When Chien-Ming Wang came off the disabled list, moving him into the rotation and sliding Ross Detwiler to the bullpen made sense. Detwiler had been struggling in his most recent games, and Wang had been slotted to have the fifth starter role ever since Spring Training. But since returning, Wang hasn’t done much to impress since taking over Detwiler’s spot, and enough may be enough.
With a 4.67 ERA and a 6.57 FIP (basically what his ERA would be if the defense behind him was the league average) through four games, Wang’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stands at -0.4. This means that if Wang were replaced, the Nationals would be losing a -0.4 value to the team (and a double negative equals a positive, right?). While it’s still not whole number, at least Detwiler’s WAR is positive at 0.5.
What worries me the most about Wang is that he has a tendency of pitching himself into trouble. He has loaded the bases four times in 17.1 innings pitched this season, and he has the highest opponent on-base percentage on the Nationals pitching staff at .439. Although I will give it to him that he has had several timely strikeouts to escape some of those precarious situations, for me, loading the bases at all is just asking for trouble.
Walks and hit-by-pitches have been a driving force behind that high on-base percentage since Wang has been back, as he has struggled with his mechanics and his control. He has hit batters three times and is averaging 5.7 walks per nine innings. That number goes up to 6.5 BB/9 if you look at just his performance during starts.
In comparison, Detwiler’s ERA is 3.67 and his FIP is only marginally higher at 3.96. Sure, Detwiler has a much larger sample size to pull from with nine starts to Wang’s three, but if you compare the two pitchers’ first three starts, Detwiler stacks up even better against Wang. In Detwiler’s first three, he posted a brilliant 0.56 ERA with 15 strikeouts and four walks in 16 innings pitched. Wang on the other hand, has pitched for a 5.02 ERA with 10 strikeouts and 11 walks in 14.1 innings.
‘But what about Detwiler’s last three starts?’ is the logical next question. Towards the end of his tenure as a starter Detwiler started crumpling, but a lot of people would cave under the pressure to perform if they knew someone was coming in to take their job.
It was well-documented that Detwiler was not happy about being removed from the rotation. If those were the feelings he was having after his removal was formally announced, who’s to say he wasn’t feeling that way in the days leading up to the move, and trying extra hard to make Davey Johnson reconsider leaving him in there? The pressure could have eventually affected his performance. You could see Detwiler’s confidence visibly draining from him in his last few starts, and without the support of Johnson saying, “You’re our guy; I believe in you,” he wasn’t able to regain it.
I’m not discounting that Wang has had a good career as a starting pitcher, or even discounting the possibility that he might continue to have a good career. Like Johnson has said, it would be hard to put a pitcher who has had two 19-win seasons as a starter in the bullpen, and you certainly can’t put him in the minors. Also, because of his shoulder surgery, he has a long and involved warm-up process, which is another reason he would be tricky to pitch out of the bullpen. So the starting rotation is really the only place left to put him, but is that really the best decision for the team? Leaving an okay pitcher in a stellar rotation just because there’s nowhere else to put him?
Maybe Davey Johnson and the coaching staff who know a lot more about baseball than me say the answer is yes, but I don’t know if it is necessarily the right move for the team as a whole to leave Wang on the mound while he figures himself out. I think that if Detwiler is given his spot back, and if Davey Johnson and the rest of the coaching staff show him that they have confidence in him, he will have more confidence in himself and will continue to help this team win ballgames.