Wang apparently passed his physical with the Nationals already, no small feat considering his recent injury woes. According to Chico Harlan of The Washington Post, Wang will earn a base salary of $2 million, with $3 million in possible incentives. Washington will retain the soon-to-be 30 year-old’s rights through the 2011 season, as the former Yankee has less than five years of big league service time.
From 2005-2007, Wang was a metronome on the mound. The 6-3 right-hander posted xFIP marks in the low-four’s, whiffing and walking few while using a low-90’s sinker to get groundballs by the bushel:
2005: 116.1 IP, 3.64 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 63.9 GB%, 4.20 xFIP
2006: 218 IP, 3.14 K/9, 2.15 BB/9, 62.8 GB%, 4.16 xFIP
2007: 199.1 IP, 4.7 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 58.4 GB%, 4.23 xFIP
Wang’s sinker, thrown over three-quarters of the time, was worth +1.11 runs per 100 pitches in 2005, +0.83 in ’06 and +0.60 in ’07. He supplemented the pitch with a low-to-mid-80’s slider, which was hit hard during his first two seasons (-0.51 runs/100 in ’05 and -0.68 in ’06) but was sharp in 2007 (+2.27).
He missed more bats (relatively speaking) and issued more free passes in ’07, placing fewer pitches within the strike zone while continuing a trend of decreased contacts rates and increased outside swing percentages:
2005: 52.3 Zone%, 88.3 Contact%, 18.7 O-Swing%
2006: 54.5 Zone%, 86 Contact%, 20.2 O-Swing%
2007: 49 Zone%, 84.6 Contact%, 24.5 O-Swing%
Chien-Ming again struck out more batters at the expense of some extra walks in 2008. In 95 frames, Wang punched out 5.12 hitters per nine innings, with 3.32 BB/9 and a 55% groundball rate. He had both his sinker (+0.82 runs/100) and slider (+1.62) working. As former Rotographs writer Peter Bendix noted, Wang’s extra K’s and ball fours essentially canceled each other out: his xFIP was a characteristic 4.20.
Unfortunately, Wang’s 2008 campaign would be cut well short. He suffered a nasty right foot injury running the bases in a mid-June contest with the Astros. Wang didn’t go under the knife, but the extensive damage to his foot and an arduous rehab program to mend it ended his season.
And then, the wheels fell off in 2009. Wang was whooped in April, with an ERA matching A-Rod’s age. The righty was placed on the DL with hip weakness, which was claimed to be a cascade injury related to his foot ailment suffered the previous year.
He returned to the majors in late May, making a few relief appearances, but continued to get drubbed upon being returned to the starting five in June. Wang’s season came to a close following a Fourth of July outing, as he required surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right shoulder capsule.
As new Fangraphs scribe Joe Pawlikowski showed, Wang’s release point has gradually become higher. Perhaps as a result, he didn’t get the same level of tailing or sinking action on his fastball in 2009. Wang was still an extreme worm burner (53.3 GB%), but not to the same extent as in years past.
You don’t really need me to tell you that Chien-Ming wasn’t 9.64 ERA-level bad. In 42 innings, he posted rates of 6.21 K/9 and 4.07 BB/9, with a 4.55 xFIP. His BABIP was an astronomical .397, his rate of stranding runners on base was just 53.1 percent, and his HR/FB rate was 17.1 percent.
According to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, Wang won’t take a big league mound until May at the earliest, as he continues to rehab his shoulder.
It’s difficult to say how Wang will come back from the procedure. But, given his strong groundball tendencies, it’s worth checking out the quality of leather in Washington’s infield. Jeff Zimmerman of Beyond the Boxscore released projected 2010 UZR totals (more on the methodology here). Here’s how the Nationals figure to line up next year:
Zimmerman is a world-class defender at the hot corner. But Dunn is a butcher, and the middle infield combo of Guzman and Kennedy doesn’t scream “range.” Shortstop prospect Ian Desmond will likely enter the picture at some point. There’s obviously not much UZR data on him, but his Total Zone numbers in the minors are pretty grim.
Fantasy owners can only take a wait-and-see approach with Wang at this point. He’s a worthwhile proposition for the Nationals, a club with just one starter whom CHONE projects to crack two WAR in 2010. However, even at his peak in the Bronx, Wang was one of those “more valuable in real life than fantasy” type of hurlers, given the low K rates. He might be a NL-only option during the summer, but that seems to be the extent of his upside.
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