Apr
14

What’s wrong with Chien-Ming Wang?

By

The Yanks are buried 2.5 games back of the first place Blue Jays with only 155 games left to play (/hyperbole), but perhaps the biggest problem facing them right now is Chien-Ming Wang. The incumbent ace has been absolutely brutal in his two starts this year, allowing (gulp) 21 baserunners and 15 earned runs in just four and two-third innings pitched. That makes Sidney Ponson look like Roy frickin’ Halladay. The more troubling part is how Wang just doesn’t look like himself at all; his pitches are all up in the zone, his velocity is down, and his sinker isn’t sinking.

This might not be something that just started last week either. Wang had a 1.56 WHIP and a 6.00 ERA in his previous six starts before lisfrancing his foot last summer, suggesting that something might have been wrong going back as far as last year. Of course that ten month layoff doesn’t help any, but we can still look at the data to see if we can find anything. Wang did have a good but not great Spring Training (21.2 IP, 25 H, 16 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 10 K, 3 HR), however no one in their right mind would use Spring Training stats to evaluate anything, especially for a player with a signficant track record.

Let’s compare three versions of Chien-Ming Wang using Pitch f/x:

  1. Pre-May 18th, 2008: This was the light’s out CMW last year, when he had a 2.90 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP through his first nine starts and 59 IP.
  2. Post-May 18th, 2008: Wang had his first of a series of clunkers on May 18th last year, which marks the point of that 6.00 ERA/1.56 WHIP era I mentioned earlier. I fail at labeling, but this version includes his May 18th start.
  3. 2009: This year’s pair of starts, i.e. the really, really crappy version of CMW.

I’m going to focus on Wang’s two main pitches in this analysis: his sinking fastball and slider. He’s also been known to throw changeups, splitters, and even the occasional curveball, but because he throws them so rarely it’s not worth the time and effort to take a deeper look at them. I’m going to start with the pitch trajectories as always, and to make life easier I gave fastballs and sliders their own individual graphs. Make sure you remember to click each graph for a larger, squinting at a computer screen has to be bad for your eyes.

Fun starts after the jump.

Bird's Eye View, Fastballs

Bird's Eye View, Slider

Looking at the fastballs first, you can see that the horizontal release point of the three versions are different, but the pitches typically end up at the same spot. That means that the post-May 18th fastball has less movement than the pre-May 18th version, and the 2009 version has even less movement than that. That’s not good, Wang’s a guy who needs his fastball to dart and dive and all that jazz. You can also see that his ’09 slider isn’t moving as much as the ’08 versions.

Now, the look as if you were standing at first base:

First Base View, Fastballs

First Base View, Slider

This view shows is that Wang is releasing both pitches from a higher spot this year than he did last. The fastball still has vertical drop, but it’s not moving horizontally as much, which you can see in the bird’s eye look. Let’s take a look from the catcher’s view:

Catcher's View, fastball

Catcher's View, Sliders

More than anything, this view just gives you a different look at the above. His pitches are still moving vertically in a way similar to last year, but they definitely don’t have the same kind of side-to-side movement. To further drive home that point:

Movement

I haven’t posted one of these movement plots on RAB yet, so let me explain. It’s simple, don’t worry. The x-axis shows the horizontal movement of the pitch with 0 meaning it’s straight as an arrow. A negative value means the pitch moves in on righties, a positive value means it moves in on lefties. The y-axis is the vertical movement of the pitch compared to a ball thrown with zero spin. Fastballs have big numbers because they have more carry on them then this mythical zero rotation pitch, but breaking balls have small numbers because they move more. Curveballs are usually in the negatives, as are super elite sliders (think Brad Lidge). The units in this graph are inches.

So, from this you can see that his fastball still has the same kind of vertical movement as last year, but it’s just not riding as hard horizontally. The slider’s dropping a bit more but not moving as much horizontally as last year. All of this is consistent with everything presented above. These trajectory and movement plots are fun to look at, but all they really show are results, the results of his pitching motion, and apparently that’s the problem. From Pete Abe:

Wang seemed stunned. He said the issue was where he released the ball, which was off to the side instead of over the top. A sinkerball pitcher wants to stand tall on the mound and throw the ball on a downward plane. Otherwise the ball floats over the strike zone and you see what happens.

That sounds good and make sense, but the data doesn’t agree. Here’s a look at Wang’s release points:

Release Points, Fastballs

Release Points, Sliders

If you haven’t seen these before, make sure you read RAB more often the point 0,0 is the center of the front of home plate, so the x-axis shows you how far away from the middle of the plate you are, and the y-axis shows you how far you are above the ground. Now, there’s a couple things going on here. First of all, those post-May 18th points that are mixed in with the pre-May 18th points are scattered over several starts. It’s not like all those pitches came from one or two starts, they’re spread out over all six starts. Secondly, it’s very likely that the difference in the general horizontal location of the pitches is caused by Wang move more towards the first base side of the rubber, but we’re focusing on the vertical location since Wang said he wanted to come more over the top.

In general, Wang’s throwing the ball from a spot about six inches higher this year than he did last year, no matter if you consider the good ’08 Wang or the bad ’08 Wang. That contradicts what he said after the game, but that doesn’t mean he’s lying or the data’s wrong. It’s entirely possible that he wants to release the ball from an even higher spot than he currently is, but I have to ask why? I mean, if throwing it from a slightly lower slot worked last year, why change it? I’m no pitching coach or pitching mechanics expert, so I won’t even attempt to answer those questions. All I do know is that for some reason Wang is releasing the ball from a higher spot than last year and yet he still wants to come even more over the top.

Finally, lets take a look at his velocity, because it’s definitely been down this year.

Fastball Velocity

That graphs encompassed a ton of pitches, 1,227 to be exact. Last year he was sitting at 91-93 pretty consistently, except for that one start which was probably a dead arm thing considering it was preceded by a spike in velocity (maybe he was overthrowing in a big start and wore himself down). This year Wang is sitting only 89-91, a small but definitely notable drop. This could be from bad mechanics, a dead arm period, injury, or about a million other things. The team already shot down injury and said it was just a mechanical issue, and I believe them because Wang didn’t appear to be in any obvious pain, he was more disgusted with himself.

I don’t know what’s wrong with Chien-Ming Wang, but whatever it is, it’s causing him to lose movement on his pitches as well as velocity. Maybe it’s just rust from the long injury layoff. Disirregardless, I hope he gets himself straightened out sooner rather than later. The cool part about the ’09 Yanks is that even though CMW is struggling, they can still trot out four quality starters. When’s the last time we could say that?

Categories : Analysis

149 Comments»

  1. That’s a heck of a lot of post to digest.

    Still, a token of optimism: the last pitcher to give up 15 ER in his first two starts of a season was Cone in 1998…who preceded to win 20 games.

    Now, whatever’s wrong with Wang is serious and needs to be fixed, and I do think the foot injury has something to do with it.

    However, his struggles now don’t necessarily mean he’ll be ineffective all year.

  2. Chris says:

    this mythical zero rotation pitch

    It’s called a knuckleball.

  3. “Disirregardless” is my new favorite word.

    So what we’re looking at is a one-time ace who relies on his sinker ball but isn’t getting on top of it. He’s losing velocity and movement and is thus throwing 90 mph meatballs. Either he’s injured and he’s adjusting his mechanics or his mechanics are just plain out of whack. I’ll be quite curious to see his next start on Saturday.

  4. Slugger27 says:

    u fixed CC, now keep earning that money mr. eiland

  5. Zak says:

    I hope he fixes it, I have to go see him on Saturday. Better get his you know what together.

  6. Slugger27 says:

    is it unreasonable to conclude he should actually be throwing more sidearm or three quarter? seems to me thats the best way to help the horizontal movement, and the first few graphs indicate thats where he was throwing when he had success

    • Zak says:

      I think the problem is that he’s actually throwing too much sidearm. He should throw more over the top to get a sinking movement, instead of left to right, ’cause that’s not helping him out at all. Also, I believe his arm’s dragging behind his body a bit, causing him to lose a small bit of velocity. Those are the things I would work on personally, but obviously that’s just me.. I’m not a major league pitcher or even close, lol.

      • What Zak said. He’s basically not throwing over the top enough.

        • Slugger27 says:

          im not sure i understand… the first few graphs indicate the good 08 version of wang released the ball closer to 3rd base than the bad 08 version or this years version… am i reading them wrong?

          the catchers view would imply the same thing

          • Mike Axisa says:

            You’re right, but that change doesn’t necessarily have to be from arm angle. He could have moved more towards the first base side of the pitching rubber.

            • Chris says:

              Considering the changes in movement on his pitches, it would seem that a change in arm angle would help.

              Also, there are two distinct groups for release point within the post-May 18 set of pitches. Are those different starts, or just random variations?

      • KW says:

        I think the layoff probably hurt his lower body conditioning, which might be hurting his motion and velocity. As I understand it, he had a fairly significant layoff from the foot injury, which would cause him to lose some of the musculature that can help him generate proper hip rotation and extension, blunting his ability to develop and deliver power to the shoulder, which might be causing this all. Obviously all conjecture.

  7. Tonight’s line up

    Gardner CF
    Jeter SS
    Teixeira 1B
    Swisher LF
    Posada DH
    Cano 2B
    Nady RF
    Pena 3B
    Molina C

    I love the 3-through-7 hitters!

  8. Moshe Mandel says:

    I think what Wang said fits the data- like you said, his release point is higher, but like he said, it is off to the side as well. I bet if he fixed his problem and got properly aligned so that he was coming over the top, his release point would lower as well.

  9. Pel says:

    Awesome stuff, Mike.

  10. Sal says:

    maybe he’s just not very good. He has 1 pitch n in 4 years hasn’t developed anything else

  11. Reggie C. says:

    The velocity is down something like 4 mph. Bats aren’t gonna be late on 89 mph FBs.

    p.s.,
    when is RAB going to integrate MOCAP in its pitching analyses?

  12. Derek L says:

    The Blue Jays are finally fulfilling expectations more than the Yankees are not. A-Roid on the DL is having a huge impact, more than Chien-Ming Wang pitching every 5 days.

  13. Infamous says:

    These graphs are awesome.

    One question:

    One the movement graph his slider, 2008, is around -2 horizontally. You said that if it is a negative it moves in on right handers. Shouldnt a slider move away from righthanders?

  14. A.D. says:

    What’s interesting is Wang says he needs to stay on top, but when his arm slot is up, he’s essentially sucked, on top of that most sinker slider guys don’t appear to throw over the the top, so from this one would think he should be off to the side.

    Looking at the release points, we see 2 distinct clusters for post May 18th, one in the release area that has shown success, and one in the failure one. Given that Wang had 2 very strong starts to end that poor May 18th performance I wonder if that’s the reason for the 2 spots, May 18-June 5th bad spot June 10th & 15th good spot?

    • Pel says:

      What’s interesting is Wang says he needs to stay on top, but when his arm slot is up, he’s essentially sucked, on top of that most sinker slider guys don’t appear to throw over the the top, so from this one would think he should be off to the side.

      Does CMW use a translator?
      Perhaps the translator misspoke? It happens.
      Maybe that’s why it doesn’t make sense to us.

      But, if it’s not a misunderstanding and Wang actually meant that, then maybe he’s being instructed to go higher and his mechanics are getting tweaked for the worse.

      But I don’t know shit, though, so whatever. Just speculating.

  15. Joey H says:

    Now,the obvious problem has been the sinker not living up to its name. Would it hurt for CMW to pull back for some extra on the fastball to at least tough it out? He can throw 94-95 at his best from what I have observed over the past couple years. Just as a temporary plan B until that turbo sinker get moving.

  16. Joey H says:

    Now, the obvious problem has been the sinker not living up to its name. Would it hurt for CMW to pull back for some extra on the fastball to at least tough it out? He can throw 94-95 at his best from what I have observed over the past couple years. Just as a temporary plan B until that turbo sinker get moving.

    • Joey H says:

      And of course more use of his slider.

    • Eh, it’s probably smarter to just concentrate on getting this sinker fixed rather than relying on a Plan B. Plan A’s more important.

      He’s not going to become a straight fastball guy all of a sudden. He needs the sinker working to be effective and play the fastball off it.

      • Joey H says:

        I totally get what you are saying but lets face it, the sinker even when he does get it fixed isn’t going to work every start so to avoid these 1IP outings when he doesn’t have his best repertoire he can just pull back for something extra and get by. He does have a good sneaky fastball anyway.

        • Chris says:

          He has developed his slider, changeup and I believe a 4 seamer quite a bit the last 2 years. I remember him saying that the Red Sox and Indians in particular were sitting on his sinker and pounding it. If you look at his starts against them in 2008 they have the most strikeouts and most flyballs because he was pitching differently. Even if he develops another pitch, everything will play off his sinker, so he needs to get that fixed.

          • Joey H says:

            You’re absolutely missing the point. But never mind. The key to his success will be working off that sinker but mixing his secondary pitches in there to complement the turbo sinker.

            • Chris says:

              Is your point just that he should throw harder? I think Farnsworth proved that doesn’t always help.

              • Joey H says:

                In a tight situation he should pull back for some extra when he doesn’t have his best sinker. If you are going to throw it over the plate than at least throw it hard.

  17. Count Zero says:

    I posted this morning, but I was late to the dance so…

    Is it just me, or did anyone else feel like his windup was even more deliberate than usual last night? I mean, he’s always had that really slow start to his windup, but it seemed to me like he slowed it down even further. I think Coney made the point that it’s hard to get all your parts moving at the proper speed from such a slow windup, and that might be why his arm is having to play catchup. Several people have pointed out that it looks like his arm is trailing his body.

  18. Ahinds says:

    I think he just does not have the make-up for being a yankee. the guy does not have any heart. i would say that those 2 years of 19 wins was a soft 19 wins. there is just something about this guy. he’s soft.

    i don’t believe this but i hurd it on the radio. does anyone else feel this way about wang?

  19. Short Porch says:

    Nothing uglier than a sinker baller out of whack. We remember when Ramiro Mendoza had an off night, or when Kevin Brown fell apart.

    It’s just plain fugly.

    Wang will get it back together. He was never a #1 starter, but a solid 3 guy on a good team. He may be 4-5 on a great one, and that would be fine with me.

  20. Matt says:

    Kevin Blackistone just said Joba Chamberlain is not working out to be what people want him to be. What? Seriously?

  21. Ace says:

    From the LoHud Blog…

    http://yankees.lhblogs.com/200.....s-at-rays/

    UPDATE, 4:05 p.m.: Dave Eiland just said Wang had great stuff in the bullpen before the game last night. His point was that Wang is healthy and needs to take it into the game.

    UPDATE, 4:42 p.m.: Wang is meeting now with Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland. I would assume this is a pep talk. … A-Rod worked out inside today at Steinbrenner Field.

  22. AJ says:

    News for AAA (courtesy of Chad Jennings and his S/WB blog):

    No AAA pitchers have been called up for tonight’s game. Looks like A.J. will have to give at least 7 innings of work. If not, maybe we’ll see Cody Ransom showing off his four-seamer.

  23. jonathan says:

    I am sorry, but if we are going to keep sending Wang out hoping that he puts it together we need to bring tomko up as a long man. Our bullpen cant take this sort of beating everytime he pitches, and we have AJ who gets alot of Ks and runs his pitch count high.

  24. zack says:

    I think you have to factor in Wang’s two starts right before he got injured though Mike (if you can even find/read this among all the other stuff here).

    The two starts prior to the injury (well one prior to and one during) showed a turn around for Wang, where he seemed to regain his previous form. 12 IP, 1 ER, 2BB, 5K, 1.25 WHIP.

    Sure, it was only two starts, but on the other hand, the bad stretch was only 4 games.

    It just seems disingenuous to consider May 18th-now in the same vein with those two games wedged between.

    What seems to be bother Wang now, therefore, seems wholly different than what bothered him from May 18th-June 5

  25. Joseph M says:

    I thought the Yanks should have moved Wang after the 2007 season. I had thought a trade of Wang, Kennedy and Duncan (remember this was 2007) could have brought Santana in return. As it turned out Minnesota offered Wang to the Yanks for Wang and Kennedy. Spilt milk for sure now, but a good GM needs to know when a player has peaked and move right him then and there if the offer is right rather than holding him and watching his value go down. I thought Wang was not nearly as effective in 2007 as he was in 2006 and Cashman should have known that also. I don’t know where he ranks right now but anyone who isn’t concerned at this point isn’t paying attention.

  26. Wet towel:
    How did you deal with the serious PFX alignment issues and changes over time in Yankee Stadium? Park-to-park differences? Inaccuracies in Gameday ids?

    If this data isn’t corrected, and the ids taken from something other than Gameday, I’m afraid this analysis simply showing us how messed up PFX can be. Yankee Stadium has had huge alignment issues and requires substantial corrections and re-ID of pitches, unless you look at things like relative movement (slider break – fastball break) etc. Even then, it gets dicey.

  27. Rob in CT says:

    Just from watching the games, it seems to me that Wang is getting some movement on his fastball, but it’s lateral instead of vertical. Result: balls. It’s also intermittant, though, as sometimes he gets no movement at all. Those pitches get put into orbit.

    He looks exactly the way he looked in the playoffs against the Indians in 2007. He’s mechanically out of whack, and when that happens he’s utterly awful. It’s conceivable that he’s hurt, but they keep saying he’s healthy.

    I still think he will be fine. He will sort out his mechanics and the sinker will sink again, and the result will be the Wang we know & love. ;)

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  30. [...] and Wheeler’s performances thus far based on pitch speed and movement and release point. River Avenue Blues broke down Wang’s first two games to see what might be [...]

  31. [...] and Wheeler’s performances thus far based on pitch speed and movement and release point. River Avenue Blues broke down Wang’s first two games to see what might be [...]

  32. [...] already taken in-depth looks at how much different Chien-Ming Wang’s stuff and release points are this year compared to last year, but I wanted to take a look something Wang [...]

  33. [...] you want to read a detailed analysis of what has changed with Wang, check out this post on RAB. The summary is: Last May, for some reason, his release point changed and he lost a great deal of [...]

  34. daveg says:

    Great analysis, but I think it fails to recognize one thing (though honestly I might have just missed it in the onslaught of all that information). All of the graphs take into account release point, which is a function of two things. Obviously, the first major variable is arm slot – what angle is the arm, and how much extension? The other thing though, is the depth of knee bend in his balancing leg (Wang’s right). Naturally, the further the dip, the lower the release point.
    Maybe Wang’s not dipping as far this year. If he were hesitant about putting extra weight on his right foot, he might stand more upright, raising his release point. I’m no pitching coach, but I imagine he’d also lose some velocity if not also movement.

  35. [...] they haven’t really fixed what I think was the problem. In two previous posts here and here, Mike and I examined Wang’s pitch f/x results and determined that his release point [...]

  36. [...] they haven’t really fixed what I think was the problem. In two previous posts here and here, Mike and I examined Wang’s pitch f/x results and determined that his release point was [...]

  37. [...] make any sense. He’s now more than two years removed from his last 19-win performance, and as Mike examined at length last year, Wang had issues in 2008 as [...]

  38. [...] reading Jay’s post, I was reminded of something Mike wrote last year about the same topic. He took a graphical look at Wang’s release point and where the ball [...]

  39. [...] big thanks to my buddy Jay Gargiulo and my friend and colleague Mike Axisa for putting together much of this data. The three of us are going to miss having Wang in the [...]

  40. [...] returned to start the 2009 season, but he was clearly still compensating for his right foot injury as his release point was some five inches higher than the previous season.  This led not only to Wang getting absolutely shelled in his first few outings of the season (I [...]

  41. I don’t really get this move for the Browns. They’re basically moving Edwards for the Giants second rounder (the 62nd pick) and they’re going to replace him with Crabtree at #5. Then they’re going to address their other needs with the 62nd pick in the draft.

    I’d rather keep Edwards, eschew Crabtree, and address my other needs with the 5th pick in the draft instead of the 62nd. If I need a DT, I’d rather have B.J. Raji and Braylon Edwards than Fili Moala, Michael Crabtree, Domenik Hixon and a 5th rounder.

    Giants are getting a steal.

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