From 2005-2008, Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ Taiwanese right-handed sinker-ball specialist, was among the best pitchers in baseball. His 54 wins ranked him tied for 15th among all pitchers over that span, and his 3.79 ERA was good for 20th among pitchers with more than 500 IP since the start of 2005.
As the Yankees and their fans have come to learn, that success can all fall apart very, very quickly. Three starts and just six — six! — innings later, Wang finds himself atop another list, this one far more dubious. Of the 18 pitchers since 1954, to give up seven or more earned runs in three consecutive starts, Chien-Ming Wang’s totals are by far the worst of the lot.
Of the hurlers on that list, only Hayden Penn’s 27.00 ERA approaches Wang’s 34.50 mark, and none of the pitchers had managed to put together a WHIP of 4.83. We don’t however need those numbers to know that Wang has been bad. We can see it with our own eyes.
While we’ve used pitch f/x numbers to show that his pitches aren’t sinking and his release point is off, we don’t need these illuminating features to know what’s wrong with Chien-Ming Wang. He has raised his career ERA by over a quarter of a run to 4.08, and in a nutshell, his mechanics are completely out of whack. He’s not breaking his hands at the right point; he’s not lifting his leg enough; he’s not driving forward; and he’s not generating sink or speed because of it. Maybe he’s subconsciously afraid of putting too much pressure on his injured foot; maybe something else is wrong.
Those problems though are for the Yankees to fix. Unfortunately, they have only a few ways of doing so. Because the Yankees added Chien-Ming Wang to the 40-man roster in 2003 to protect him from the Rule V draft, he is out of options. While Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, two other top-flight starters who struggled, were sent down to hammer out their kinks, that option is closed to the Yanks and Wang.
The team could look to disable Wang for a little while. Maybe he’s actually injured or maybe he’s just “injured.” Either way, a 15-day rehab stint in Tampa could help the team isolate the problems.
For his part, Wang wants to keep working through games. Joe Girardi, however, hasn’t committed to starting Wang in Fenway Park on Friday. With an off-day on Thursday, the team could skip Wang in the rotation while working on the side to end his slump. Right now, my money is on that move.
Whatever the outcome, the Yankees have almost been expecting this day. They haven’t locked Wang up to a long-term deal. Instead, the team has opted for arbitration and a year-to-year approach with the 29-year-old. It’s almost as though they expected the sinker to stop sinking and the lack of out-pitch to haunt them.
While possible, the Yankees need Chien-Ming Wang to rediscover his groove. Of all the possible problems heading into 2009, this one was so remote and so unexpected. The Yankees expected their worm-killer to pick where he left off last year. That he hasn’t is cause for concern.