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April 6, 2005

by Fabian

Season's Second Game (Larry, Me, SG)

Chien-Ming Wang, 25, RHP

I was somewhat disappointed in Wang entering the ’04 season. Though making the jump from the NYPL to the AA Eastern League is admittedly very difficult, I had great expectations for Wang due to his having already spent two seasons in the NYPL and being 23. Unfortunately, Wang was very mediocre other than his walk and home run rates as he struggled to make it through his first full season of professional baseball. Thankfully, in ’04, Wang returned to AA and redeemed himself.

While Wang’s strikeout rate still was not standout it was very respectable at 7.43 per 9 innings. He also held opponents to a respectable average against of .266. The areas of statistical performance where Wang excelled were his walk rate, 2.15 BB/9 and homer rate, .50 HR/9. Despite this, I remained unconvinced that Wang deserved to reclaim his prospect status, at times calling for a bullpen demotion. It was not until Wang’s season capping run in the AAA International League that I became a believer once more. In 40.1 AAA innings, Wang pushed his K/9 to 7.81, lowered his BAA to .215, and his BB/9 to 1.79. The only peripheral that worsened was his HR rate, which is somewhat suspect given that 2 of the 3 home runs he allowed took place in his first AAA start, so there is some leeway. Wang continued his run of pitching success in the Olympics and in Spring Training where he caught Joe Torre’s eye and has solidly taken hold of the first-call-up-for-when-Kevin-Brown/Jaret-Wright-are-needed-to-make-a-start-and-can’t-spot.

Wang is able to excel by placing his fastball, which currently runs 92-95 and tops out at 97, throughout the strike zone’s quadrant. It is his best pitch by far and in combination with his split-finger fastball he can give right-handed hitters fits. Unfortunately, since his secondary arsenal is not as far along as his fastball in the development process, minor league left-handers have been able to take advantage of him. During Wang’s spring training starts this did not seem to be much of an issue, but long-term it is still a concern when evaluating whether or not Wang truly has the ability to stay in a starting rotation. The other question looming as far as the topic of Wang and being a starting pitcher is the issue of health. Wang missed all of ’01 with shoulder surgery, he missed some time in ’03 due to blisters, and he missed time in ’04 due to a hamstring issue. While it is somewhat encouraging that Wang has yet to demonstrate a single recurring injury, it is tougher to trust him knowing that he has come down with some issue in 3 out of his last 4 years with the organization.

Though I am no longer disappointed in Wang for his performance not matching his stuff, I still am not his biggest fan. The injury history is a big concern for me as is the issue of dealing with left-handed hitters given his age and the continued presence of the problem. However, he is the Yankee pitching prospect closest to the majors, which counts more so for pitchers as far as I’m concerned. In addition, there is no denying that his fastball is very good and even in a bullpen role, in a possible attempt to stave off health issues, Wang could be very useful. As it stands, his usefulness as a starter is likely to be tested in ’05 given the older slant of the Yankee rotation.

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