Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fixing what's Wang

Can the Yanks fix Chien-Ming Wang? The notion that he's broken is patently ridiculous considering that he's only 27, has a career 46-18 record (.719 win rate -- which would be second best ALL-TIME if he had 100 career decisions) and has been the staff ace for the past two years. The question is, how can he adjust if his sinker is off? This year he experimented with an effective slider and against the Mess, he actually whiffed 10 men and his strikeout rate increased nearly 50% this year -- from 3.14 per 9 to 4.70. His walk rate also climbed, but it is still low (2.15 in '06, 2.66 in '07). He occasionally throws a four-seam fastball, but the signature pitch is the two-seam sinker.

Ultimately, as Verducci implied (see the link in the post below), the key to top postseason pitching is whether the man on the mound can whip a four-seam fastball past you. It may be straight, and it may not be as cool-looking as the big-hook curve or whydidIswingatthat slider. But a tight, well-placed four-seam fastball is the best pitch in baseball. Ask El Duque, who almost never topped 92 but dominated the Braves and Pads in the World Series (he also whiffed 12 in 7.1 IP in a 4-2 loss to the Mess). Ask David Wells, who has a 7-2 postseason record with the Yanks because he pounded the strike zone with four-seam fastballs (only 9 BB in 67.2 postseason IP with the Yanks). Ask Curt Schilling who still dominates at age 92 or whatever because he puts the four-seamer where he wants to, even though he no longer hits 98 mph. And that is the pitch that Wang needs to develop -- it's easier to control than the two-seamer that depends upon movement; it's easier to throw than the two-seamer that must be gripped more tightly to get the downward spin.

As Verducci noted, ABs are more important in the postseason because there is no tomorrow for the hitters -- thus they concentrate harder and either hit mistakes better (no, I cannot explain A-Rod, Matsui or Jorge either) or lay off more difficult pitches. Pounding the strike zone with well-placed four-seamers (see, 2003 Marlins) is almost a necessary talent. And every pitcher needs a backup plan if his initial approach fails. Wang had none in this postseason.

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