it.

    Cash is purposely putting that temptation out there for flexibility while at teh same time expecting some of our higher ceiling guys to be ready or close to it at that time… Brackman and Betances’ ceiling alone *puking smiley* with McAllister, IPK, Bleich, Mitchell, Marshall, aViz, ManBan, Heredia, with many other options; phelps, turley, davidson, greinke, etc.

    we are about to be in a position where we can afford to be frugal with pitching contracts, starting with teh wanger, unfortunately, as I love what he has brought us the last 3 yrs.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside
      • Matt

        Awesome shop job there.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          It’s all in the details, my friend.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        It’s hard not to like how that looks.

    • GG

      I agree which is why I can’t see us making a push for Lackey as people on this blog were saying a few days ago.

      • kSturnz

        why bother with lackey? Hughes projects to be the same player, playa!!!!!?

  • jackson

    The comment about Wang from Sherman is par for the course for him…It shows he lacks homework and relies heavily on sensational garbage picking. If Wang wins another 19 games for two years running they will sign him again.

    • Ben K.

      The Yankees, I hope, are smart enough to realize that wins do not make a pitcher. If they don’t see what they want/need from Wang and believe he will be overpaid, they won’t sign him. That’s baseball for you.

  • Mulls

    I’ve never thought of Wang as an ace.Just speculating but if Lackey and Wang are gonna get the same kinda contract I’d certainly rather have Lackey.The yanks should try and move Wang for a shortstop prospect after this year or just trade him for Wilmer Flores right now.

  • Drew

    Wang is as valuable a commodity as you can have in the middle of the rotation. Oliver Perez got 12 per. Wanger is not only homegrown but he has proven that he has a shot at 20 wins each year. Let’s pay our guy what he deserves, K rates aren’t the most important part to baseball. In two years, if he has seasons comparable to his 2 healthy seasons, he should get paid… by us.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      In no way, shape or form should we ever use what the idiot Mets paid the horrid Oliver Perez as any kind of measuring stick for how much our pitchers are worth.

      That contract was a disaster 3 weeks BEFORE it was signed.

  • Rob S.

    It’s pretty clear to me that Wang was developing into a different kind of pitcher last year when his season was cut short. I see him relying less and less on his sinker going forward. It’s necessary because Wang often has problems keeping his sinker down in the zone and hitters sit on it.

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