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What Exactly is Wrong with Wang…..

Posted By Joseph Gallo On Apr 21 2009 @ 4:45 am In New York Yankees | No Comments

We are 13 games into the 2009 season and the Yankees are off to a so-so 7-6 start.  Obviously that's not great, but at the same time it isn't terrible seeing as the Yankees are playing without arguably the games best offensive player, Alex Rodriguez.  It's also not too bad when you consider that 3 of the 6 Yankees losses have come when Chien-Ming Wang has taken the mound, all of which were games that were essentially over by the 2nd inning.

Currently the Yankees sit just 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays (this will likely be the last time you'll see me reference the standings until late July), which can actually be seen as good news considering the Yankees clearly aren't at 100% and the Blue Jays are off to their best start since 2001 (they were 12-5 through 4/20, although they finished the season at 80-82).  Also as the Redsox showed us this past week, it's not too hard to string together 5 straight wins and gain some ground in the standings when you can beat up on the lesser of the AL East teams (and yes I am aware the Orioles took 2 of 3 from NY).  So while there isn't (or shall I say shouldn't) be any concern over the Yankees current record, there definitely is some major concern in regards to former Yankee ace Chien-Ming Wang. 


I don't think it is possible for a starting pitcher to get off to a worse start then Wang has so far.  He's currently 0-3 with an era of 34.50.  His longest start of the season was his first in Baltimore, where he lasted 3.2 innings.  He has produced more walks than strikeouts (6/2), more fly outs than ground ball outs (23/13) and has surrendered more hits than the number of total outs he has recorded (23/18).  Also his current WHIP (4.83) would be considered a poor ERA for most starting pitchers. Your first thought upon hearing this would have to be that Wang is hiding an injury, because these numbers are just not normal for a guy who was regarded as one of the best pitchers in baseball the past 3 seasons.  Heck these numbers aren't normal for slow pitch youth baseball pitcher.  

Yet Wang, Yankee pitching coach Dave Eiland and Yankee manager Joe Girardi all insist that he is not injured.  I mean he can't be injured right, otherwise the Yankees would have thrown him on the DL following Saturday's game.  Instead Wang and the Yankees continue to point to his mechanics, stating that they are just out of whack and that by watching the game tapes they will be able to figure out how to correct the problem.  Yet here lies the ultimate problem…after watching the tapes and having successful bullpen sessions, Wang still stinks!  In fact he's getting worse if that was at all possible. Any time now a pitcher or team gives up 10+ runs in an inning, it will be referred to as getting Wanged.  In the midst of being slaughtered 58-8 in my last softball game, we were making jokes that Wang was pitching for us.

Wang has taken up the Randy Johnson defense, which is he claims to have no idea what is wrong.  According to him his mechanics look exactly the same as they did last season.  Eiland and Girardi have a different take on the situation luckily, as they believe they see a flaw in his current delivery which can be corrected.  Also luckily for us we live in the 21st century, where fans and bloggers have been enlightened by the sabermetric community.  Which means we can now study Wang's delivery, velocity and even his release point to come to a conclusion on what is wrong, compared to some traditionalist who rather just throw their hands up in the air and demand the team trade him.  One sabermetric site in particular named Driveline Mechanics [1] did some research and have concluded that Wang's struggles are a result of decreased velocity and movement on his fastball.  In his last start, Wang was able to record outs in the first inning throwing his sinker at 92 mph, however once he dipped even a few mph below that mark the Indians began to hit him hard.  Pitch F/X studies have shown that Wang's release point is approximately 6 inches higher this year than it was last year.  That may not seem like a lot to the average fan, but a minor difference like that would explain the loss of movement on his fastball since he is now coming from over the top and not a 3 quarter angle which allows him to have run and sink on his fastball.  Driveline Mechanics also speculated that the lack of velocity could be a result of an injury Wang is hiding.  An even simpler explanation however has come from  Dave Eiland's, who believes Wang is just rusty after missing most of 2008 and is currently lacking the necessary arm strength to dial up his fastball.  

So perhaps the best course of action for the Yankees would be to just keep sending Wang out to the mound, which would allow him to slowly build up the necessary arm strength to succeed.  Some have suggested the Yankees should send Wang to AAA and call up Phil Hughes, however that is not possible since Wang is out of options and in order to send him to AAA the Yankees would have to pass him through waivers first.*  And there is zero chance Wang makes it through waivers without one of the other 29 teams putting in a claim on him.  

* In case you don't know what minor league options are, here is a quick explanation.  Once a player has been placed on the 40 man roster (but not the 25 man roster), he is on “optional assignment”.  This means he has 3 years where he can be sent down to AAA and called up to the MLB roster as many times as the team seems fit.  Once a player is sent down however he can not return to the MLB roster before 10 days have passed or unless he is replacing a player who was put on the DL.  In the players 4th year on the 40 man roster, he no longer has any option years left, which means he must pass through waivers unclaimed in order to return to AAA.

So basically there are 3 different ways the Yankees can handle this situation.  Number one would be to place Wang on the 15 day DL, which would allow them to call up a AAA pitcher (probably Hughes or Aceves) while Wang works on his mechanics in simulated games.  The second option would be to skip his scheduled start on Friday in Boston, perhaps even sending Wang to Tampa where he could work with pitching guru Nardi Contreras (the 21st century version of Billy Connors).  Or they could take the 3rd option, which would be to allow Wang to make his scheduled start on Friday in Boston against Josh Beckett and hope for the best.

Well I can save you all the suspense in wondering what the team will do, as today Girardi announced the team will skip Wang's scheduled start on Friday, and thanks to the rain out today they can now set up their rotation so that the Redsox will face Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte this weekend.  Wang will most likely make his next start on Tuesday in Detroit. So perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Wang.  Perhaps the problem is as simple as Wang just being rusty, and with some extra work maybe he'll be back on track by the end of the month.  I did read somewhere though that Wang would have to throw 4 straight complete game shutouts just to get his ERA under 5, so if you had Wang in your CY Young pool I'd recommend just throwing in the towel now.  However it may be a good time to pick him up cheap in fantasy if you have that option.  

That's it for today.  I'll be back later in the week to discuss the current crop of games, which includes the Big G's return to New York, as well as a few issues currently surrounding the New Yankee Stadium.  Questions or comments can be sent to josephgallo@sportstalkbuzz.com.  Good night!




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[1] Driveline Mechanics: http://www.drivelinemechanics.com/2009/4/19/844677/chien-ming-wang-a-pitchf-x-story#comments

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