Whither Chien-Ming Wang

Scranton beats former teammate for yet another W
Fan Confidence Poll: April 20th, 2009

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.

Scranton beats former teammate for yet another W
Fan Confidence Poll: April 20th, 2009
  • http://statspeak.net dan

    This is why it’s impossible to have too much depth.

  • http://ryanhandt.blogspot.com/ handtius

    fan confidence poll?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      9:30 a.m. Just like every other Monday we’ve run it.

  • Al

    It’s almost as though they expected the sinker to stop sinking and the lack of out-pitch to haunt them.

    I don’t see how his sinker could just stop sinking. I could understand hitters getting a better feel for it, but for it to simply stop sinking indicates something else is wrong. I can’t believe that over the long haul his sinker will just stop sinking, especially since he is still a relatively young guy.

    His lack of an out-pitch is a concern, but even without an out-pitch he should be able to be a more-than-serviceable big league starter.

    I would almost be more concerned if he had an ERA of 6 or 7 in these starts, which might indicate hitters aren’t fooled by him anymore. These insanely horrific performances point to something else though… hopefully something only temporary.

  • MattG

    Were Eiland and Wang paired in the minors? The pitch FX tells a story, in which someone has tinkered with Wang’s release point, and has made an oopsie.

  • Januz

    If Wang does not turn it around soon (Say by early June), Phil Hughes should be called up to take his place. I have little doubt, that they can trade this guy and get some value. If Pavano and Farnsworth can get million dollar contracts, there should be a few teams willing to trade for a TWO TIME 19 game game winner who does not have a multi-year contract?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      Realistically, the Yanks can’t afford to give Wang 7-8 more starts to turn this thing around. He doesn’t really have early June; he has basically next week and maybe the week after before the Yanks start exploring other options for his rotation spot.

      • Al

        So then he goes to the pen? I can’t see him doing very well there. I agree that the Yankees aren’t going to continue to run him out there over and over again, but they will need a plan for him. I can’t see them completely giving up on him. Maybe they would trade him, but I doubt that.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

          If push comes to shove, they’ll “find” an “injury” and have him work in Tampa for a while. It’s sort of similar to what the Tigers have done with Dontrelle Willis.

          • El Generalissimo

            Im honestly surprised Girardi emphatically came out after his last game proclaiming he wasnt injured. I thought it was 100% certainty he would be DL’d and hopefully get his groove back in the minors.

            I think the fact that the Yankees didnt do that is foolish. He wouldve gotten 2 or 3 starts, 15 days and hopefully sorted out his mechanics, and got back to basics.

            Learning other pitches for him is great, but if he doesnt just scrap everything and get his sinker back to where it was, those other pitches wont matter.

            • Bo

              Another shelling and he’ll have the same anxiety issue that the D Train has.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I have little doubt, that they can trade this guy and get some value. If Pavano and Farnsworth can get million dollar contracts, there should be a few teams willing to trade for a TWO TIME 19 game game winner who does not have a multi-year contract?

      For somebody who loves to write about economic issues as much as you do, Januz, you say some incomprehensible stuff sometimes.

      Pavano and Farnsworth getting multimillion dollar contracts as FREE AGENTS is not at all relatable or comparable to whether or not a team would be willing to trade away “value” for an under-contract arb-eligible pitcher who currently looks like shit on a shingle. I’d say it’s apples and oranges, but it’s more like apples and imaginary non-fruit objects.

      • januz

        The comparison between Wang and Pavano and Farnsworth is very logical. Teams are desperate for pitching, and are almost willing to pay any price for it. Teams like Texas, and Oakland come to mind. Wang would be a perfect fit for a team that is NOT the Yankees or Red Sox who have a standard of World Series or bust, so they can invest the time to work with him to get him back to being a decent starter. Where the economics enters into this is very simple: If you traded for Wang you would not be locked into an ugly contract for the next several years (See Silva, Henry). The gamble would be worth it.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          [ facepalm ]

  • dkidd

    has this happened to other sinkerballers? has derek lowe’s sinker ever just stopped sinking? curious if there’s a precedent for this

    • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      I haven’t been around RAB much the last few days due to the homestand but I have seen Lowe’s name come up a few time sin these discussions. Just fwiw, Lowe has always been much more of a strikeout pitcher than Wang has ever been, so I’m not sure they’re really that comparable.

      • dkidd

        yeah, i couldn’t think of anyone else who was a closer match. who are the starting pitchers that rely most heavily on a sinker?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Ironically, during the “Should we sign Lowe, Sheets, or Burnett” debates, I believe it was Rob Neyer who pointed out that sinkerballers actually tend to age fairly well (at least in comparison to pure 4-seam fastball power pitchers) and their “stuff” being the sinker is an advantage as they age as it’s a less velocity-dependent pitch than the 4-seamer.

        So there’s a school of thought that both Lowe and CMW stood a good chance of remaining effective longer than their peers since they work off the sinker primarily.

  • Rich

    The Yankees probably expected, or were at least concerned, that Wang might regress to the point where his production was more in line with his peripherals, but instead it is as if he has fallen of a cliff wearing cement shoes.

    I think they made a mistake by unnecessarily stating publicly that Wang isn’t injured. They should DL him, with an invented injury if necessary (which would hardly be unusual in professional sports), and then send him to Tampa to be assessed by Nardi Contreras and the rest of the pitching brain trust before beginning a series of rehab starts.

    Granted, his mechanics are a significant problem, but his psyche and confidence have likely taken a huge hit as well, which risks this turning into a Steve Blass thing, if they don’t act quickly.

  • Will (the other one)

    I hope, hope, hope to God that Wang’s best days aren’t behind him. There have been few if any Yankees that I’ve enjoyed pulling for more than him over the last couple years–homegrown, humble, quietly deadly. In an era of baseball where so much of our attention is naturally drawn to big-name free agent signings and larger-than-life personalities (on every team, not just the one based in the Bronx), Wang stands out in a way that’s very different. I realize that this is putting the cart way before the horse, but I’ll be heartbroken if he doesn’t manage to put the pieces back together–mostly for him, but for all of us as Yankee fans as well.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      It’s funny you should said that, Will. On a personal basis, I feel the same way. I’ve loved watching CMW pitch over the last few years, and when his sinker is on and he’s nearly unhittable, it’s just such a pleasure of baseball to watch him work. I too hope this isn’t the end both him and for the fans.

      • Drew

        I too hope this isn’t the case. Watching a home-grown horse of a pitcher is something we haven’t had in so long. Wang was feared by our opponents and forced them to hit the ball on the ground no matter what they tried to do. I think(but mostly, hope) that he will be back to himself soon and one of the best, if not the best, # 3’s in the game.

        • Drew


    • http://deleted Tseng- Rename Cy Young the “Swisher” award.

      Wang is the guy I root for the most on the team. I’ll be very bummed if he can’t turn this around.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Agreed with all of you.

        CMW always seemed like a good guy to me, hard to root against him. Over the past few years, sometimes he was the only real bulwark in our often-shaky rotation. Hope he figures it out.

  • Drew

    I don’t think it’s a matter of skipping a start, Dling him, or whatever else. My only guess can be that one day it will click. But hey, what the hell do I know? I think his body and brain have just subconsciously began making him land gingerly on his foot. Obviously this would not allow him to “finish” and drive down on the ball. This is all based on the premise that he is in fact fully healed and as strong as he can be.

  • skipspence

    I stopped liking wang after the 2007 postseason where he tossed 2 non competitive starts in a five game series against the Indians.When the A’s traded Haren to the Dbacks that offseason for a package of prospects I thought the yanks should’ve done the same with Wang.Say Wang rights himself and goes on to pitch well the rest of the year would anybody trust him in a big playoff game?

    • Will (the other one)


    • Drew


    • CT Yankee


    • steve (different one)

      I stopped liking wang after the 2007 postseason

      you are an awesome fan.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yeah, I know. My eyes started rolling so hard after that I could barely see the rest of the comment.


  • skipspence

    He wont even start for us in the playoffs.

    • http://deleted Tseng- Rename Cy Young the “Swisher” award.

      I stopped supporting CC Sabathia after the 2008 post season where he tossed 2 clunkers. Is anyone going to trust that guy in the playoffs? Oh wait…

    • radnom

      You assume Joba will not have been shut down or moved to the bullpen in the playoffs due to innings restrictions. Also that Pettite is a more viable option at that point?

      If he rebounds to what he has been, the playoff rotation would be

      CC, Burnett, Wang, ??

      With the ?? being what the heck they are going to do about Joba when he runs out of innings. If he is just about at his limit come October, I could see them sending him to the pen while Pettite gets the 4th spot. That is generally what happens to fifth starters anyway. Sucks that the best pitchers wouldn’t be starting but you’ve got to protect the future.

  • Rich

    People seem to forget that Wang’s 2005 postseason ERA was 1.35, and that in the 2006 postseason, it was 4.05.

    Apart from A-Rod, few players have had their postseason failures overgeneralized more than Wang.

    • Alex from The Bronx


  • Rich in NYC

    I say put him on the DL. He probably should have had an extended spring training. The stress he is putting on the bullpen is ridiculous. Especially with the Joba experiment.

    Gives the opportunity for Wang to figure out his issues. At the same time you can either give Kennedy or Hughes another chance or showcase Igawa. At least you will get 3 to 4 more innings out of those guys.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    MLB Network did a great breakdown the other day on their nightly show. They showed a side-by-side clip of Wanger pitching last year and this year. The difference was like night and day.

    In 2008 he lifted his leg up past his waist, his hands were tight to his chest, and he stood tall and straight up through his delivery. This year his leg doesn’t go past his waist, his hands are off his chest out in space somewhere, and he’s slouched over. I wish I had motion capture skills, I’d break it down my self.

    It looked like he was favoring his injured foot. That doesn’t mean he’s still hurt, it could means he’s subconsciously afraid of hurting it again, so he’s not pushing off it as much and is trying to compensate in other areas of his delivery.

    • CT Yankee

      I think this is it


      Very interesting

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        That’s it. Thank you much. I didn’t realize they had MLBN clips on the official site, but duh, it makes sense they would.

      • A.D.

        Presumably if the differences are that obvious, it should definitely be fixable.

        • kunaldo

          “Nothing is wrong,” Wang said. “I watched the video and everything is the same as last year.”

          look, i really want the guy to succeed, but how can he say that? what video is he looking at?

    • ken

      You’re right. Wang hasn’t fully recovered from the right foot injury or at least not 100% trust his standing foot. He needs to be DLed. Fool knows that.

      • kunaldo

        i hate how he says there’s nothing different from what he’s doing this year compared to last..

  • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

    What are the chances we see Phil Phranchise on Friday in Beantown?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I’m thinking zero. They’ll just skip Wang on the off-day and let everyone else pitch on regular rest. Going into the Boston, it lines up to be Burnett, Pettitte, CC.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        Ah, I forgot about the off day.

        Just out of curiosity, when do you think you we can expect Philly boy in the Bronx?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          I’d say that after being skipped, Wang’s next start will be his big test. He doesn’t have to pitch a no-hitter, but he must at least show enough improvement and consistency to make it through 5 innings. If he can’t do that, he probably goes on the DL and Hughes takes his next two/three starts.

  • steve (different one)

    He has raised his career ERA by over a quarter of a run to 4.08

    this is absolutely incredible.

  • Bo

    You cannot start him at Fenway Park. You can totally lose him if he gets shelled again especially there against that team.

  • A.D.

    I think you DL him, give Hughes or IPK/Aceves, but preferably Hughes a few starts and let Wang sort himself out & regain confidence in his foot with rehab assignments.

    Realistically if Wang was giving you eh starts, in the Rasner/Ponson range last year, then you could keep sending him out there, but his starts are horrific. On top of that everyone talks about the “confidence” of being the starter, getting absolutely crushed and lasting less than 2 innings can’t really be better for your confidence then getting your start skipped to sort things out.

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

      And, on top of the “confidence” issue, there’s the absolute taxing of the bullpen; that fact hasn’t been helped by the fact that the team hasn’t had an off day since the 7th.

    • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

      That’s right. With Rasner or Ponson you at least had a chance to win the game, even if they went 5IP, 6 ER. But allowing 8 runs in the second inning is simply too much to overcome. Before the game started on Saturday, I thought: If he can go 5IP, 4ER, everything is fine.

      It will be intersting what they do after skipping his start. The next off-day is in mid May I think, so somebody has to make the start.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        After Thursday, they don’t have an off day til the 11th of May.

        • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

          I didn’t look it up, but I knew it was something like that. But it means that they have to get a starter for this stretch, Wang or somebody else.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Mon 4/20 OAK – Pettitte v. Eveland
          Tue 4/21 OAK – Sabathia v. Anderson
          Wed 4/22 OAK – Chamberlain v. Outman
          Thu 4/23 CMW’s normal day in the rotation, skipped
          Fri 4/24 @ BOS – Burnett v. Lester
          Sat 4/25 @ BOS – Pettitte v. Beckett
          Sun 4/ 26 @ BOS – Sabathia v. Masterson
          Mon 4/27 @ DET – Chamberlain v. Verlander
          Tue 4/28 @ DET – Wang v. Jackson
          Wed 4/29 @ DET – Burnett v. Porcello
          Thu 4/30 LAA – Pettitte v. Loux
          Fri 5/01 LAA – Sabathia v. Weaver
          Sat 5/02 LAA – Chamberlain v. Saunders
          Sun 5/03 LAA – Wang v. Oliver
          Mon 5/04 BOS – Burnett v. Lester
          Tue 5/05 BOS – Pettitte v. Beckett
          Wed 5/06 TB – Sabathia v. ???
          Thu 5/07 TB – Chamberlain v. ???
          Fri 5/08 @BAL – Wang v. ???

          So, Wang would have a road start in Detroit against Edwin Jackson and a home start against the punchless Angels before going back to Baltimore with that lineup full of hitters…

          Eiland better give him some good pointers before next Tuesday… I’m already shuddering at the thought of CMW failing to keep his sinker down against Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, and Marcus Thames.

  • Frank

    You absolutely can’t start Wang against the Sox. They own him when he’s healthy, nevermind this version of the Wanger. Especially bad numbers at Fenway…

  • Bill R

    On the TBS national Broadcast they said they spoke with Girardi and Dave Eiland and they said that Wang will make his next start. Take it for what it is, but I think Wang will be out there in Boston.

  • Doctor J

    No more yinkee my winkee; the Wanger needs tampa rehab stint

  • kevin

    My understanding is Wang can’t be sent to the minors for a rehab assignment unless he consents to it. Anyone know if this is accurate? If so, wouldn’t he WANT the practice to make sure he doesn’t get shelled again in the bigs?