Breaking down Wang with Pitch f/x


Well, two games, two stinkers by the Yanks’ starting pitchers. It wasn’t what we all expected when the season started, but it is what it is. When I took a look at CC Sabathia’s start using Pitch f/x, we found that his velocity was fine but he struggled to find a consistent release point, likely causing his command issues. The data shows something much more interesting for Chien-Ming Wang, who threw 73 pitches on the night. Just three of those pitches were sliders, seven were changeups, and the remaining 63 were some form of fastball (either sinker or four-seamer).

Let’s start with the flight paths of the fastballs, his two main weapons on the night, to get them out of the way. I was too stupid to realized that not everyone had seen a Pitch f/x graph before Tuesday’s post, so I labeled these a bit more clearly. First up, bird’s eye view, and as always you click any graph for a larger view.

Bird's Eye View

To make life easy I labeled four seam fastballs just fastballs. As you can see, the sinker has a bit more armside run than the regular old heater, which is what you’d expect. Here’s the view from first base.

First Base View

Wang’s sinker was up all night, which is why the two pitches had basically the same downward plane. His two fastballs varied only in horizontal break, making the battle that much easier for the batter. Lastly, here’s the view Jorge Posada had.

Catcher's View

Yeah, same thing we were looking at above. The two pitches look very much alike, except the sinker runs just a bit more.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Remember how Sabathia’s release point was pretty scattered, yet still in the same general area as one of his better starts from 2008? Well check this out:

Release Points

Wowza. I used Wang’s complete game two hit job in Fenway last April as my basis of comparison (that’s a combo of both sinkers & four-seamers to make life easy), and look at the difference. His release point is off by about a foot both vertically and horizontally (FYI, the x-axis is the distance from the center of the plate, the y-axis is the distance above the ground, both in feet, each gridline represents one inch). This explains a whole lot, because it’s hard to get that sinker down with such a high release point. Now we know what the Wanger and Dave Eiland have to work on over the next four days.

And finally, the all important velocity:

Sinker/Fastball Velocity

So Wang was down about three miles an hour last night, but he maintained that velocity all night. The good news is that it’s extremely unlikely that there’s anything physically wrong with him, because if a guy’s hurting he doesn”t raise his arm slot like Wang did last night, he drops it.

Moral of the story: Wang’s got some stuff to work on, just like Sabathia. Not a big deal really, and if you back away from the ledge and think about it, it’s better that they get this stuff out of the way early. Should be a blast watching AJ Burnett this afternoon.

Categories : Analysis


  1. donttradecano says:

    so its highly possible the lower velocity was because of a bad release point, which was because of possibly bad mechanics, which can be fixed, correct?

    • MattG says:

      I always associated a lower release point with bad mechanics. The higher the release point, the more downward plane, the less you throw across your body, and so forth.

      I also always associated a higher release point with a better sinker (see “more downward plane”). Are you sure it is easier to throw a sinker from a 3/4 slot?

      A release point cannot move that much by accident, and it?

      • A.D. says:

        Well thinking about it a guy like Brandon Webb doesn’t throw right over the top

      • A release point cannot move that much by accident, and it?

        Yeah, a release point a full foot higher and a full foot tighter than normal is freakin bananas. That’s either some major league inconsistency or intentional in some sort of way.

        I could see a couple of inches, but a full foot in both directions almost screams “I’m taking a new approach here”, doesn’t it?

      • Mike Axisa says:

        Usually the higher the release point, the harder it is to get the ball down, which makes sense. RJ had to throw practically sidearm to be effective, otherwise everything was up in the zone.

        Also the lower the arm slot, the more movement, generally speaking. That’s why you see sidearmers and submariners with wiffleball kind of movement.

        • MattG says:

          “Usually the higher the release point, the harder it is to get the ball down.”

          I have no idea what I am talking about, as I have become interested in pitching mechanics only recently (with the advent of the analysis on the web by guys like Carlos Gomez), but I think I have seen plenty of stuff that refutes this.

          For one, analysts seem to write stuff like, “he’s letting his arm drop, which is causing his pitches to flatten out and stay up in the zone.”

          I also think I have heard many times that in order to get the ball down, you need to get on top of the ball and throw on a downward plane.

          However, there are no curveball, sinker pitchers to my knowledge, and plenty of slider, sinker guys. Sliders are usually more 3/4, curveball right over the top, so I guess this makes sense.

      • Matt says:

        I always associated a lower release point with bad mechanics.

        Really? I’ve always taken it the opposite way. If you have a high release point, you’re either gonna miss high or leave the ball up and it’s gonna get pounded. Lower release points are much better.

        • MattG says:

          I don’t see how physically it would be any harder to get the ball down with a high release point. In fact, throwing on a dramatic downward plane is going to increase the ability of the pitcher to bury the ball at the knees, because, if you draw a triangle with the hypotenuse as the path of the ball, the increased angle of the higher release point will give the pitcher a larger margin of error.

          Getting the ball up in the zone seems to be a product of “getting under the ball,” or not getting over the front leg, which is a product of bad tempo. The lower the arm angle, the easier it is to get under the ball.

          • Matt says:

            Getting the ball up in the zone seems to be a product of “getting under the ball,”

            If you’re getting under the ball, chances are you’re releasing it high and the ball’s just slipping out of your hand. Missing high also means you’re probably letting your throwing-arm-half fly open, causing you to let go of the ball higher.

            I suppose releasing the ball high and snapping a lot with your wrist and elbow could help you get the ball down, but I’ve always been a fan of a slightly lower release point.

            • MattG says:

              I’m interested in learning, so please tell me–a guy like Igawa seems to have horrible tempo. He is a drop and drive guy, but he doesn’t get out over his front leg, so the result is drop, but not enough drive. This has him sort of throwing uphill, which is why he can’t get the ball down with any consistency.

              But a guy like Lincecum (who granted is not a sinkerball pitcher) has an exaggerated over-the-top delivery, and seems to do a beautiful job of throwing downhill. He looks like he’s slamming a basketball everytime he throws, and it doesn’t look like he would ever have trouble getting the ball down.

              Am I seeing this right?

  2. Klemy says:

    They just don’t seem ready for the season mechanically. Perhaps they needed more work in the preseason or something. It’s just the first week, so it’s understandable, but it’s so disappointing to watch. I hope they get it out of their system before the home opener.

  3. A.D. says:

    Interesting stuff, wonder if the release point comes from some tinkering that just didn’t pan out for this game.

  4. Jake H says:

    I know it’s only 2 games but I wanted this team to finally start strong.

  5. Double-J says:

    After last night’s game, was anyone else wondering how the hell guys like Uehara, Matsuzaka, and Okajima, for example, seem to do wonders against us, but the Japanese pitchers we have had in the past seem utterly clueless?

    It’s frustrating.

    • We signed Japanese pitchers that weren’t that good.

      Simple as that.

      I’d say that Uehara,, Matsuzaka, and Okajima were all probably better pitching prospects coming out of NPB than Igawa and Irabu, all things considered.

      However, I’d bet that, long-term, Irabu >>> Uehara. Wait until the league gets used to Uehara’s stuff and starts crushing it.

      • Double-J says:

        It could very well be. I just was hoping that after the first time through the order, the Yankees could have improved against Uehara, especially having Matsui as a sort of scouting report (Matsui at his first at bat looked like he tried to crush everything U-E threw at him, kind of ridiculous).

        On the half-full side, I bet Uehara doesn’t look as cool in sunglasses as Igawa does. Hah.

        • A.D. says:

          having Matsui as a sort of scouting report

          Matsui hasn’t played in the Japanese league since 2002. If the Yankees face Randy Jonhson this year are they going to bring in Junior Spivey to tell them what he throws, or are they going to watch film from spring training and previous years?

          • Well, personally, I’m all for us bringing in Junior Spivey.

            I have always been and will always continue to be pro-Spiveyman.

          • Double-J says:

            Sorry for thinking that, perhaps, it may be possible for someone who was a former teammate of a pitcher we haven’t seen before to give his teammates a little insight.

            I realize this was radical thinking, I’ll try to remember in the future not to be so logical.

            • A.D. says:

              Yeah it really wasn’t meant to be a shot at you, it more bothered me when they were all over it on the telecast.

              My feeling was it was awhile ago, players change, and Matsui didn’t actually face Uehara, so chances are he can give as much advice as the film/scouting report they’ll get from spring training and NPB scouts.

      • zack says:

        And I would say that you are full of it. Irabu was as good a pitching prospect as there was. Uehara isn’t a prospect at all, is old, and wasn’t that good. Same thing with Okajima. Saying now that they were better prospects its just hindsight. Better pitchers perhaps, and better to adjust, but don’t try to pretend that Irabu wasn’t hyped.

        And, first of all, Uehara has now had one good start. So did Irabu after game #1. It took him to game #2 to suck. And then in 1998 he actually didn’t suck so hard.

        Matsuzaka is, of course, a whole other story…

        But, having just noticed your last line, I agree there 100%.

        • Irabu was as good a pitching prospect as there was. Uehara isn’t a prospect at all, is old, and wasn’t that good.

          Not really true.

          Irabu and Uehara are way more similar than you’re portraying them. They were both elite NPB pitchers who competed for the NPB version of the Cy Young annually.

          The difference is, Irabu was younger and not coming off two injury-filled seasons where his luster had worn off. That’s the main reason he was more highly regarded (that, and the fact that the Japanese import phenomenon was new and we didn’t yet fully know how much the NPB mirrored AAA.)

          Stuff-wise and ace-wise, they’re both considered good-to-great NPB pitchers during their primes.

    • A.D. says:

      Well Igawa & Irabu might have done wonders against the Yankees too.

    • mk says:

      Irabu and Igawa weren’t nearly the same quality pitcher in Japan as Matsuzaka was, so the differences of MLB success can kinda be expected. I think the ridiculous posting fee Boston paid gives you an idea of that, at least in comparison to Igawa.

      After a few more games against Uehara, I’m going to guess that his ERA vs NYY will be higher than 1.80. His stuff didn’t look that impressive, plus its only one game.

      • Mike Axisa says:

        Hideki Irabu was pretty freaking awesome in Japan.


          • mk says:

            Igawa was money for the first few years but I don’t think his stats accurately show his decline.

            Irabu was good but he was barely a .500 pitcher, although in his defense Lotte was a pretty bad team.

            I’m not saying they weren’t good, of course they were to come over here.

            But Daisuke was better. All star almost every year, led the league numerous times in W’s, K’s, and other major pitching categories.


          • mk says:

            He may have been good, but Uehara has barely started the past 2 years.

            BP had an article about translating Japanese stats to the US, and although their sample size was sample, it gave pretty decent projections for these guys. IIRC Matsuzaka clearly had the best translated stats.

            • mk says:

              I meant to say sample size was small. I’m going to stop talking now.

            • He may have been good, but Uehara has barely started the past 2 years.

              He was injured in ’07. When he came back, they made him the closer.

              That’s why.

              • mk says:

                True, but he was also so bad in 2008 he was sent down to the minors.

                Here are Clay Davenports translated stats:

                Uehara IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
                2006 157 5.39 9.8 1.8 1.7 5.4
                2007 59 3.05 8.1 0.9 0.9 6.6
                2008 84 6.67 10.4 1.7 2.4 4.9

                Now, if I knew exactly how he go these numbers I would be more confident in discussing them, but here they are nonetheless.

                • Okay… now give me Davenport’s translated stats for Irabu’s final three seasons in the NPB, and then discount them for the age difference.

                • mk says:

                  Looking at their stats, it looks like Uehara loves the longball, giving up 18 or more EVERY year but 1, while DiceK only did it once.

                  I’m probably not the most qualified person to talk about their Japanese careers but that is what I’ve heard many times, that Dice K was one of the most (if not most) dominant pitchers there.

                  I guess I shouldn’t be bashing one of my teams biggest FA signings this offseason but it is what it is. I just don’t think Uehara is that good.

                  Prove me wrong Koji!

                • mk says:

                  Sorry but this is all I have:
                  Kazuhisa Ishii IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
                  Japan 1999-2001 157 5.07 9.0 1.2 4.6 7.5
                  US, 2002-2005 137 5.13 8.7 1.1 5.1 6.4

                  Hiroki Kuroda IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
                  Japan 2005-2007 176 4.13 9.3 1.0 2.2 4.4
                  US, 2008 187 4.19 8.4 0.6 1.7 5.0

                  Daisuke Matsuzaka IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
                  Japan 2004-2006 167 4.15 8.7 0.9 2.8 6.4
                  US 2007-2008 182 3.94 8.0 0.9 3.8 7.9

                • mk says:

                  Without knowing the full details in regards to Irabu, his league, and his teammates, his stats look solid but not that special.

                  72-69, 1 K/IP, 1.31 whip 3.55 ERA

                  Dice K:
                  108-60, ~1K/IP, 1.14 whip 2.95 ERA

                  I think this small difference in stats get multiplied when talking about translating that over here.

  6. Longo says:

    where can you get these data from? I’ve seen links to other people’s work with it, but not the data themselves

  7. Pel says:

    Mike, I really, really like what you’re doing with PF/X.

    I’ve been longing for a Yankee fan to do PF/X analysis on our pitchers. As a Yankee fan and RAB reader alike, I’m very grateful for this. PF/X analysis of Yankee pitchers is few and far between, and I really hope you continue to fill that void.

    Know that what I’m writing is extremely fruity sounding sincere and full of appreciation.

  8. Matt says:

    Holy high release point, Batman.

  9. Yankees < Dog Crap says:

    Look at all these wanna be pitching gurus. Do you guys wear your jackets ala Rick Peterson in the summer when going for a walk?
    I smell a Detroit 2008 kind of start here boys and girls……And I’m loving every minute of it !!!!!!

  10. gxpanos says:

    LOVE that you’re doing these, Mike, great job.

    Don’t love a release point that out of whack, though. If he and Eiland don’t figure it out the Taiwanese stock market may never recover.

  11. Yankees < Dog Crap says:

    Ban me for what? Speaking the truth? The Yankees 2 Aces got smacked up and that is a fact.
    I do know what the Yankees master plan is. It is to win their first game of the 2009 season in the NEW YANKEE STADIUM.

  12. Luis P says:

    Based on even the past 2 games I don’t think we’re far off from building a winning streak of some sort. The hitting can be a bit more timely as Tex will become more lively at bat and we are hopefully awaiting on good season debuts by Burnett,Pettitte and Joba.. I do feel confident with AJ taking the mound this afternoon though. He seems like a no pressure guy who can put a stop to all this non sense after 2 games. Anybody here agree?

  13. UWS says:

    These WPA and Pitch f/x posts have been fantastic. I hope you make them a regular feature this year!

  14. GG says:

    Everybody likes to say its only two games, and of course it is, but at the end of the year, one of NYY, BOS, and TB will miss the playoffs, and it could be by only two games, this division is going to provide a serious in-season pennant race of sorts.

      • btour99 says:

        But before we can be 1-4, we must follow the blueprint and go 0-3, just like in 1998.

        GAAAHHH!! I hope Burnett has a CG, no hitter with 0 ER and 54 K’s today. His WHIP may be 3.00 buts thats OK for now…

    • I’m glad you brought up this argument, I’d like to take a stab at dispensing with it. NOBODY is arguing that it’s not a bad thing to lose baseball games. What has been asserted is that you can’t draw conclusions about the overall state of the team, or their potential, or really ANYTHING, after just 2 games. I don’t want the Yankees to lose ANY games, each loss pisses me off. A loss today is just as bad a loss 2 months from now. We agree on all that. But NONE of that has ANYTHING to do with saying that people shouldn’t freak out after 2 games are in the books.

      “2 games are important in what will probably be a tight divisional race” is not a relevant response to people who are cautioning others from jumping off bridges this early in the season.

  15. mk says:

    wow I really hope what I just read about Nick Adenhart is false because that kinda makes everything we are discussing trivial

  16. mk says:

    Angels’ Pitcher, 2 Others Killed In O.C. Crash

  17. pete says:

    re: arm slot:
    having a higher arm slot can, for a lot of pitchers, make it easier to get the ball down, if their overall arm mechanics are in sync. The sinker, however, is a product of a low arm slot. A straight-over-the-top delivery on a 2-seam fastball will cause it to run armside, without any drop. If the arm slot is lower, however, the ball will spin forward somewhat, causing it to drop, kindof like a reverse-slider. Its possible this was an idea of Eiland’s this winter; bring up wang’s armslot to improve the drop on his slider, which, coupled with his generally good velocity, could contribute to more strikeouts. Not a bad idea, but so far it certainly hasn’t worked, whereas wang’s old ways did. I think the oldstyle wang fits perfectly with this rotation, much better than a mediocre power pitcher could.

  18. [...] Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang are both fastball-slider guys, so the first base view wasn’t all that exciting. [...]

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