Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Problem with Chien Ming Wang

Let me explain the problem the Yankees' have with Chien Ming Wang in as simple terms as I can:

1). Chien Ming Wang is not pitching well after coming off the DL, which he went on ostensibly for a hip/foot thing, but more likely that he had an ERA of nearly 35. He has not made it out of the fifth inning yet this season and tonight couldn't make it out of the third. Although the Yankees have quite the offense, the short starts burn the bullpen--the Yankees used three relievers tonight, including both the long man and the displaced starter--and against good teams, the Yankees don't have a chance with Wang on the mound right now.

2) Chien Ming Wang is out of options, which means the Yankees cannot send him down to AAA without him being on waivers, where any other team would be likely to claim him. The only options the Yankees have, if Wang is not starting, is to either a) place him in the bullpen, where there's no guarantee he'd be effective there, or b) DL him again, even though teams are coming under increased scrutiny for DLing players who may not be so much hurt as that they simply aren't playing well, especially pitchers

3) Phil Hughes is throwing well out of the bullpen, but long term he projects as a starter, and while he's had a couple shaky outings this season, he's also had a couple good ones, and a few Andy Pettitte like bend-but-never-completely-break-and-keep-the-team-in-the-game outings. Right now, there is no question that he is a more effective starter than Chien Ming Wang.

If Hughes languishes in the bullpen for long, even in long relief, he'll lose the arm strength he spent building up in spring training.

The best solution for the Yankees at the moment is clear: Hughes needs to (again) replace Wang in the rotation. It gives the team a better chance to win.

The problem then becomes, what to do with Wang?

There is another possibility--the Yankees could trade Wang, or attempt to--but this option is also fraught with difficulties. One of two things is likely to happen. Either 1) a team buys low, Wang figures it out, becomes effective for another team and the Yanks receive little in compensation, or 2) teams don't think Wang can figure it out, and there are no takers.

It's much easier for a team to claim someone off of waivers, as Wang would be if the Yankees try to send him down to AAA, as they do not have to give up to get and the move becomes much more low risk.

It's easy to see why the Yankees don't want to give up on Wang: he did win 19 games two years in a row, but he also had a spate where, in four of his last six starts, he allowed five earned runs or more. It looks like a blip on the radar, and it probably is, but because of the foot injury, we will never know for sure. Definitely, the foot injury is the more important culprit here, but all things should be considered.

So if I'm the Yankees, what do I do? What can I do?

Wang's next scheduled start is against the Washington Nationals. I would not be surprised to see Wang make this start if only because it would give the Yankees some more time to figure out what to do, but while he remains in the rotation Phil Hughes does not, and the Yankees have to consider if the short term benefit is worth the long term setback in that Hughes would lose the starter's arm strength. It's much easier to make a starter a reliever than vice versa.

If the Yankees are going to risk going with Wang over the long term, then they have to seriously consider sending Hughes down to AAA, but if the Yankees' ultimate goal is to win the World Series, then they need to find a way to put Hughes back in the rotation.

I know it seems harsh and judgmental on my part, but having Hughes in the rotation right now would 1) give the Yankees a better chance to win this year, and 2) be better for Hughes' development as a starter.

Whatever the Yankees decide, there will be a lot of scrutiny from every side. At the very least, they should have learned the lesson: panic moves don't work.