Taiwanese phenom Chien Ming Wang of the New York Yankees is currently steamrolling through his 3rd full season in pinstripes. While Wang has literally achieved rock star status in his homeland and is certainly appreciated by Yankee fans, he’s often left out of discussions regarding elite pitchers. Many Yankee fans don’t even consider him a true ace. I suppose this has something to do with his historical lack of K’s and the assumption that this would eventually catch up to him and expose him as some kind of fluke.
Currently Wang is off to an outstanding start and is the second pitcher next to Brandon Webb who leads the game in wins to land to a 6-0 record. Currently alongside his 6-0 start Wang’s boasting an ERA of 3.00 with 32 k’s while holding opposing batters to a .225 average. Take away one rocky start where Wang clearly didn’t have his best stuff and gave up 8 ER’s in 4IP that ERA plunges to 1.54 over 6 starts. More impressive is the comparison of this years start to his first 7 starts in ’07 where Wang started the season out 3-4 with a 3.99 ERA and a measly 24k over 47.3ip. Yet he finished the season with a 19-7 record and a 3.70 ERA. This makes you wonder what kind of season he’s headed for if he can keep up this pace.
While some may argue that Wang has the added benefit of being supported by the powerful Yankees lineup, they’re also not considering the defense behind him which is pretty key to a groundball pitcher like Wang. Although Jeter has won gold gloves at short, his range and defense is often called into question. And with a slug like Giambi manning first you can hardly call the infield rock solid when it comes to defense. Yet Wang is still boasting stellar numbers. Much of this is due to Wang reintroducing his slider which he used often in the minors before learning the sinkerball which landed him the spot of the Yankees go-to-guy in the rotation. So not only does Wang boast a plus plus sinkerball but he’s also boasting a plus slider as an alternative out pitch that is leaving batters looking baffled in the batters box. Supplement that with a four-seam fastball with lateral movement that has been clocked at 98mph Wang has some options and he’s shown that he’s not afraid to change his approach mid-game if his sinker isn’t working for him. With that arsenal its not surprising he’s hit career highs of 9ks in a game this season which was previously unheard of for the Wanger.
Now for the real surprising numbers…Over the past 2 years no pitcher in the majors boasts a better record than Wang, as pointed out by beat writer Peter Abraham on his blog. Here are some comparisons of MLB’s premiere pitchers records from 2006-present along with their 2008 earnings:
Johan Santana : 37-21 ($16,984,216)
CC Sabathia 32-23 ($11,000,000)
Josh Beckett 39-20 ($10,166,666)
Jake Peavy: 34-21 ($6,500,000)
Brandon Webb 41-18 ($5,500,000)
Chien-Ming Wang 44-13 ($4,000,000)
After looking at these numbers and taking into consideration that a pitcher like Gil Meche will be earning $11,000,000 in the small market of KC, you really have to wonder why the Yankees didn’t lock Wang up with a long-term contract when he was up for arbitration this off-season and why he’s rarely discussed in the same breath as the game’s other elite pitchers. Is it that he’s playing in the shadow of other Yankees superstars? Is it his demeanor, which is often void of any emotion that keeps him off the radar? No fist pumping, no arguing with umps etc? Yankees fans of all people should appreciate what Wang is doing in pinstripes and where he’s headed but many still don’t see him as an ace. Some will argue that he doesn’t have the post-season record to prove anything, which is a somewhat valid argument as he crapped the bed in ’07 with 2 terrible outings. But aside from Beckett’s post-season dominance what have any of the others really done that’s been lights out?
Santana boasts a 1-3 post-season record, Sabathia 2-2, Webb 1-1, Peavy 0-2 (12.10 era), and Wang 1-3 (7.58 ERA). While Wang definitely has something to prove in the post-season, so does every other top-tier pitcher in the league not named Beckett who boasts an impressive 6-2 postseason record with a 1.73 ERA.
I have a funny feeling that the Yankees made a big mistake by not tying up Wang with a long-term contract and will end up paying big when the time comes for him to hit the open free-agent market. Or maybe it’s a stroke of evil genius since he’s locked up at a low price until 2012. Especially, when you consider that CC Sabathia, if he turns his season around, is expected to sign a contract this coming off-season that will set the new standard for free-agent aces, eclipsing Johan Santana’s behemoth contract. Maybe its not a bad move by the Yankees after all.
The Wang is no fluke. And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t command the same respect as the other elite pitchers in the game.