Nats Have to Give Wang Time to Succeed

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, August 04, 2011 | , , , | 15 comments »

At first blush, the outlook looks pretty grim.  In two starts, Chien-Ming Wang -- the Taiwanese Michael Jordan -- has put up some pretty ugly numbers.  After yesterday's 6-4 to the Atlanta Braves, snapping a four-game winning streak for the Washington Nationals, Wang has allowed 12 runs -- six earned -- in nine innings pitched.  That works out to a 6.00 ERA that's being gracious as to how well he's really pitched due to the errors that have allowed half the runs he's given up to go unearned.

Wang has allowed 15 hits and two walks in that time frame, for an unsightly 1.889 WHIP.  And the kicker: he's struck out just two hitters.  These sound like the numbers a Single-A non-prospect would put up if he were suddenly injected into a Major League rotation.

But this isn't a Single-A non-prospect we're talking about.  This is a guy that had back-to-back 19-win seasons and was on his way to a third when a base-running incident of all things derailed what was once a very promising career.  He has finished second in a Cy Young vote and started Game One of a playoff series when he was with the New York Yankees.  This is a guy that you look for the silver lining with.

The silver lining is there if you want to look for it.  And the Nats will.  They've been very patient with Wang over the last two years, essentially paying $3 million over the last two seasons for his rehab from major shoulder capsule surgery. 

Both his starts have followed the same pattern:  Get roughed up in the first, dominate in the middle, get roughed up in his last inning.

In his first start, Wang walked the first batter on four pitches, none of which were within six inches of the plate.  It's safe to say he was nervous.  But he then allowed the next four batters to reach as well, and before half the crowd was in their seats he'd given up four runs on 24 pitches in the frame.  He then only needed 24 pitches combined to get through the next two innings, inducing ground balls to retire six out of seven batters faced.  Then in the fourth inning, more trouble.  He got a couple pitches up, there was an infield error on a potential double play ground ball, and two more runs scored.

Yesterday was very similar.  The first inning resulted in two runs.  A ground ball that just eluded a fielder went as a single.  Then a stolen base and two ground outs scored the first run.  Another ground ball single and walk set up the second.  Then for three innings Wang was solid, allowing just one hit that was erased by a double play ball.

In the fifth, his throwing error on a comebacker opened the flood gates.  Maybe he got tired, maybe he was rattled by the error.  But Wang did get two outs without a run scoring until he left pitches up and over the plate to Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla, the last a hanging breaking ball that went for a home run that manager Davey Johnson called "a poor choice" and Wang's third best pitch.

"I mean, he had a good sinker," Johnson said. "He was getting a lot of groundballs. You show [the slider], but you make it bounce. You don't leave that waffle ball right out over the plate. In that situation, if you're going to get beat, go strength to strength. That's part of, I guess, coming back after a long layoff."

But Johnson noted the progress from the first start to the next.  "Everything was a lot crisper." Johnson said.  "He looked stronger.  I thought his ball was moving more.  I was pleased.  The error kind of opened the door for them a little bit and then he made a couple of bad pitches." 

"It was a step in the right direction."

So he's having periods where he's showing the pitcher he once was.  He's always given up a lot of base hits, it's what sinker ball pitchers do.  Jason Marquis and John Lannan are the same way.  Sometimes the ground balls are hit at someone, sometimes they get through.  But it's hard to hit line drives and fly ball against sinkerballers, so those hits that get through are usually singles and teams are forced to string several together to score.  It's a tough way to have to go about things.

But you also have to have impeccible defense behind pitchers like that -- especially in your infield, and in both of Wang's starts, errors started the unraveling.

Wang is throwing strikes, having walked just two in two starts.  He's got decent velocity, sitting 89-91 with his fastball and touching 93-MPH.  His arm strength will continue to build as he adjusts to throwing to Major League hitters again.  He needs to settle himself better in the first inning.  Maybe the extra adrenaline of being back on a Major League mound after so much time away is just overcoming him in the first inning, working against him to keep the sinker from falling until he tires a bit from throwing 25-30 pitches.

But the Nationals owe it to themselves -- and to Wang -- to see if he can be an option for the Major League staff next season.  They can't find that out with him pitching to minor league players.  They need for him to pitch against Major League hitting.  They need to allow him the time to see if he can be a big league pitcher again.  It might be unpalatable to some fans who feel the Nats are simply giving up every fifth day while they trot Wang out in what is essentially Major League rehab, and that viewpoint could be understandable.

But the competitive portion of this season is over.  The Nationals traded two veteran players off the big league roster for minor league talent.  They will be shutting down Jordan Zimmermann after a few more starts.  They'll be recalling a couple of young pitchers (and perhaps a position player or two) in the near future to give them a taste of the majors.  And of course, all of NatsTown awaits The Second Coming.

With the investment both the team and the player has made in this, the Nats simply have to give Wang time to succeed. 

15 comments

  1. Doug // August 4, 2011 at 12:33 PM  

    What am I missing? There is no "silver lining", and the Nats don't "owe" Wang anything after funding his rehab at a price of $3 million. He is not under contract for next season! He should be paying the team for an opportunity to pitch the rest of this season and audition for a big free-agent contract, but instead he gets bonuses for making appearances. Sign him to an extension now, with a low base salary and roster bonuses, or release him. Giving him these opportunities (and taking opportunities away from our young and controllable starters) makes no sense!

  2. Dave Nichols // August 4, 2011 at 1:03 PM  

    Doug, thanks for the comment. You certainly are not alone in your opinion.

    Currently, Wang is not taking opportunities from anyone. The Nats needed a starter when they traded Marquis, and Z'nn will be shut down in four starts. The only pitcher who's been affected is the ineffective Tom Gorzelanny. Detwiler is starting Thursday and will for the forseeable future.

    the team will promote Peacock and Milone, probably when the rosters expand, but it's not like they are wasting away in the minor -- this is both players' first experiences in AAA.

  3. Gonat // August 4, 2011 at 1:15 PM  

    Doug, I am with you. As I read the title "Nats HAVE to", the Nats don't HAVE to do anything and the "silver lining" huh, what?

    Winning is the silver lining as you saw during the win streak that the fringe fans and bandwagon fans poured in. MASN is owned in huge proportion by Angelos. Angelos is the winner in this as he got the windfall in TV viewership and MLB.TV sold more subscriptions as this was advertised in Chinese Taipei and China. The TV crews that were there yesterday had to search hard to find any Wang followers at the stadium.

    2 ugly pitching performances is looking like Rizzo made a big mistake on top of his trying to right his wrong signing him to his 2nd year with the Nats which was another one year deal without having an option after it.

    The unknowns are what happens the rest of the season and after the season. I think it is a lose/lose. If Wang does improve, he will most likely go to the highest bidder as a Free Agent for next season. If he continues to be this bad, he will burn out the bullpen and tack on more losses. Seems like this is heading towards the 2009 replay of a guy named Daniel Cabrera which was one of Jim Bowden's last goodbye presents to the Nationals. So what has Rizzo learned?

    This is not Spring Training and you would have to strain your brain to find any 'Silver Lining' except some goodwill to reclamation projects of the Major Leagues. Didn't Rizzo learn anything from what Jim Bowden did so wrong?

    JUST SAY NO

  4. Gonat // August 4, 2011 at 1:25 PM  

    Uh Dave, Wang was already here before Marquis was traded and unless you knew the future, it is Detwiler taking Marquis spot.

    I liked it better when I could come here for "non-homer" writing like the other kiss-butt sites.

    This is a major Rizzo FAIL unless Wang all of a sudden becomes Chien-Ming Wang of 2006.

  5. Dave Nichols // August 4, 2011 at 1:45 PM  

    Gonat, thanks for the comments. Just because I believe the nats are doing the right thing in this instance doesn't make it a "butt kiss" opinion.

    you disagree with the opinion, and you're entitled to. a lot of folks agree with you. but let's not be insulting while disagreeing, shall we?

    Yes, Wang started the day before Marquis was traded. I didn't mean to imply that it was a causal relationship. I was only pointing out to Doug that there are spots in the rotation that need filling and that Wang isn't currently blocking anyone. that may change soon. If after two more starts we see the saem type of performance from Wang, i'll happily say that it's time to get the younger guys in here. but i don't think the team plans on doing that until the rosters expand in September from the disccussions i've had with folks around the team.

    as for your statement "This is a major Rizzo FAIL unless Wang all of a sudden becomes Chien-Ming Wang of 2006." how else do we find that out unless he pitches? that was kinda my point of this post.

  6. Kevin Rusch, Section406 // August 4, 2011 at 1:50 PM  

    Dave, I agree with you for the most part -- he needs to be pitching (poorly) in the majors right now. BUT, and I think this is where the other guys are right, the Nats need to sign him to an incentive-laden deal right now, because they've invested money and time in the guy and it's likely that if he's ever good again, it'll be in 2012, and the Nats have no expectation of him playing for them at this point. Extend him and _then_ play him. Otherwise, you're doing him huge favors for nothing.

  7. Gonat // August 4, 2011 at 2:27 PM  

    I agree Kevin. Rizzo has to have the "extension" talk now or cut him loose. The Nats have no future in this guy otherwise. Take your losses and get back to playing smart baseball.

    Dave, what does it do for the Nationals long-term if he pitches 8 to 9 more starts and improves or gets worse without an "exit strategy"?

    What is the long-term plan? He is a Free Agent after the season right now. Wang may give a home town discount to stay or go again to the highest bidder with a fond farewell for everything the Nationals did for him and that is what I expect. Very risky going forward in what Doug called "funding his rehab at a price of $3 million"

    Also, given the extent of the injury Wang is so high risk that his shoulder could be re-injured like Brandon Webb experienced recently.

  8. Gonat // August 4, 2011 at 2:39 PM  

    If Jim Bowden made this dumpster dive move, Nats Town would be going crazy.

    This Wang move, didn't even bring in more than a few 100 extra fans in fact last Saturday brought in more fans then Wang's debut and yesterday very few Wang fans showed up. Even they knew what was going to happen and so did many casual Nats fans that didn't want to see the loss.

    Yesterday's game attendence was 20,043 vs. last Thursday's day game against the Marlins was 24,153.

    Even the attendence is a bust. Winning brings them in, losing keeps the fans away.

  9. Dave Nichols // August 4, 2011 at 3:17 PM  

    Guys, I don't understand your logic about giving him an extension. He's playing for his extension. If he picks up and looks like he can contribute next year, great. If not, he simply walks away, to try with another team in the spring. Signing him now, having shown as little as he has, to me makes absolutely no sense.

  10. Doug // August 4, 2011 at 3:36 PM  

    But if he pitches well in August and September and looks like he can contribute next year, then the Nats have to compete against every other franchise to sign him. There is no advantage to the Nats that he is getting that tryout with the Nats. It was just a huge mistake not putting a team option into his contract.

  11. Gonat // August 4, 2011 at 5:39 PM  

    Dave, the extension is basically the team option Rizzo didn't secure in December. The team can non-tender him then so they owe him nothing if he doesn't progress. If Wang doesn't agree to it, dump him as you know this isn't long-term. It is a lose/lose otherwise.

    The team did this essentially with Daniel Cabrera in 2009. It was a $2,600,000 dumpster dive to pitch and he had a bad Spring Training and they put him in the starting rotation because they had money invested in him. After 8 bad starts in which the Nats lost all those games and then banishing him to the bullpen, they dumped him.

    Good teams may take on reclamation projects but good teams protect themselves when it is a no-win situation. Rizzo had a choice 2 weeks ago after his last start to bring him up or DFA him. He should have DFA'd him then.

    I give the Mets credit for finally walking away on Oliver Perez. Some times you have to walk away from the investment.

  12. Chi // August 4, 2011 at 6:32 PM  

    Where were the crowds yesterday to see the big Wang? If this was a publicity stunt for new fans it was a 4 base error! The Wang fans follow him when he is playing well which you saw yesterday as they didn't show. These aren't Nationals fans you are making as it is almost akin to following a visiting team. No team loyalty.

  13. Dave Nichols // August 4, 2011 at 8:18 PM  

    Chi, I never asserted Wnag would be a box office draw. Crowds gather in his homeland to see every pitch. Here, he's just another player.

    Gonat, I still don't think the contract thing is right. The Nats had zero reason to give him a contract for next season. Zero. Especially if he doesn't show enough in his tryout right now.

    If you'd given his a contract extension for next season, then DFA'd him or non-tendered him, they'd still owe the money. They they'd be out a pitcher and the money.

  14. Gonat // August 4, 2011 at 8:50 PM  

    Dave, not a contract for next season. When they signed him as a Free Agent in December for his 2011 contract, I only would have done it if it included a team option.

    This is putting 1 player over the best interests of the team and overall a bad move. This isn't Spring Training and these games count. This team may not be going to the playoffs, but I see incentive of getting a winning record in 2011.

    Rizzo made several mistakes with Wang and now is compounding those mistakes as he should have DFA'd him in my opinion.

  15. Dave Nichols // August 5, 2011 at 12:11 AM  

    Gonat, I see now, sorry. I thought you were advocating a cotnract for next season, I didn't understand you were rationalizing for this season's contract. my bad.