May
02

Chien-Ming Wang and irrational optimism

By

The Yankees handled most of their offseason pitching business back in November, when they re-signed the veteran trio of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda. With David Phelps set to serve as the sixth starter and Michael Pineda on his way back from shoulder surgery, the team had some depth. They did, however, spend some time looking for a veteran seventh starter type to stash in Triple-A, just someone to have around in case all hell broke loose. It wasn’t a huge priority, but it was definitely an item on the agenda.

It wasn’t until late-March, near the very end of Spring Training that the Yankees found their seventh starter. They signed former ace Chien-Ming Wang to a minor league contract after his solid showing in the World Baseball Classic and impressive private workouts for the team in Tampa. The sinkerballer has since made three starts for Triple-A Scranton (0.95 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 59% grounders) and declined to use the first opt-out clause in his contract earlier this week. The next opt-out date is a little less than a month away.

Wang, 33, is nowhere near the pitcher he was during his 2005-2008 heyday with the Yankees. Injuries, most notably surgery for a torn shoulder capsule in 2009, have sapped some heat from his trademark sinker, which used to regularly sit in the 93-96 mph range. Reports from his last Triple-A start indicate he touched the 90-91 mph, which is a step up from where he was in his first two outings. The television gun during the WBC in March had him right around 90 mph, but TV guns are not to be trusted.

“(It was a) cold night, but his fastball velocity was only 87-88, with some sink … Not the Wang of old. Threw strikes, but not impressive for me,” said one scout who had seen CMW recently to Andy Martino. Torn capsules are no joke, no one has ever come back from one and had the same kind of success they had before the injury. That’s a list of pitchers that includes Mark Prior, John Maine, Johan Santana, and Rich Harden.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Despite all of that, I find myself cautiously optimistic about Wang’s ability to contribute to the big league team at some point this year. I’m certain that feeling is mostly nostalgia-driven, but he did somewhat resemble the CMW of old during the WBC — thanks to the plethora of quick ground ball outs — and is showing decent velocity in the upper levels of the minors. I’m not sure what more we could ask for at this point.

The Yankees have some questions at the back of the rotation right now thanks to Ivan Nova‘s triceps and the general uncertainty surrounding David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. Add in Andy Pettitte’s and Phil Hughes‘ recent back trouble, and it’s not a stretch to think the team may have to call on Wang at some point this summer. Will he show enough to earn that shot, and furthermore, will he stick around long enough to take advantage of it? If he continues to pitch well in Triple-A and settles into that 90-91 mph consistently, I have to think some teams will come calling with big league offers when that next opt-out date comes around in a few weeks.

Something about Wang being back healthy and back in the organization makes me irrationally happy. Irrationally happy and hopeful. I know he’s so very unlikely to help the team in a meaningful way this year — he hasn’t been an effective big leaguer since hurting his foot in 2008, remember — but the fan in me wants to see him and that sinker in pinstripes having success. At the same time, I know that if Wang does resurface in the Bronx, it’s because something will have gone wrong elsewhere on the pitching staff. CMW is pitching well enough and showing encouraging velocity in Triple-A right now, and as tough as it is, we have to be careful not to get our hopes up too much.

Categories : Pitching

24 Comments»

  1. mike myers says:

    wow he lost a lot of weight. the taiwanese diet to be the next trend? ;)

  2. Darren says:

    I don’t think it’s irrational to want to see a homegrown Yankee who hit some bad injury luck have a nice second Act.

    It’s also not far fetched at ALL! Every year we end up needing anywherre from 2-2o starts from picthers who were considered 6th or 7th starters. Neither Nova nor Phelps nor Nuno were ever considered more than back end rotation or bulpen guys anyway, So why wouldn’t a rejuvinated Chien Mien get some starts over them?

    • Bob Buttons says:

      Because at this point it’s doubtful that Wang would fit the bill for a back end guy?

      Don’t get me wrong, I root for the guy. However, baseball, to me, is a show-me sport. Show me what you got, and until then you don’t got it.

      • jsbrendog says:

        how has ne not shown you what he has got in aaa? I’m not saying bring him up now, but if it continues for 2 more starts, like i said below….what more can he show you?

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          …and just because he didn’t take the first opt-out, it’s no guarantee he’ll refuse the second if he, in fact, has a couple of more good starts.

        • Bob Buttons says:

          Frankly, all I want to see is another start or two of 6+IP 2- ER. I’m not saying “I need a year of starts” but I’d like to see how it goes for as long as time allows (June?).

  3. jsbrendog says:

    i mean, is it irrational? hasn’t he already, in 3 starts, done better and put together a better string of starts than any other real journeyman, old guy, injury lotto ticket 7th starter theyve had? if he does it 2 more times then i’m saying call him up. send nova to aaa when he is healthy bring up wang. worst case he fails and you cut him which wouldve been inevitable anyway.

  4. KeithK says:

    We’re baseball fans. Feel free to indulge your irrational exuberance and optimism. Sure, your hopes may be dashed sometimes or even most of the time but it’s more fun being a fan when you let your imagination paint rosy scenarios.

    I don’t want Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi to be overly optimistic. I want them to be coldly rational. But the rest of us who don’t have any control over personnel decisions can afford to dream.

  5. VO III says:

    Also, Wanger does not have to come back all the way to what he once was to be effective. All he needs to do is become a good number 5 and it will be a very successful comeback IMO.

  6. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Mike,

    Let me have my fucking moment here. I’m rational 99% of the time. I want my Wanger, and I want him to receive the kind of standing ovation at YS3 that my own personal wanger used to get at home prior to marriage.

    If I have to choke David Phelps and Ivan Nova with my own bare hands for him to get it, I will.

    Love,
    R-Tils

  7. trr says:

    Hasn’t pitched effectively at this MLB level for almost 5 years, but you never know do you? It’s not out of the question he pitches for us at some point this year. I read he has a monthly opt-out clause, so if he continues to pitch well, he could also end up somewhere else….

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      He’s not exactly a youngster anymore but, if he’s healed and effective, he’d be just at the end of what would have been his “prime” years.

      I agree on the opt-outs. I wonder if the team basically has May to promote him before someone else comes knocking. If so, I think they’d be fools if he both continues to pitch this way and they didn’t give him a start, even if it’s at the expense of Phelps and Nova.

  8. MannyGeee says:

    Hooray for the Wangster… and fuck Houston.

  9. Danny says:

    Selfishly, I would love to see Wang back in pinstripes. It may not be all that irrational to think Wang will contribute at some point this season, maybe as a swingman in the bullpen. While three minor starts is not necessarily determinative, all reports seem to indicate that he looks healthy and that his velocity is up. Plus, if you include his starts from the WBC, Wang has pitched 31 innings and has allowed only 26 hits and 4 walks while posting an ERA and WHIP under 1.00. (For what it’s worth, these numbers are much better than the stats Nova and Phelps put up during spring training.)

  10. Cuso says:

    It’s not irrational to hope you’ll see him on the mound at YS3.

    It’s irrational to think he’d be good based on 6 IP in the WBC.

    It’s not irrational to be hopeful that if he continues to make every start in AAA for the next month that you’re going to see him before the next opt-out.

    It is irrational to think that once you do see him that he’s going to remain on the MLB roster for the remainder of the season.

  11. Rizzi Walnuts says:

    Only provisio: no base running

  12. FIPster Doofus says:

    If any team can get something positive from a supposedly washed-up veteran, it’s the Yankees.

  13. Vindett says:

    Maybe I to am overly optimistic and bias when it comes to Cmw but the guy looks like he can preform at the major league level. At least better than what we have now. If he continues to put up good starts in aaa and he opts out before they call him up i will be pissed. If you include the WBC that’s 5 starts. Something like 30 innings with 2 earned runs. If I remember correctly Wang commented on his velocity, he said he was holding back to work on control. And isn’t CC barely breaking 90?

  14. Kevin Ocala, Fl says:

    I well remember watching Tommy John, in his late thirties pitch back to back 20 win seasons. He threw so slow that you wanted to jump through the tv with your own bat, and have a hack at him. But when a guy learns to pitch, he learns to read the hitter’s bat. And there’s no reason that Wang, if healthy, can do the same thing. And he wouldn’t be the “second”of his type of pitcher to do so. There are plenty of pitchers that, through the years “re-invented” themselves, and you can look it up.
    Personally, I thought it was heartbreaking for Wang to have been injured like he was running the bases. And, I’d love nothing more for him to come all the way back. Even if Cashman is afraid to let him try….

  15. Kevin Ocala, Fl says:

    Oh, and for all you guys that have totally bought into what the stat mavens would say concerning pitching (must have high K rates, etc), check out TJ’s career: http://www.baseball-reference......to01.shtml

  16. Gary says:

    There is always the KEI IGAWA option!

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