CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Vote in the Internet Baseball Awards for a chance at a free copy of Dollar Sign on the Muscle
Voting ends in 16 days and 1 hour

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Under The Knife: Monda... (04/20)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: The ... (04/15)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Sche... (04/23)
Next Article >>
Prospectus Q&A: James ... (04/21)

April 20, 2009

Prospectus Today

The End of the World

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

There's no minimizing it: Chien-Ming Wang has been absolutely crushed in his first three starts this season, a stretch that includes Saturday's four-out, eight-run throttling that kicked off the Yankees' 22-4 loss at the hands of the Indians.

Wang, who when he's at his best is going to give up a lot of contact, is simply seeing all of his pitches knocked around the yard. He's faced 45 batters this year and struck out just two of them, the same number that have hit homers off of him. He's walked six. Of the 37 batters to make contact, 23 have hits. Of those 37, just 13 have hit ground balls, which is pretty much the disaster scenario for Wang.

Some time back, in speculating as to why a pitcher with Wang's velocity would strike out so few batters, I concluded that he works in such a small area of the strike zone that he produces contact by design. However, he's missing that area, and when you work in the strike zone, missing the good part by just a little bit-which is what we're seeing from Wang-is how you end up allowing fly balls to more than half the batters you face, fly balls that become extra-base hits. Wang has given up nine doubles and two homers, which would have been a month's work for him in his good seasons.

Yankee fans have seen this before, so it's instructive, as the airwaves are filled with an insistence that Wang be sent to the bullpen, the minors, or back to Taiwan, to think about how the last three-start stretch similar to this-with similar reaction-turned out. In August 2007, Mike Mussina had been pitching well for two months, with a 3.54 ERA and a 54/13 K/BB in his previous 12 starts. He had a streak of four straight wins and three straight quality starts, including 19 2/3 innings without a walk, when he took the mound against the Tigers on the night of August 16. It didn't go well; Mussina allowed nine hits and seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. He would be pounded by the Angels five days later (seven hits in 1 2/3 IP) and the Tigers again on the 27th (nine hits in three innings), losing his spot in the rotation at that point.

In the three starts, Mussina faced 59 batters and struck out just three of them. Nine hit doubles, and one homered. A different pitcher than Wang by type, Mussina's GB/FB ratio wasn't quite as jarring, but the results-25 of the 53 batters to make contact hit safely-were similar. For funsies:


          IP   H   R  BB  SO  HR   AVG   OBP    SLG
Wang     6.0  23  23   6   2   2  .622  .667  1.027
Mussina  9.7  25  20   5   3   1  .472  .508   .698

Wang's performance is "worse," but when the league is doing this to you, the difference between a .472 BA against and a .622 one is pretty insignificant. It's a difference of degree, not kind; Mussina lost his everything for three starts and got blasted all over the yard, generating calls for his removal from the rotation, the roster, the species. That's where Wang is today.

Here's where Mussina went after that. He came out of the bullpen on September 3 and threw 3 2/3 innings of mop-up relief, allowing seven hits and two runs. Back in the rotation on September 12, Mussina shut out the Blue Jays for 5 2/3 innings. Fluke? He came back six days later and shut out the Orioles for seven innings. In five appearances after August 27, Mussina posted a 3.49 ERA and a 15/6 K/BB, or roughly the same thing he'd been doing in the 12 starts prior to his lull. He made one post-season appearance, throwing 4 2/3 innings of middling relief in the game in which the Yankees were eliminated. In 2008, Mussina had a strong season, his last before retiring.

If you looked at Mussina on August 15, you wouldn't have seen the next three starts coming. If you'd looked at him on September 1, you wouldn't have seen a month of a 3.49 ERA coming. If you'd written him off at that point, you would have lost out on some good work.

Of course, 2007 is a long time ago. Here's a more recent example of a good pitcher who looked like he was in the tall grass:


          IP    H   R  BB  SO  HR   AVG   OBP   SLG
Pitcher  12.2  26  22  11   7   3  .433  .514  .717

That's Pitcher's second through fourth starts last season, a year ago this week, basically. CC Sabathia survived, don't you think?

The argument here isn't for doing nothing. The argument is for not panicking. There's not much reason to think that Wang isn't just a mechanical adjustment away, literally inches, from regaining his form as a mid-rotation starter. That's what fixed Sabathia: Some film work, some time with Carl Willis, some throwing off of the bullpen mound. Wang's last three starts are hideous, but you can look at recent Yankee history and see the same, you can look at a guy in the same rotation with Wang and see the same. If Mike Mussina and CC Sabathia can bounce back without demotions and releases and all of the other nonsense being suggested, Wang can as well.

Trust the pitcher.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

46 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Under The Knife: Monda... (04/20)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: The ... (04/15)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Sche... (04/23)
Next Article >>
Prospectus Q&A: James ... (04/21)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The '80' Pitches In This Yea...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Playing a Hinch
The Lineup Card: Awards We Wish We Could Giv...
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: AL Wild Card Game Recap
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: ALDS Preview: Angels vs....
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: NL Wild Card Game Previe...
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: ALDS Preview: Orioles vs...

MORE FROM APRIL 20, 2009
Premium Article Under The Knife: Monday Meds
Premium Article Future Shock: Monday Ten Pack
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: No Relief in Sight
The Week in Quotes: April 13-19

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2009-04-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Changing Gears
2009-04-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Ladies and Gentlemen, Toni...
2009-04-23 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Schedule Strength
2009-04-20 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The End of the World
2009-04-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The DiSars
2009-04-14 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Losses
2009-04-13 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Curbed Enthusiasm
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2009-04-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Changing Gears
2009-04-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Ladies and Gentlemen, Toni...
2009-04-23 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Schedule Strength
2009-04-20 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The End of the World
2009-04-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The DiSars
2009-04-14 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Losses
2009-04-13 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Curbed Enthusiasm
More...