One more chance for Wang


Wang-6-3-250.jpgWANG RIDES AGAIN, ONE DAY AT A TIME
Chien-Ming Wang has been sprung from the bullpen. He will start on Thursday against the Rangers. Phil Hughes will take his place in the bullpen. At this writing, the reasoning behind the decision has yet to be reported, but we can safely assume that the Yankees have been sufficiently intrigued by Wang’s work in relief to give him the shot. At the same time, Hughes gets the benefit of a little more experience working in relief and remains on hand to pitch if Wang’s return needs to be aborted.

The upside of the move is clear: at his best, Wang was a consistent starting pitcher who gave the Yankees a fair chance to win about 60 percent of the time. As I have written many times here, the secret of Wang’s success is that his sinker has been so good that not only do batters hit very few home runs off of him, they hit relatively few extra-base hits at any time. If Wang’s control is sharp and he keeps the walks to a minimum, the opposition has to pile up many singles in a row to score more than one run in an inning.

That said, Wang’s very low strikeout rates mean that everything has to be working right for him to win, including the inner defense. As we’ve seen this year, if he’s not at his best, batters don’t swing and miss, they swing and annihilate. Very few pitchers have had any kind of long-term success with Wang’s strikeout rates–a reader in the comments for yesterday’s entry cited Rick Reuschel, Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux and Paul Splitorff, but all of them except Splitorff had decisively higher strikeout rates in leagues in which batters were harder to strike out (and I’m betting that Spitorff would edge ahead as well given a similar era adjustment), and in any case these are outliers, four pitchers out of, well, everybody.

Hughes has been fascinating so far. He’s averaging eight strikeouts per nine innings, one of the reasons that the Yankees are second in the league in strikeout rate. His walk rate has been a tad high. He has not been consistent, of course, and the Yankees are looking for consistency in a close race. All Yankees tyro pitchers are on an inning-to-inning lease, but given the highly competitive nature of the AL East this change can’t be looked at as a symptom of the team’s typical impatience. Though the Red Sox have had an indifferent record of late, the Blue Jays have been in a tail spin, and the Rays are still struggling to find consistency, you can’t assume that these clubs are just going to fall away and leave the Yankees alone in first place. It makes sense to reach for the arm that you think is going to give you a quality start six out of ten tries instead of four or five times out of ten tries.

Regardless of what Wang does now, the future belongs to Hughes and his strikeouts, to the way that a high-strikeout pitcher can take the weight off of a defense (with an aging Jeter and a crippled A-Rod, this is only going to become more of an issue over time). Eventually the Yankees are going to have to make a commitment to him and let him mature enough to find that consistency, or decide that he’s not going to find it and move on. 

They also need to be prepared to abandon this experiment just as quickly as they started it, and for the same reasons. Wang has pitched six times this year. He was creamed the first four times and pitched well the last two. This is not exactly a plethora of evidence that Wang is ready to be a dominating starter. If the AL East is too competitive to let Phil Hughes grow up in public, then it’s also too competitive to let Wang try to reestablish himself as a starter. Forget the two 19-win seasons. They have little relevance to 2009. That was then, this was now, and if Wang isn’t the same guy then there’s no room to let him flounder based on a memory. All luck to him, of course, and all respect for past accomplishments as well, but just like Hughes, Wang should be guilty until proven innocent.

THE CAPTAIN
Having hit in sixteen straight games (.429/.487/.600), Derek Jeter’s overall numbers have risen to the point that, if he simply maintains his current overall level of production, he will have enjoyed a very nice comeback season, his best with the bat in three years. There are, of course, many games yet to go, so you can’t count on that happening, but after last year’s injuries, the concomitant decline in production, and rapidly encroaching old age, it’s good to see that this future Hall of Famer may have another top-quality season in him.

Actually, top-quality is a bit of a misnomer as Jeter’s current level of production doesn’t stand out from any of several other seasons he’s had–he’s always been a consistent player, with a couple of notable exceptions. One of those, of course, was 1999, when Jeter had what was one of the top five or so seasons by a shortstop since the 1950s. There’s Alex Rodriguez’s 1996 and 2000, Nomar’s 1999 and 2000, Robin Yount’s 1982, Alan Trammel’s 1987, and Jeter’s 1999.

Note that with the exception of Yount, the MVP voters missed on every dang one of them.

7 Comments

If Hughes and Wang have to prove themselves which I totally agree, what has Joba proved to keep the spot? He had one good start that he lasted 8in. and his velocity did not fall!

Thats questionable at best.

Pelicansnowslide,
I don’t know what Yankees team you’re watching but Joba has pitched a shutout start, something Pettite has yet to do and he has the second best ERA with a 3.71 on the team. He has the highest K rate of starters on the team, 8.61K/9IP. I’d say he is proving himself.

As for Hughes he has pitched shutouts in two of his starts. He should be an asset in the bullpen if they decide to keep him there. He can do what so many people want Joba to be doing. By the way people one Joba/Hughes in the bullpen won’t solve all the team’s bullpen problemshey run deeper than that.

Please, Steve, don’t perpetuate the ignorance. Fielding matters.
And Derek Jeter’s fielding matters.
What I mean is this: you refer to Jeter’s 1999 as his greatest season, “one of the top five or so since the 1950s.”
Offensively speaking, that is.
SS is a key defensive position. No SS should EVER be judged solely on the basis of his defense.
Jeter WAS good in 1999. But he’s had better defensive seasons.
I realize his HoF credentials are all about his offense. But come on.

Steve,
You guys in the media want to deride Derek Jetert because he will be thirty five years old. You sight his declining productivity. Do your research! 2005 202 hits .309 average, 2006 214 hits .343 average, 2007 206 hits .322 average and 2008 (with an injured hand from being hit by Daniel Cabrera) 179 hits .300 average. Give the guy a break!

Yesss wang is back now, he needs to mix in his other pitxhes in with his sinker so players dont just look for it all the time. And this offence is still horendus, even in the big winning streak they were bad these numbers od hitting in risp are so bad they get them from games were yankees blow out the competition against really bad pitchers throw a mideocare pitcher in and there you go he shuts them down. LOL yanks cant even beat texas no name pitchers how they gonna beat boston. these texas pitchers are bad they play in a bad western division.

once again yankees offence (200 million dollar offence LOL) getting dominated by a no name pitcher. seriously WOOW. if it were boston you would see a ten spot in first and this pitcher would be otta the game.

The loss to Texas could be expected as the team is often flat the 2nd day after returning from a road trip…. “You could look it up….” ol’ professer….. I think Wang, who won 46 games in 2 1/2 years did earn some respect and deserves to be given the chance to fail, not sent to the minors for very long. I don’t think the team panicked when they called him up, they want him on the team and want him to return to form.

As noted, Jeter is a HOFer, so count yourself blessed to be able to watch him. We all know he is not the wizard of oz, but he is steady. Pena has not looked so spectacular with the glove and I don’t see him replacing Jeter soon.

One question. What about Posada’s HOF chances? He has been overshadowed and never had those monster seasons, but I don’t think Pudge Rod was “that” much better or more valuable. What do you think? Richie

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