Assessing Wang’s 2009 future

All good things must come to an end
2009 Draft: Yanks connected to Sanchez

When Chien-Ming Wang made his first AAA start on May 12, he started his rehab clock. From that point on, the Yankees had 30 days in which they could do whatever they wanted with Wang. The team could have chosen for him to pitch at AAA or A, for Tampa at the Yanks’ complex or for Scranton who needs bodies to start right now. They could have taken until June 11 to have work on his woefully bad mechanics, his inconsistent release point and his lower body and arm strength.

Instead, as soon as one of their pitchers who probably won’t even miss a start got hurt, they panicked. Following a 0.2 inning outing by Joba Chamberlain cut short due to a line drive to the upper shin and an 8.1 inning bullpen effort, the Yanks activated Wang from the disabled list and stuck him into some hybrid long relief/mop-up man role. Instead of recalling David Robertson or Mark Melancon, instead of simply waiting it out until it became clear that Joba wouldn’t be able to start on Tuesday, the Yanks hit the panic switch.

Last night, they started paying the cost of this poor move. By the time Wang entered the game in the 7th inning, the Yanks were nearing their first loss in nine games. They were down 5-1, and Wang promptly made sure that deficit grew. By the time Matt Stairs lined out to Robinson Cano to end the Phillies’ half of the 8th, Wang had lowered his ERA from 34.50 to an even 25.00, but to focus on the 9.50-run decrease would be to ignore the reality of Wang’s situation.

That reality is simply that the Yanks have left themselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle. When his night was over, Wang’s line wasn’t pretty. In three innings of work, he allowed seven baserunners and two earned runs. He surrendered a stunningly crushed home run to Raul Ibañez and seemed to be throwing with little ability to control where the ball went. Sometimes, the sinker would sink; sometimes, the slider would slide; other times, nothing would happen.

On the night, Wang’s 6.00 ERA and his 2.33 WHIP were vast improvements over his season numbers, but where do the Yankees go from here? Wang certainly hasn’t done anything to unseat Phil Hughes from the rotation. While Hughes has battled inconsistency and ineffectiveness, he’ll give the Yanks five or six innings of seemingly average-to-above average pitching. Wang can’t even do that right now.

The Yanks can’t really use Wang as a reliever in a tight spot out of the pen either. Would you trust him in a close game? So the Yanks had a glorified mop-up man on their hands.

Meanwhile, 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 both off and completely inconsistent. Dan Novick, a long-time RAB reader and writer at Statistically Speaking, examined Wang’s relief outing. While Wang’s velocity was up, Novick determined that the Yanks haven’t fixed the release point issue.

Basically, then, as a panic move, they deactivated Wang nearly three weeks before they had to. He wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors, and the team isn’t really ready to make any sort of use out of him. The Yanks don’t really have choices here. They can’t send him down, and unless they “find” another injury, he’ll have to work out these issues while pitching out of a mop-up spot in the pen. He’s also taking up a valuable roster spot with Brian Bruney’s status seemingly up in the air.

Over the last few years, the Yankees have generally done a good job of balancing their roster and making use of their open spots on both the 25- and 40-man. This move though defies baseball logic, and Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland will now have to fix Chien-Ming Wang without the luxury of a rehab clock. Joba got a bruise; the Yanks panicked; and now they’ll pay the price with this Wang-related headache.

All good things must come to an end
2009 Draft: Yanks connected to Sanchez
  • ledavidisrael

    Lets hope that the irregularity of coming out of the bullpen mixed with the coming back to prove something. (think about how hes covered inhis country) That had him off with his release point, being off. I think once he gets into the grove there gonna slot him back into the rotation.

  • Matt ACTY/BBD

    Well-written, Ben. I agree 100% that this was a silly move.

  • Hawkins44

    Totally agree with your assessment. I wonder what the hell they are thinking. Maybe they want to see his rehab first handed and not against triple A hitters. It’s the only plausible explanation.

    FYI – Buster is calling you boys (not directly) out this morning on his blog around the homers at the new park… Gammons called Yankee Stadium a “joke” on Friday morning on the Mike & Mike show on ESPN. He’s turning into such homer….

    • Mike Pop

      He’s always been a homer.

      But the stadium does kind of give up the long ball pretty bad.

    • Matt ACTY/BBD

      But a 30 foot wall in left field that’s 310 feet from home plate that turns routine pop-ups into doubles is totally fine.

      • Tony

        Red Herring

        • Matt ACTY/BBD

          I’ll say it again: I saw only four homers of the game last night and all of them (Jeter, Tex, Rodriguez, and Ibanez) would’ve gone out in every single park in baseball. From what I’ve heard, Rollins’s homer was the only one that was questionable. The Yankees and the Phillies are two of the best home run hitting teams in baseball, no? Maybe that has something to do with 7 homers being hit last night. Or, A.J. Burnett was just shitty and Brett Myers gives up a lot of home runs. I don’t really think the Stadium had much to do with the homers last night.

          • Tony

            Carlos Ruiz’ homer was an absolute joke. The other home runs are completely irrelevant to that fact.

            • Accent Shallow

              Less homerun talk, more dick jokes please.

              • Matt ACTY/BBD

                I guess that Wang isn’t going deep into any tight spots any time soon.

                • Benjamin Kabak

              • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

                Does “Wang came in to relief Burnett and gave up a long-ball” count?

            • Matt ACTY/BBD

              Per Hit Tracker Online, I count 25 HRs as “No Doubt” homers, 20 as Just Enough/Lucky, and 36 as “Plenty”.

          • MattG

            The distance the balls traveled is not relevant. The atmospheric factors that contribute to the balls traveling that distance is. You cannot say, simply by looking at the distance the balls traveled, that they would have gone out in any park. In other parks, they would have traveled a different distance.

            Any ball hit in Coors circa 1998 would’ve gone out in any park on distance alone as well. The fact is they would’ve traveled a different distance.

  • Ellis

    Why is Brian Bruney’s status up in the air? Did I miss something?

    • Matt ACTY/BBD

      He had an MRI yesterday and even though everything appeared alright, they’re taking it easy w/him.

  • Mark B

    If Wang cannot be sent back down, he looks to be a lost cause for this season as the Yanks can’t afford to put him into any close games where he might implode. Playoff caliber teams like the Yankees cannot afford to have a player work out his mechanic flaws during the season.

    Combine this with Bruney possibly having a major elbow injury, it makes me wonder if trading Wang now (assuming he has any value) for a set-up man, might be the best move Cashman could make for the team right now.

    • Matt ACTY/BBD

      That would be an awful move.

      • Mark B

        What’s the point of keeping Wang around if he’s dead weight this year? Holding out hope that he’s in our rotation next year? I’m sorry but Ben outlined too many flaws in his game for him to warrant a long-term contract with the Yanks. The future is now for him.

        • billbybob

          What team would give up anything valuable for Wang? No sense in trading him at this current time. If he is able to overcome whatever is wrong with him, then I’d be up for trading him.

          • Mark B

            Thatis the question….San Diego or Washington come to mind. The only relievers they have that would fit would be Beimel and Bell.

            • Patch

              why in the world would we trade a potential #2 or #3 for a middle reliever…

        • Matt ACTY/BBD

          Trading anyone for as low a value as low as Wang’s is now for a set-up man is just silly. There is still a chance Wang could rebound and even if Bruney is hurt, there are better internal options for a set up man than trading a guy who’s still gonna be under control.

          I’m all for trading Wang later on if/when his value rebounds because if it does, he could fetch the Yankees something else they need a lot more, say an OF or INF prospect.

          • Mark B

            Great point, but if we can’t send Wang down to the minor to work out his problems, do we designate him as the long man / mop-up guy? There is no way I would want him pitching in a close game.

            If Wang can’t pitch, not sure how he will ever correct his problems this season.

            • Matt ACTY/BBD

              I think they’ve forced themselves into that position of making him the long man/mop-up guy, which really sucks because it takes away a spot that could go to D-Rob or Melancon. If Hughes pitches well again in his next start, I’d be alright with leaving him in the rotation and leaving Wang in the ‘pen, then DFA’ing whoever remains of Veras/Berroa to bring up whoever’s left in AAA of D-Rob/Melancon.

              The point is, really, the Yankees screwed the pooch with this roster move.

            • billbybob

              It’s a legitimate concern; however, Wang presumably has limited/no value to other teams. What team wants a guy that had one of the worst starts for a pitcher ever? I have no idea how he is going to fix himself, but I still don’t think that means the Yanks should trade him.

          • Reggie C.

            I think everyone who envisioned Wang as trade bait did so with the idea of landing one very good prospect in return. Right now, that’s as realistic as Johan Santana’s peripheral numbers decline.

            A couple years ago we all noticed Wang’s peripherals slowly get worse, but he was still an above average pitcher. For someone expected to be the 2/3 man in this WS contending rotation, Wang is the biggest disappointment in the majors.

    • OmgZombies

      Lmaooo talk about selling low. Trading Wang for anything less than a above average positional prospect would be silly.

  • Reggie C.

    So the big question: what’s the plan for Wang’s throwing schedule?? Wang isn’t a reliever, so does this mean he’ll be available to take the mound in 5 days? Side sessions with batters, in b/w appearance,s are gonna be all the more necessary.

    Absolutely no one could’ve predicted Wang’s mechanics implosion remaining the main issue this far into the season. Wang is teetering with the possibility of not making ONE contribution to the Yank pitching staff. The fact that he’s this ineffective rests squarely on him, and if he can’t fix it , he can kiss goodbye any long term contract offer from the Yanks. Who knows if this possibility has entered Wang’s mind, but he just can’t execute anything out there.

  • Accent Shallow

    One possibly issue with the release point data could be inconsistency between stadiums in terms of where cameras are placed, or where Wang is standing on the rubber. In comparison to his previous start at YSIII, his release point appears to be a little farther to the right. I’m not sure what effect that would have — from his excellent 2008 starts, it appears he should be moving down and to the left.

    In terms of roster moves, Melancon was demoted on the 8th, which means he’d have been eligible to come back. I’m absolutely baffled by this move, unless a) they’re planning on starting Wang over Hughes, which would mean Hughes to the pen, or Hughes to Scranton and Melancon/Robertson up, or b) Joba’s injury is more serious than they’re letting on so far.

    As for Wang v. Hughes, while Wang should get a bit of the benefit of the doubt due to his history, he’s been so awful this year that I’d have liked to see him get more work in the minors. Although Hughes has been serviceable, he hasn’t really locked down that rotation spot.

  • Patch

    great article!

    athough, i have to say, it rose the ire in my blood thinking about the incompetance of our management…

  • Pablo Zevallos

    I don’t think it’s a stadium issue; he gets on the side of the ball a lot, which, to me, suggests a lower arm slot and thus the lower release point.

    • Pablo Zevallos

      reply fail.

  • Bostowned

    I disagree completely. I dont believe it was a panic move. Both Joba and Girardi both said Joba would make his next start. I think they team seen that he dominated in AAA and decided that instead of seeing him dominate another AAA game, they need to try him in the ML level. So they sent down the always horrible Albaladejo and replaced him with Wang.

    Would Joe bring Wang into a tight game? Unlikely but last night happened to be a perfect chance to see what Wang’s got. Down 5-1 late in the game, a rally is always possible but rather then taxing the good part of the bullpen, Joe opted to go with Wang for a few innings. And we got to see that nothing has changed from his last outing in ML level. It was a good move on the Yankees part. They can now decide if he should remain with the club for a few more spot jobs the next couple of weeks, or send him back to A ball to fix his sinker.

    From the viewers point on TV, Wang’s shoulder flies open, hes erratic, has a different motion for every delivery and instead of his sinkers sinking they are darting like a slider. So an outside sinker becomes and over the plate HR pitch. As mentioned in last night telecast, Wang doesnt go with a slider anymore. He dropped it in favor of the sinker while still in the minors. So with that being said, none of his pitches should appear to be sliding at all.

    Im afraid that Wanger is going to have to pull a Roy Halladay and drop down to A ball to fix or learn a new wind up to get him consistent again. 2 bright notes however, 1 is Hughes. He hasnt pitched that bad, much much better then last season. And 2, were not paying Wang a giant check so its not like hes Kei Igawa. If he cant straighten it out by the allstar break, Id send him to A ball to fix himself and see where he’s at one opening day 2010.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      They can’t just drop him down to A ball. He’s out of options, and the Yanks would have to pass him through waivers to outright him to the Minors. There’s probably a 0 percent chance that no other team would claim him.

    • Accent Shallow

      The problem with all this is that Wang can only be in the minors on a rehab assignment. He can’t be sent down, since he’s out of options, and he doesn’t have enough service time to volunteer to go to the minors.

      Now that Wang has been activated, the Yankees can’t just say “Oops, our bad, he’s still hurt,” and send him back down.

    • Some call me…Nick

      …we can’t send him down. No options. Work with him day and night, have him make Phil’s start, and have Phranchise warming up in the first. And ask Dear Leader for some Hope and Change.

      If this doesn’t work, are we out a roster spot til he’s fixed? I refuse to dfa or trade him for some other stadium’s commerative cups..

      • Benjamin Kabak

        This is what I was saying last night though. You don’t want to give up a game by having Wang start when he doesn’t give you a good shot to lead. Why have him start if the likelihood of being down by a run or two after the first inning is there?

    • leokitty

      They knew what Wang had. They specifically said he wasn’t ready for MLB and then they freaked out and brought him up anyway.

      I wish they had Pitch F/X for AAA because I bet if you look at the SWB starts nothing has changed. I am somewhat concerned that the higher release point which seems to have led to a lot of this was intentional since it appeared in the middle of last year.

      • steve (different one)

        no offense intended, but i do find it a little funny that we (myself included sometimes) think that b/c we have pitch f/x, we now know more than the coaches who are actually watching him throw.

        so, if we had pitch f/x for AAA, we could make a better assessment despite not actually seeing a single pitch? come on.

        i’m all about data and stats, but this strikes me as the height of arrogance.

        • mustang

          I said it before and I will say it again your one the best at striking a balance between the numbers and nuances of the game.
          Well said.

          • mustang

            ..the nuances.

  • steve (different one)

    while i agree that this was a sub-optimal move, i think you are well overstating the severity of the decision.

    you imply that the Yankees, b/c they COULD leave wang down in AAA for another 3 weeks, were GOING to do that.

    they weren’t. they were going to bring him back in the next 4-5 days, assuming he didn’t crap the bed in his start last night (yes, i understand they cut off the option if he DID crap the bed).

    he is coming off a dominant start in the minors. and then they watched his bullpen session, and liked what they saw.

    so, he was coming back within a few days.

    at some point, they have to see him do it against major league hitters. have to.

    and considering what he did in his last start and how they said he threw in his bullpen session, i am wondering how much of this is mental on Wang’s part. he’s throwing sinking sinkers in the bullpen and in the minors, but when he gets on the mound, he’s up.

    i don’t know, i don’t have an answer. it’s troubling.

    but i am not sure if letting him start in AAA is the answer either. he might just have to fix himself out of the bullpen for a while.

    • Alan

      I second that.

      It’s not like the coaches are more ignorant than us and can’t tell if Wang’s right or wrong. If they say he’s throwing well during his bullpen session, he IS. The problem is once he takes the mound on the ML level, he suffers memory loss and forgets how to pitch again.

      He isn’t going to accomplish anything by staying in the minors, so might as well get him here and let him pitch. We make sure where he’s at once and for all, and let him go if we must. No more speculation and tossing around.

    • Todd

      I completely agree. While I certainly understand the criticism, I would hardly call having him work through his issues on the major league level a “panic move.” He didn’t throw THAT poorly. And he dominated minor league competition. He will have his opportunities to works it out and when it is clear that he is ready, then we put him in the rotation.

    • Chris

      I third that. (can I do that?)

      Part of his problem is that hitters are laying off his good pitches, and crushing the mistakes. That’s not something that would be easy to fix in AAA, because of the quality of the hitters.

      Also, let’s give him more than 3 innings before deciding that he’s done for the year. Dontrelle Willis gave up 4 runs in 4 innings in his first start back, then pitched very well in his second outing. I don’t know that either will return to their prior level of performance, but it’s certainly too early to draw a conclusion.

      • Joey H.

        Absolutely right. It also doesn’t help that any credibility he had with the umpires has since sailed.

    • mustang

      steve (different one), Alan, Todd and Chris

      I totally agree with all you guys and thank you.
      Reading through some of the other comments I thought I might of missed something because last time I checked you just don’t give up on starter like Wang that easily.

      • Benjamin Kabak

        No one’s giving up on Wang. Getting more rehab work to fix problems =/= giving up on him.

        • mustang

          Read some of the comments above.

          I’m not even going to argue this one with you because it’s a crazy double standard it’s not even funny.

          How can you make statements like this:

          “Why have him start if the likelihood of being down by a run or two after the first inning is there?”

          When last year that was about the case almost every time with Hughes or IPK started and you found very excuse in the book to try and keep them in MLB.

          I just don’t thinking a double standard is the right way to judge the Yankees pitching.

          • Benjamin Kabak

            Stop making this out about Hughes and Kennedy. Just stop. It isn’t nearly the same. I don’t know why you insist on making Wang’s struggles and OBVIOUS mechanical problems out as some sort of Hughes/Kennedy vendetta. It’s honestly tiring and a 100 percent false comparison.

            I don’t want Wang out of the rotation for any reason other than to fix his problems. When they’re fixed, he should obviously be pitching. But right now, nothing I’ve seen from him or the results he’s produced have convinced me that he’s ready to be pitching in meaningful situations. That’s all that this analysis is about.

            • mustang

              Its not about them it’s about the way you measure them and then everyone else. I see a bias that all lets just drop it.

  • Joey H.

    I’m Sorry but am I the only one who wasn’t totally disappointed with CMW yesterday. I thought he looked pretty goood considering what he had to face since coming back. He wasn’t exactly facing Kansas City hitters up there. His velocity was good the ball was lower in the zone more times than before. I just think he isn’t as slim as he was before. I’m quite happy with his progress.

    • Roger

      At least he wasn’t as bad as before? I guess so

      • Joey H.

        If people just stopped focusing on the negatives and realize the positives outweigh them here it would be much better. Why was he so bad before? No sink, Everything was up and flat, No velocity. All of these things have improved and when he puts them all together we’ll have the real CMW

    • mustang

      Your not the only one.

  • Zack

    They didnt find his release point, yet his velocity is up? That kind of confuses me

    • Joey H.

      I think that’s more or less about location.

    • Accent Shallow

      Well, he was pitching in relief, which tends to help.

  • Roger

    Wang is pretty terrible right now. He’s not major league quality and he certainly can’t start a game. What a waste he is as the mop up man.

  • Pasqua

    In truth, it’s totally feasible for Wang to head back to the DL. All they need is a doctor to find “something” wrong with him, no matter how small. As far as what I’ve read / heard, the worst thing that can happen is a raised eyebrow from MLB and a wag of the finger. Considering the hatred that is leveled at the Yankees already from virtually every sector of baseball, I’m sure the organization could handle being accused of manipulating the Disabled List if it means improving the team.

    • MattG

      I am still waiting for someone to point out even this rule (a doctor’s note). Until I see evidence, I think the stuff about the DL is a concoction of the media. To me, you just say, his body’s not right. He’s not doing the things he did before the foot injury. I don’t see the need for even a doctor’s note.

      It would really only become an issue if Wang asked the union to intervene, and keep him on the active roster. Other than that, I would expect the 30 owners to support one another. They still have to pay the guy–you think the owners don’t want to have say in whether they need to use him or not?

      • Benjamin Kabak

        What do you mean “point out even a rule”? The procedure is to place someone on the DL involves filing a medical report with the Commissioner’s Office. It’s a paperwork move. I’m sure the Yanks could find a doctor willing to say Wang is injured.

        • MattG

          I’ve never seen anything official on the use of the disabled list. All I’ve heard is innuendo. If this is all that is required, “Filing a medical report” might be the team doctor writing what the team tells him to write. That doesn’t sound all that restrictive.

  • MattG

    With all due respect, this post strikes me as a perfect example of revisionist history. Before Joba left the game in the first inning, the team had apparently decided on one more minor league start for Wang–but not because he wasn’t ready, but because there was no room at the inn.

    When the Yankees needed a pitcher, there was no reason not to get Wang. That’s not panic, that’s just getting the best pitcher.

    If they thought he wasn’t ready, they wouldn’t have brought him up. They might have made a mistake in assessing his readiness (or they might not have–it was 3 innings), but getting from there to ‘panic move’ takes a lot of imagination.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Revisionist history means we changed our minds after the fact. We were pretty confounded by this move the second it was made yesterday. That’s not revisionist history.

      You can claim there was “no reason not to get Wang” when his 34.50 ERA and bad mechanics were clearly evident to anyone watching the Yanks.

      • MattG

        I am on record in one of your posts saying I prefer Wang come up to another AAA start. This was in response to the post about how well he pitched in his last AAA appearance, implying he was ready to be called up (it was before Joba’s start). Thus, it still appears as revisionist to me.

        I wasn’t part of any conversation about the transaction itself.

        You personally might’ve been against bringing him up, but I am referring to something else.

      • steve (different one)

        You can claim there was “no reason not to get Wang” when his 34.50 ERA and bad mechanics were clearly evident to anyone watching the Yanks.

        not sure i follow.

        he’s clearly talking about his rehab starts and his bullpen work.

        something that NONE OF US actually saw.

        everyone knows he pitched poorly BEFORE he went on the DL, that’s a given.

  • MattG

    I just read through many of the comments, and rather than respond to all of them, I’d like to respond once here. To all those who are saying, “So, what do we do with this guy now?” I ask, are you serious? You leave him in the bullpen, and let him pitch. There will be plenty of games where the Yankees trail 5-2.

    I’ve been watching baseball long enough to know the end of this story. Eventually, Wang will find his form again, and pitch well. The bullpen is not a bad place to do that. Come August or September, Wang will be a valued member of the pitching staff once more.

    The only alternative is that he is done as a major league pitcher. That is very unlikely.

  • V
    • Benjamin Kabak

      We wrote about that once. You can find my post on it here.

  • dkidd

    could it be that this move was less a reaction to joba and more to do with things they’ve learned about bruney and marte?

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Possible, but Girardi said yesterday that they activated Wang because they used all of their long relievers on Thursday. Had it been about Marte/Bruney, they probably would have recalled Robertson/Melancon.

      • dkidd

        such a strange move. the only way it makes sense is if his bullpen session was mind blowingly good

        • steve (different one)

          i do believe i read that it was excellent.

      • MattG

        It’s not Girardi’s decision, so I am not confident he knows why Wang was activated. I am sure he suggested a fresh reliever for Friday, but I doubt that was the only consideration.

  • MikeD

    This articles sums up my exact thoughts when I heard the Yankees had activated Wang. Made no sense, and worse, it could ultimately be a negative for Wang and the team.

  • Mark

    Has anyone noticed that this is Wang’s walk year? I believe the Yankees avoided arbitration and are paying him some paltry figure (based upon his previous worth, not is current value). Maybe he just is not putting in the effort and wants to be moved someplace else. Not just for the $$$, but possibly he feels slighted and taken advantage of by the Yankees and the system.

    • dan

      No it’s not. This is his 5th season. You get six and then you’re a free agent.

  • Pingback: I’ve had enough… | The Voice of Yankees Universe