Assessing Wang’s 2009 futureBy
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.