When Chien-Ming Wang first arrived in the Bronx, it was clear from the start that Wang had the stuff to be successful. Throughout his first three seasons in the Bigs, we grew to know and love that heavy sinker and Wang’s stellar groundball rate. But something’s changed this year, and it’s for the better.
This year, as we’ve seen over Wang’s first seven starts, the right-hander — once so reliant on his sinker to get outs — has picked up a few stellar secondary pitches and has learned how to pitch in a way that lets him dominate a game. Look at his numbers: On the season, Wang has thrown 45 innings, and he’s 6-0 with a 3.00 ERA, and over his last three outings, he’s given up 4 earned runs on 17 hits in 19 innings.
Of the numbers, the most important one to me is Wang’s strike out rate. In the early going this year, Wang’s K totals are well above his career norm. Over his last 19 innings, he’s struck out 19 batters, and on the season, he is average 6.40 Ks per 9 IP. With his normally stellar walk rate, his K/BB is now 2.46.
For the last few years, stats-minded analysts have blown their collective gaskets trying to figure out the success of Chien-Ming Wang, and were it not for my seeing him pitch every five days, I’d be right there with them. How did a guy with a career K/9 IP of under 4.00 prior to this year find a way to win more games in the Majors than anyone else over two years while keeping his ERA under 4.00? It didn’t make sense.
Now, we all know that Wang’s non-traditional success came via those groundballs. When he is on, he can command a double play at will, and Major League hitters look foolish topping his pitches. This year, though, with sliders, sinkers, fastballs and a few change ups, Wang has upped his pitching in a way that cements his status as the Yankee ace. He’s keeping runners off base, and he’s keeping balls out of play. That is a sure recipe for success.
As we all know — and as Hank Steinbrenner reminded us tonight — the Yankees have had a tough go of it lately. They’re one game under .500, and the offense isn’t doing much of anything right now. But every five days, Wang takes the mound, and it’s a beacon of very bright light every day. Watching a pitcher put everything together is a real pleasure, and Wang is living the dream. He will lose a few games this season, and he’s facing Cliff Lee and his sub-1.00 ERA next week. But it’s been quite the roll for a pitcher who almost ended up signing with the Mariners seven years ago.
Game 1 (6-1 win over Durham in 7 innings)
Wilson Betemit: 1 for 3, 1 2B – Chad Jennings says the double banged off the top of the wall
Bernie Castro: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 BB – picked off third … I’m sorry, but you just can’t get picked off third base, inexcusable
Brett Gardner: 0 for 3, 1 K
Jason Lane & Cody Ransom: both 2 for 3, 1 BB – Lane doubled … Ransom scored a run
Nick Green: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI
Chris Stewart: 1 for 2, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 HBP
Steven “don’t call me” White: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 6-4 GB/FB – great job picking up his team when they have a short staff
Billy Traber: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1 HB – faced three lefties (Dan Johnson, Reid Brignac and one-time great Yankee prospect John Rodriguez) and K’ed the first two before plunking the third
A few odds and ends to tie up before the game starts, all courtesy PeteAbe (but you know you like coming here more).
Posada has what is being termed rotator cuff tendonitis. The estimate for return is early June, but Pete, as well as I, suspect they’ll take a little longer, just to avoid any complications. Surgery could happen this off-season, and if it doesn’t mean lost time for Jorge at the beginning of 2009, I think he’ll take the option. He has pride in his contract, and I’m sure if he thinks surgery will help him in the long term, he’ll go for it.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Phil Hughes doesn’t have perfect vision, as he so thought. He’s nearsighted, so his not being able to see the signals is explained a bit. That, and he thinks a mechanical flaw led to his rib injury. Yes, it’s a ton of excuse-making. Whatever. As long as he’s effective when he’s back, I don’t care what he or the Yankees say. Hopefully the time off will get the fans off his back.
Jose Veras is up to take Hughes’s spot until Darrell Rasner is recalled for Sunday’s start. To clear room on the 40-man, the clear move is to DFA Chris Stewart, especially since J.D. Closser is in the fold now. Stewart will surely go unclaimed, though once again, with Closser his presence doesn’t seem as necessary. Taking Veras’s spot in AAA is David Robertson. With him one step closer to the bigs, our pen situation looks even better. Now, if we can just get Girardi to understand that you can’t have two-pitch relievers go through the heart of the Tigers order twice…
Kennedy is getting skipped next time through, which is the right move. I think you have to give him the start on May 10, and then go from there. I’d guess Kei Igawa is next in line for a call-up.
Your lineup, sans Cano, which will make at least a few commenters happy, as we’re facing Erik Bedard tonight:
And on the mound, number forty, Chien-Ming Wang.
For one day, Jose Veras will take Phil Hughes’ spot, Chad Jennings notes. Tomorrow, Darrell Rasner will be called up to take Phil Hughes’ spot in the rotation for now. Veras’ promotion came about because Joe Girardi had two of his relievers throw 40 or more pitches last night, making them ineligible to pitch tonight. So now the Yanks are short an arm in the pen, and Scranton is set to play a double header with five relievers, one of whom is starting game two. That’s bad roster management. · (9) ·
April’s a wacky month. It’s the only time of the year that Nate McLouth can sport a 1.047 OPS, or when Mike Mussina can boast better numbers than Roy Oswalt. Christian Lara played for two teams in a single game and Jay Johnson hit a walk-off double to make himself the winning pitcher, and I can’t help but think that only April can contain that kind of madness.
April has been an interesting month in the Yankees’ farm system, full of surprises and disappointments. You had Eric Hacker’s pitch count ruined perfect game and Brett Gardner launching no-doubt homers. While April doesn’t provide enough info to draw accurate conclusions, it does start to paint a picture of what’s ahead.
Other than Darrell Rasner, who is now a big leaguer, the story of the month for Scranton has been none other than Eric Duncan. The 27th overall pick in the 2003 draft has had a … let’s say, “rocky” career so far, but it looks like the light bulb may finally be coming on a bit. Even though he’s been forced to play second fiddle to Shelley Duncan and Juan Miranda for playing time, Duncan’s off to a .279-.384-.508 start. I pulling for him and I hope he can sustain it.
After going 1 for 4 yesterday, Cano raised his average to a whoppin .155 with a .212 OBP and a .236 slugging. But things aren’t bad for Cano; he’s just been really, really unlucky. Or at least that’s what the folks at Pinstripe Alley say. Take a look at this table, originally produced by jscape2000 on PA:
Joe noted many of these numbers yesterday, and the trends are encouraging. As jscape wrote, “Robinson Cano hasn’t been the worst player in the league, just the most unlucky.
We’d expect BABIP to be LD% plus .120. Robbie’s expected BABIP is .284, his actual is .156.”
In other words, Cano’s slow start seems to be a case of his hitting the ball not where they ain’t but where they are. Furthermore, Cano’s not swinging any earlier in counts than he ever has. He has seen 3.40 pitches per plate appearances. That’s down 0.02 from last year and up by 0.18 over his 2006 totals.
At some point, the balls Cano is hitting will begin to fall, and his average will rise. The Yanks could really use those breaks.
Good news for Yankee fans on a dreary day in New York: Bobby Murcer, recovering from a brain cancer scare and subsequent biopsy, will return to the broadcast booth tonight. He’ll be resuming his full broadcasting role, according to the AP. Here’s to you, Bobby. Welcome back. (Hat tip to iYankees.) · (12) ·
In discussing Phil Hughes’ injury this afternoon, I teased you all with a forthcoming post on Joba and the starting rotation, long a favorite RAB topic. What better time than after another 4.2-inning effort by one of the Yankee starters?
Before delving into the fun, let’s revisit tonight. Yanks score in the first and muster nothing offensively the rest of the game. Jonathan Albaladejo is worked well beyond any reasonable workload, and Chris Britton finally pitches in a game. Bad pitching, terrible offense, bad manager. The end.
So that brings to Joba Chamberlain. Currently, the Yankees are searching for answers out of the bullpen. They have Phil Hughes shelved with a fractured rib. Hopefully, he’ll return before the All Star break, but that seems to be a rather optimistic assessment. He’ll need at least a month of training and rehab after his month off for healing. Meanwhile, Ian Kennedy continues to struggle with his pitch counts.
But Joba Chamberlain’s eventually arrival in the starting rotation should happen regardless of the 2008 fates of Kennedy and Hughes. It really is just a matter of innings.
One month into the season, Chamberlain has thrown 11.1 innings in 10 appearances. The goal for him this year is to reach about 145 innings pitched or 30 more than he threw last year. That, according to a whole bunch of recent studies, should help him improve his arm strength without sending him into that danger zone of arm trouble. So how does Joba throw 133 more innings this year?
Well, let’s give him another 13 innings for May. That puts him needing 120 IP from June to September. For the purpose of this exercise, we can’t assume that the Yankees are going to make the playoffs. Outside of their lackluster play recently, Joba needs to be a position to reach 145 innings before the season ends. If the end of the year rolls around and the Yanks are in a position to play in October, they can begin to get creative with Joba’s turn in the rotation.
Now, luckily for us, the Yankees have a good benchmark for starts made in a partial season. We need to look no further than Roger Clemens to see how many innings Joba would pitch over a certain time frame. Between June 9 and Sept. 16 last year, Clemens made 17 starts and threw 98 innings in those starts, averaging 5.78 IP a start. He skipped a start in August and missed four in September. He also threw 15 Minor League innings over the course of three starts.
So now we can go back to those 120 innings Joba needs to throw over the last four months of the season. Let’s say he too needs 12 innings in the Minors covering three starts to stretch it out: one three-inning appearance, one four-inning appearance and one five-inning appearance. We’re now at 108 IP. How about three weeks of relief in June? That’s about 8 innings.
So Joba the starter would have to throw 100 pitches. If he averages around 6 innings a start — and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t — he would have to make between 16 and 17 starts. Using the Roger Clemens gamelog, it seems that Joba should land in the rotation right before the All Star break during the first week of July. If signs don’t point that way by the end of this month and the beginning of the next, then we’ll know something is up with Joba’s move to the pen. I think, however, that the Yanks will pursue this path.
Meanwhile, imagine if the Yanks get Joba into the rotation at around the same time that Phil Hughes makes his injury-free return to the Yankees. It would be like Christmas in July for us.
Chad Jennings notes the Yanks signed former uber-catching prospect JD Closser to a minor league deal to add some depth at Triple-A. No such thing as a bad minor league deal.
Triple-A Scranton was rained out, they’ll play two tomorrow. Wilson Betemit was supposed to play third and bat leadoff for the first five innings, while Brett Gardner was slotted into the THIRD spot in the order. I can’t imagine Gardner’s gotten more than a handful of at-bats in that spot in his life.
Double-A Trenton (5-4 loss to Connecticut)
Ramiro Pena: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Austin Jackson: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) – threw a runner out at second from CF … 11 K in his last 8 games after 10 K in his first 20 games
Colin Curtis, Matt Carson, Cody Ehlers, Jose Tabata, PJ Pilittere: all 0 for 4, 1 K – Curtis scored a run … Tabata is back from his little sit-down, but is still 3 for his last 38 with 14 K
Chris Malec: 1 for 3, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
Kevin Russo: 3 for 4, 1 RBI
Dan McCutchen: 7 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 WP, 6-6 GB/FB – had allowed 5 ER in his previous 26.2 IP combined
David Robertson: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K
A win tonight brings the Yanks back to the .500 mark they’ve been hovering around all season. Sadly, that’s a good thing at this point. Given the craptastic offense and the shakiness of the non-Wang rotation, the Yanks should be thankful that they’re not in a position similar to last year.
Big game for IPK. Another stinker could mean…geeze, I can hardly bring myself to say it…Kei Igawa. To me, it’s going to be about throwing some freakin’ strikes. If Kennedy gets hit hard, well, that’s going to happen to a rookie against a lineup like the Tigers. But if he’s missing the plate and racking up the pitch count, I think that’s far worse. Of course, getting belted will run up the pitch count, too.
Shelley’s hitting cleanup tonight against Nate Robertson. I dig the move. In fact, with the way the offense is going, I’d be finding any way possible to get Shelley into the lineup. He can’t be worse than what we’re trotting out there (::cough:: Giambi).
And on the mound, number thirty-one, Ian Patrick Kennedy