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Chien-Ming Wang: Defying Logic
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
June 20, 2007

Ever since he hit the majors, Chien-Ming Wang’s career has, well, made no sense. In 2006, Wang, along with Robinson Cano, helped the Yankees salvage their season after an uncharacteristically bad start. And since then, Wang has been a successful pitcher. In the past two plus years, he has gone 34-15 with a 3.69 ERA.

There is one anomaly with Wang, however, and that is his amazingly low strikeout rate. Since 2005, he has average 3.43 K/9, which is good for dead last among all pitchers with at least 300 IP. In 2005, he posted a K/BB ratio barely above one, which led many to believe that he would suffer a down year in 2006. However, Wang was even better, going 19-11 with an ERA of 3.63 in 218 IP, statistics good for second in the AL Cy Young Award race.

Although Wang had a solid year, his strikeout rate was still terrible and his K/BB ratio was still below two. And again many people (including Keith and Asher as they picked him to be the American League disappointing players of the year) believed he would suffer a down year. However, Wang is once again defying logic. He is 7-4 with an ERA of 3.33. And so far, Wang has improved his strikeout rate, but it is still only 4.71.

So despite Wang being a groundball pitcher pitching in front of a poor infield defense, and striking out less than four per nine, how has he been successful? Well, one major component has been the Yankees’ ground crew. They soften up the dirt, which allows the Yankees infielders, who have poor range for the most part, get to balls they usually wouldn’t get to in other parks. If you don’t believe me, look at the splits. In Wang’s career, he is 20-8 with a 3.29 ERA at home while going 14-7 with a 4.20 ERA on the road. Also, he has only allowed 218 hits in 235 innings at home, while giving up 202 hits in 177.3 innings on the road.

Although the infield has helped Wang, we do have to give him some kind of credit. The three true outcomes that measure a pitcher’s success are the walk, strikeout, and home run. These three events truly show how good a pitcher is because the defense, no matter how bad or good, can’t have any effect on them. While Wang has not been able to strike out many batters, he has very good control, and his bowling ball-like sinker prevents hitters from taking him deep. In 412.7 career innings, Wang has allowed 2.18 walks per nine and only .54 HR per nine. Obviously, throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the park have been the main reasons why he has been successful.

Looking Ahead

Basically, if Wang is going to have a long and successful career, he has to strike out more batters. No one in the history of baseball has had a long, successful career while having a strikeout rate below average. If we look at past players who compare well to Wang in their first two seasons, we see that none of them have had good careers.

Name

IP

ERA+

K/9

K/9+

Chris Holt

214.3

112

3.99

58

Dennis Lamp

253.7

112

3.02

58

Mark Thurmond

294

124

3.24

58

Vern Ruhle

223

104

3.11

63

Mike Dunne

333.3

108

3.83

65



Have you heard of any of these pitchers? Exactly. Only Lamp and Ruhle lasted longer than 10 years, while none of them finished with winning records, and only Lamp had an ERA+ above 100 at 103. However, there is hope. Wang K/9 this year is 4.71, which is better than his previous two seasons (obviously would be lower if not for Sunday). Wang is utilizing his slider more often: a pitch I mentioned in my 2007 Yankees preview that I thought would generate more Ks. In 2006, Wang threw 74.2% fastballs, more than anyone in the American League. Ever since Wang’s start again Boston on May 26th, he has been mixing in his change up and slider. Since then, his K/9 has been 5.7, which is about league average. If Wang consistently uses his off-speed pitches, he should be able to strike batters out at a better rate. On a side note, Wang has actually performed better on the road so far this year. Granted, it is a smaller sample size than at home. In 28 IP on the road, Wang has an ERA of 2.89 with a K/BB ratio that is just a shade under 3. At home, Wang has thrown 50.3 IP with an ERA of 3.58 with a K/BB ratio of 2.5:1. So Wang has been striking out more batters, and isn’t performing much better at home; maybe I shouldn’t worry so much after all.


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Tony resides in Queens, New York and can be reached at tony@baseballevolution.com.

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