Everyone out there is trying to name the Nats rotation before the season begins, and while they have a group of guys that could fit the bill, it is tough to say that any one player has a guaranteed spot. It’s not, like in the past, because nobody is any good. But with nobody being GREAT, a collection of pretty good pitchers, while maybe making you feel better, doesn’t spell stability. One player that could wind up in the rotation is last year’s surprise signing – Chien-Ming Wang.
Wang isn’t going to start the season in the rotation, he’s still recovering from injury. But he’s not in no-man’s land right now, he’s projected to start the year actually pitching, in the minors. He was throwing off flat ground this week, and could be ready to go after a few rehab starts in the minors. Perhaps by May, he will be ready to join the rotation. But let’s not get too caught up in projecting when he’ll get up. Rather, let’s imagine what it would be like if he does.
The first thing to recognize about Wang’s pitching is that he is an extreme ground ball pitcher. We always think of John Lannan as a groundball pitcher, and he is. But check out his numbers compared to Wang’s (using the Fangraph’s stat):
That’s right, in Wang’s terrible injury-shortened 2009, he barely kept the ball on the ground less than Lannan did in his most successful year at it. Impressive no doubt. Of course, Lannan didn’t need all of that to be a good pitcher, he was successful without the gaudy GB/FB numbers.
Because Wang is able to keep the ball on the ground, he is able to keep the score in check. It is very difficult to win when you have to cobble together at least 4 or 5 hits to score more than 1 run. Keeping the ball on the ground means he doesn’t give up HRs – he only gave up 34 HRs in his career from 2005-2008, the 4 seasons prior to his terrible 2009. In that 2005-2008 span, batters hit .265/.320/.365 against him.
That is an ISO of .100, which seems good. How does that compare to some other career ISO’s? Pretty good:
Oswalt – .132
Sabathia – .130
Lester – .120
Halladay – .120
Hudson – .118
Felix Hernandez – .117
Wang (Career) – .110
Josh Johnson – .107
Lincecum – .106
Wang (2005-2008) – .100
I could go on, but you probably get the point. He’s been great, even counting his terrible 2009. When you don’t count it, he’s incredible at preventing extra base hits.
But his career highlights are not limited to burning worms. He started 95 games in his first 4 seasons, and had a 3.79 ERA, 117 ERA+. He went 52-20 (albeit for a very good team). PECOTA likes him, too. In fact, unlike the rest of the team, they think he might have some talent. They project him with an ERA of 4.33, despite projected 4.6 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9 ratios. That ERA is good enough to put him in second place for starters who will not be recovering from Tommy John surgery, barely behind Jordan Zimmermann (4.27 ERA).
There are doubts as to whether or not Wang will come back healthy. Last year, he was projected to pitch in April, then May, then July or August. This year, reports suggest he might be pitching by the time the season starts, and he’ll do that rehab in the minors first. But we don’t even know if he’ll be the same pitcher. If that sinker doesn’t sink, he won’t be able to contribute much of anything. But, if he does come back, and is able to consistently throw that sinker, he might be the best pitcher on the team this year.