Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chien-Ming Wang and why he should fascinate you

From this Jonah Keri interview of Angels' second baseman Howie Kendrick:
Keri: Who's the toughest pitcher you've ever faced?
Kendrick: Chien-Ming Wang. It's that sinker ball. He's one of those guys that you definitely have to be a little more patient against. He can throw two different sinkers. He has one that has a little more sink to it, where he takes a little speed off. Then he throws you a hard one also. So you have to be patient and really try to elevate the ball. He's pretty much the only guy that I've had some problems with in the major leagues.
Chien-Ming Wang is the most fascinating pitcher in baseball today, and Kendrick, who can probably hit .300 in his sleep, illustrates half of the reason why. Wang is well known for throwing what analysts have termed the "power sinker," a sinking fastball that is thrown a few miles an hour faster than a traditional sinker. Hitters hate hitting the pitch, and Wang has been effective throwing it.

Yet if history is any guide, Wang should not be able to continue his success. It is near impossible, if not entirely impossible, to find pitchers with sustained major league careers who strike as few batters as Wang does. If strikeout numbers are indicative of good "stuff," then Wang should not have the "stuff" to continue succeeding on a high level.

However, the argument is that he does have good "stuff," it's just not "stuff" that induces strikeouts. The argument that pitchers should pitch to contact has been made time and again, even in the face of evidence that as much as coaches have preached this philosophy, the pitchers who have succeeded are those who made batters swing and miss.

If you look at most guys who were supposed to be the exception to this near-rule, you aren't going to be looking at a group of guys who are going to be making anyone's "toughest pitcher" list. That's what is fascinating about Wang: he is purported to be that rarest breed of pitcher, one who has great stuff, but no strikeouts to show for it.

Whether or not Wang can continue bucking history is on the short list of things to keep an eye on over the next decade or so.


die Amerikanerin said...

Is that the sort of thing a baseball scout would elaborate on a lot?

John Lynch said...

Perhaps, though I would rather hear form a physicist. Plenty of people have talked about what Wang throws. What I want to know is why it doesn't produce strikeouts if it's as good as everyone says. Why should I believe that Wang is the one guy who has great stuff that doesn't strike people out?