Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #94 Chien-Ming Wang

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The surprising ace of the Yankees’ late-2000s rotation had a fine Yankees career unfortunately cut far too short due to injuries.

Name: Chien-Ming Wang
Position: Starting pitcher (RHP)
Born: March 31, 1980 (Tainan City, Taiwan)
Yankee Years: 2005-09
Primary number: 40
Yankee statistics: 55-26, 4.16 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 109 G, 104 GS, 670.2 IP, 310 K, 4 CG, 1 SHO, 93 ERA-, 90 FIP-, 12.9 rWAR, 11.5 fWAR

Biography

Rise of the sinkerballer

One of the most popular international players the Yankees have ever had, Chien-Ming Wang was a highly-regarded young prospect when Yankee scouts John Cox and Gordon Blakeley signed him in May 2000 with a $1.9 million bonus. Wang first rose to fame when he starred in the 1997 World Junior Championship and helped the Taiwanese team win the Silver medal. A couple years and a few more international tournaments later, he joined the Yankees organization and went on to become the most successful MLB player to come from Taiwan.

The 20-year-old reported to Short-Season-A Staten Island and made 14 starts with a 2.48 ERA in 87 innings, throwing a pair of complete games and a shutout in the process. He showed off the pinpoint control and tumbling sinkerball that would lead to terrific walk and homer rates in the majors with a 0.2 HR/9 and 2.2 BB/9, but Wang eventually hurt his shoulder. He needed surgery and spent the entire 2001 season in recovery. He returned to Staten Island in '02 as a 22-year-old and again dominated the New York-Penn League, pitching to a 1.72 ERA and 1.6 BB/9 in 13 starts (78 1/3 innings). His teams won the NYPL championship both years, and following his rise to the majors, the Staten Island Yankees retired Wang's #41 jersey on July 27, 2006 in appreciation for his contributions there during his younger years.

The Yankees were impressed enough by Wang's recovery to have him skip the rest of A-ball and report straight to Double-A Trenton in '03. He stayed there for the next year and a half, notching decent numbers with a low walk rate, but a combined 4.36 ERA there from '03-'04 hardly seemed to indicate that he would have great success in the majors. Nonetheless, the Yankees promoted him again midway through the '04 season to Triple-A Columbus, where he had a 2.01 ERA in 40 1/3 innings down the stretch, walking just eight men. Wang's sinker often dipped low, but its brief appearance in the zone proved far too tempting for most minor leaguers to stop their swings. Many a pitch was merely rolled over for easy groundouts. The kids wouldn't be the only baseball players to struggle against the sinker.

Replacement-turned-ace

Following his strong finish to the '04 season, Wang reported to Columbus in April '04. He wasn't nearly as superb as he was at the end of the previous season, recording a 4.24 ERA in six starts with a 1.353 WHIP and an uncharacteristic 1.1 HR/9. It didn't seem like he was knocking on the doors of the majors, but sometimes, opportunities are born from mere chance.

The Yankees entered the '05 season with a seemingly solid rotation of veterans led by big off-season acquisitions Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright, who joined a rotation that already featured Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown. However, the injury bug wasted no time in striking down that aged group. By the end of April, Wright was already gone with Pavano and Brown soon to follow, and the Yankees desperately needed reinforcements.

On April 30th, the Yankees called up Wang to make his major league debut at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays, whose 775 runs scored in '05 ranked fifth in the league by the end of the season. Wang won over the Bronx crowd with seven innings of two-run ball, inducing 19 grounders from the Blue Jay offense. Although he did not get the win, he exited with a 3-2 lead to a rousing ovation and a rotation spot that he would not relinquish for over three years.

Wang went down with his own injury at the beginning of July, shoulder inflammation that would cost him two months of starts. He shook it off and pitched well upon his return to finish his rookie year with a fine 93 ERA- in 18 games. Wang and fellow rookie Robinson Cano proved to have a vital impact on the team as the Yankees recovered from a slow start to win their eighth consecutive AL East division title. Wang made his first career playoff start in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Angels trying to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the series, but three unearned runs led to a 5-3 loss. Even though the Yankees went on to lose the series in five games, the Yankees realized that Wang could be a real asset to their team over the next few years.

The righthander began his sophomore season entrenched in the Yankees' rotation, even while struggling through his first six starts to an uncharacteristically high 4.89 ERA and 3.6 BB/9. After that May 1st start though, Wang was fantastic for the rest of the season, pitching to a 3.39 ERA in 28 games and 183 innings. He pitched the lone shutout of his career on July 28th against the Devil Rays, a dominant performance with just two hits allowed despite only one strikeout. His tall stature on the mound combined with the dramatic drop of his sinker made him a formidable foe for any hitter:

It was a career year for Wang, as he notched career-highs in ERA, ERA-, innings, and WAR. He led the American League with a minuscule 0.5 HR/9, and a powerful Yankees offense behind him also helped him tie for the league lead in wins at 19. Johan Santana was the obvious and unanimous Cy Young Award winner that year, but Wang was the runner-up for the prize. The Yankees won another division title and this time, Wang started Game 1 of the playoffs against the Tigers. The Yankees roughed up Nate Robertson as Wang threw 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball and earned the only playoff victory of his career. Regrettably, Wang did not get to make a second start in a potential Game 5; the Tigers beat Mussina, Johnson, and Wright over the next three games to take the series in four games.

Wang's encore to his excellent '06 was an almost-identical '07 season. He was one of many players felled by a hamstring injury early in the season, which embarrassingly led to Pavano starting Opening Day, but he was right back on track upon his return on April 24th. Two starts later, he had arguably the best game of his career, aside from perhaps the aforementioned two-hit shutout. Against Seattle on May 5th at Yankee Stadium, he sent down the first 22 Mariners in a row, carrying a perfect game one out into the eighth inning. Five outs from perfection though, first baseman Ben Broussard yanked Wang's 95th pitch of the afternoon over the fence in right-center for a solo homer to break up the perfecto, the no-hitter, and the shutout. Wang then gave up a single to Jose Guillen, but induced Kenji Johjima to bounce into a double play and end his day with eight innings of two-hit ball. It still stands as the closest any Yankee pitcher has come to perfection since Mussina fell one out short in 2001.

The Yankees were again off to a slow start, but again as in '05, Wang's plus pitching propelled them back into the pennant race. Although he missed most of April, he finished just two outs shy of reaching the 200-inning plateau for the second straight year, and the even more dangerous '07 offense helped him reach 19 victories again. Broussard's perfecto-busting homer was amazingly one of just nine surrendered all year by Wang, a career-high and AL-best 0.4 HR/9.

The Yankees overcame great odds to make the playoffs as the Wild Card, and manager Joe Torre decided to start Wang, his clear ace, twice in the ALDS against the Indians to maximize his chances of victory. He had hardly ever pitched on three days' rest, but it was hard to fault this strategy since the alternative was starting Mussina, who struggled to a 5.15 ERA in '07. Unfortunately, the strategy did not pay off at all, as Wang was the big goat of the series and got demolished by the Tribe both in the opener and in Game 4 with the Yankees on the brink of elimination. It was disappointing, but the Yankees still looked forward to his future on the strength of his tremendous back-to-back seasons.

Injuries cause a screeching halt

Wang appeared to be his normal self as the Yankees began their 2008 season with him as the Opening Day starter for the first time. He had a few bumps in the road over his first 14 starts, but it also included an impressive two-hit complete game victory in Fenway on April 16th. In his 15th start of the season, he was cruising along with five scoreless innings in Houston during an interleague game against the Astros.

Since they were playing in Minute Maid Park, he had to bat in the top of sixth when the Yankees put two men on with one out in a 3-0 game against Astros ace Roy Oswalt. Wang tried to bunt them over, but the catcher forced Jorge Posada at third base and Wang had to run the bases. Two batters later, Wang was on second base when Derek Jeter grounded a single through the right side. Wang wanted the insurance run, so he hustled toward third base to round it and come home behind Robinson Cano with the fifth run. While scoring, he tore the Lisfranc ligament in his foot and needed his teammates' help to leave the field. Initially, the Yankees thought he would be back after six weeks, but recovery from the injury turned out to take far longer than they anticipated. Wang never pitched again at the old Yankee Stadium and was done for the season.

Sadly, Wang has never been the same pitch he was when he left the mound in Houston after an unremarkable bottom of the fifth inning a little over five years ago. He returned to the Yanks in '09 and was suddenly horrible, shattering the Yankees' hopes of a star-studded rotation led by him, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett. He was diagnosed with weakness in his hip and missed a month, but it did not remedy the problem. Soon, Wang was back on the shelf, and the news broke that he needed major shoulder surgery. His major-league career with the Yankees came to an end in a no-decision on Independence Day. The rest of the team rewarded their injured one-time ace with a World Series ring as they carried him to the championship. Declining to give him a raise in arbitration, the Yankees amicably parted ways with Wang after the season.

Wang moved on to the Washington Nationals and spent the entire 2010 season rehabbing, as he did as a 21-year-old in '01. Unlike then though, the time off did not really help. He finally returned to the mound for the first time in over two years with the Nats on July 29, 2011, but finished the year with a mediocre 106 ERA- in 11 starts. The Nats had hopes of Wang being their fifth starter for the 2012 campaign, but he was again sidelined with hip and hamstring strains during the season. That limited him to 32 1/3 underwhelming innings of 6.68 ERA baseball, and the Nationals won their first division title without much help from Wang. They released him after the season.

During the World Baseball Classic, Wang looked sharp for Taiwan in shutting out not only the Chinese team of minor leaguers, but also the two-time champion Japanese group. He didn't allow a run in three tournament starts and the Yankees liked how he looked enough to offer him a minor-league contract to help him get back to the majors. He pitched to a 2.33 ERA and 3.36 FIP in nine starts with Triple-A Scranton, but the Yankees did see enough action in his pitches to feel comfortable bringing him up for an official reunion. The Blue Jays needed rotation help and offered him a major-league contract, so Wang exercised his opt-out and joined Toronto.

After an ugly debut in Chicago against the lowly White Sox, Wang had back-to-back sterling starts against the potent Rangers and Orioles offenses, a combined 13 1/3 innings of one-run ball. Immediately after that though, the Red Sox and Tigers blasted Wang and he failed to make it out of the second inning in either start. The Blue Jays designated him for assignment, and he is still with the Toronto organization in Triple-A Buffalo, again trying to fight his way back.

It's disheartening to watch Wang's career fizzle out at such a young age due to injuries, but his decline does not erase his awesome pitching from the late 2000s from memory. He was a crucial member of three playoff teams and two division champions, providing stability to what was often a shaky starting rotation. Whenever Wang retires, he will almost certainly start receiving invitations for Old Timers' Day, and there is no doubt that the Yankee Stadium crowd will give him a warm ovation for what he did with this franchise.

To the greatest Taiwanese man to play major league baseball, 謝 謝.

Andrew's rank: 90

Tanya's rank: 93

Community's rank: 85.8

Avg. WAR rank: 97

Season Stats

Year

Age

Tm

W

L

ERA

FIP

G

GS

CG

SHO

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

IBB

SO

HBP

BK

WP

ERA-

FIP-

rWAR

fWAR

2005

25

NYY

8

5

4.02

4.20

18

17

0

0

116.1

113

58

52

9

32

3

47

6

0

6

93

98

2.3

1.5

2006

26

NYY

19

6

3.63

3.91

34

33

2

1

218.0

233

92

88

12

52

4

76

2

1

2

80

87

6.0

4.1

2007

27

NYY

19

7

3.70

3.79

30

30

1

0

199.1

199

84

82

9

59

1

104

8

1

8

82

86

5.0

4.0

2008

28

NYY

8

2

4.07

3.74

15

15

1

0

95.0

90

44

43

4

35

1

54

3

0

3

94

87

2.0

1.8

2009

29

NYY

1

6

9.64

5.38

12

9

0

0

42.0

66

46

45

7

19

1

29

2

0

2

211

119

-1.4

0.1

NYY (5 years)

55

26

4.16

3.99

109

104

4

1

670.2

701

324

310

41

197

10

310

21

2

21

93

90

12.9

11.5

Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

References

Baseball Prospectus

BR Bullpen

Other Top 100 Yankees

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