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Why C-M Wang had a worse 2009 than even the Nationals – if you cant beat them join them?

Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported today that “The Nats are aggressively pursuing Wang.” Silly headlines aside, when the giggles settle Wang could be considered the final veteran arm that the Nationals are looking for to complete their 2010 starting rotation. Ladson wrote:

 

“The Nationals are “aggressively pursuing” free-agent right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, according to a baseball source. It’s not certain whether Washington has formally extended an offer just yet.

The source went so far as to say that Wang could make a decision within the next 10 days, and the Nationals are one of the finalists to acquire his services. Washington did not confirm it’s interested in the 29-year-old hurler.”

As recently as 2008, Chien-Ming Wang was the ace of the New York Yankees, a position he held for three years before injuring his foot and ending his 2008 season. For reasons that have escaped many, Wang never seemed to recover from the injury that ended his 2008 campaign. In 2009 he became the first player to throw a pitch in the new Yankee stadium, but things quickly fell apart.

The Taiwanese import went 0-3 in his first three starts with a 34.50 ERA capitalized by a 22-4 loss to the Indians on Apr. 18. Following the butchering by Cleveland, many in the Bronx tried to speculate what was wrong with the clubs former ace. Some believed he was favoring his injured foot, and some believed he had some serious mechanical issues; including a lowered kick, and an arched back on his drive. MLB TV pointed out that his release point was a whole five inches higher than it was in 2008. In July Wang was placed on the injured list after he elected to have season-ending shoulder surgery. He finished 2009 with a 1-6 record, 9.64 ERA, and a .365 BAA.

Ouch.

In December the Yankees opted to non-tender Wang (“tender Wang”…hold the giggles), and here we are with several teams pursuing CMW.

Looking at the numbers, what really has hurt Wang (“hurt Wang”…hold the giggles) has been the gradual decline of the effectiveness of his fastball. In 2006 his fastball was rated 18.8 runs above average according to FanGraphs. That value dropped to 13.0 in 2007, and only 8.6 in 2008. It fell off the table in 2009 when his fastball wasn’t even at replacement value, rated at -16.4. As you can see, with Wang’s fastball went his success:

2006: 19-6, 3.63 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 62.8 GB% (18.8 FB)
2007: 19-7, 3.70 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 58.4 GB% (13.0 FB)
2008:  8-2, 4.07 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 55.0 GB% (8.6 FB)
2009:  1-6, 9.64 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 53.3 GB% (-16.4 FB)

The most notable thing that jumps out when looking at those stats is how much Wang’s ground ball percentage decreased in correlation with the value of his fastball. It appears that his fastball lost movement, causing his best pitch to no longer induce ground balls, but instead be sprayed around the ball park. In 2006, Wang’s fastball was rated the fourth best in the majors, in 2009, it was one of the worst. For Wang, a ground ball pitcher, the ability to induce ground balls is absolutely vital. In 2006 his 62.8 ground ball percentage made him the best ground ball pitcher in the American League, however in 2009 he was merely average in ground ball percentage.

Determining the reason for the decline in Wang’s fastball is still up in the air. Clearly, as seen above, his mechanics changed which likely caused his fastball to have less movement and less sinking action. But Why?

The answer is one of two things. Either Wang picked up some bad habits due to the nagging injuries which caused a shift in his mechanics and ultimately led to the shoulder injury, OR Wang was forced to adjust his approach because of his injuries, and he will no longer be able to regain the mechanics that produced all those ground balls several years ago.

For the Nationals, this could be a good gamble if it is the first scenario, but not so good if it’s the second. There is a shift in the market towards attaining pitchers who can get ground balls, and if Wang can produce a GB% in the upper 50′s again, he will be successful anywhere. All the Nationals would have to do is correct the previous problem and Wang should be good to go. However, if its the second scenario, thats some lousy Wang.

 

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