Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Examining Wang

It's very hard difficult to craft a title with Chien-Ming Wang's name in it that's not a double entendre. That said, watching Wang last night, I noticed he's becomming a different pitcher. He struggled a bit but hung on for the victory, but that's not the story. The story is his change in approach and the number of different pitches he's throwing.

How is this manifesting itself in his performance? Let's take a closer look:

Wang, the owner of one of the best sinkerballs in the game currently (best: Brandon Webb), is trying to expand his repetoire, adding a slider and split finger to complement his change-up. As noted during Spring Training:

Wang, who has won 19 games the last two seasons relying on his fabled sinker, is not worried, however, and neither is Girardi. "I'm not looking at the stats," Wang said. "Spring training is the time to tune up. I'm working on pitches."

Ground ball/Fly ball
Well, if you're watching, like me, you've noticed more fly balls hit than ever before. While this has resulted in just 1 HR surrendered so far, there have been many close calls. He had been one of the more difficult pitchers to homer against, surrendering a mere 21 over 2006-07. That's pretty darn impressive.

Over his career, since 2005, Wang has been around the 3:1 ground ball to fly ball (GB:FB) ratio. Last year, he was at 2.68 GB:FB. Thus far this year, his ratio has dipped to 2.00:1. Is this reason for concern? Maybe. Maybe he's evolving as a pitcher. But, I'd expect his HR rate to climb this year if this ratio remains where it is. It's only logical that if he gives up more FB's, more will find their way to the seats.

For all of his stats, go here.

The flip-side to the GB:FB ratio is that his K-rate is at a career high at 5.06 per 9 IP. He was at 4.70 last year and 3.14 in 2006. As a result of the higher K-rate and increasing his ability to make bats miss, he's sporting his lowest BAA (batting avg against) of his career at .248. Hand-in-hand with a higher K-rate is a higher K:BB ratio, currently at 2.00. He's not walking players at any greater rate than in the past, which is a good sign.

I think that Wang's still working on developing his expanded repetoire and will face some lumps along the way. However, as he gains a degree of comfort, he should continue to blossom as the Yanks' ace. He might never be the big K pitcher like Peavy or Santana, but he's got the ability to keep the Yanks in most games and often goes deep into the game. His ability to "eat innings" further saves the bullpen, which is something the Yanks sorely need as the other young guns are suffering thru their own growing pains.

I'll keep a close eye on Wang as the season progresses, looking to see if he bails on his development efforts and resorts back to a sinker-heavy approach or if he continues to develop his secondary pitches.

Stay tuned.

Follow up: Re-examining Wang

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