The Nationals announced today what we had long expected, they have officially signed Chien-Ming Wang:
This is confirmed: Chien-Ming Wang's contract will pay him $2 million in 2010. He can earn up to $3 million in incentives. Also, he's already passed a physical -- yet another sign that this deal was days in the making." - Chico Harlan, Nationals Journal.
The base salary is a little bit higher than I would have liked to see. Wang is a player who has been a 20-game talent in the past but the potential for him to fall apart following shoulder surgery this season is far higher than him matching his old form. $2 million for a player that holds a high risk of pitching less than 50 major league innings next season is a bit high, but it's nothing to really fret about.
For the Nationals, however, the real key to getting Wang on track will not only be making sure he's healthy, but also to help him regain the mechanics that made him successful from 2006-2007. As you can see, he was a groundball master in that span, but something cause him to be way less successful in the previous few years:
When we last left him a little over a week ago, Bryce Harper was batting .323/.405/.677 with two homers, nine RBI, and 21 total bases through his first eight junior collegiate games. In his three games since, Harper has exploded going five for his last 12 with four extra-base hits and seven RBI. With the Coyotes now 9-1, Harper is batting .349/.420/.744. That's an OPS of 1.164...for a 17 year old...in JU-CO.
Here are his game by game results:
1/29 - 1/3, 1 R, 1 RBI
1/30 - 0/3, 1 R
1/30 - 0/5
1/31 - 3/4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 HR
2/3 - 3/6, 1 R, 1 RBI
2/4 - 0/4, 1 RBI
2/5 - 2/3, 1 R, 4 RBI, 1 HR
2/5 - 1/3, 1 RBI
2/12 - 2/4, 2b, 1 HR
2/13 - 3/5, 2x2b, 1 HR, 6 RBI
2/14 - 0/3, 1 R
Bryce Harper hits his third homer of the year - Vegas Scout
Bryce Harper smacks a Valentines Day Bomb- Vegas Scout
To many Nationals fans, a perfect baseball world would have Ian Desmond 100 percent ready to take over full-time operation of the shortstop position, Adam Kennedy back to his 2005 form, and for Cristian Guzman to just disappear.
Unfortunately for Washingtonians and this isn't a perfect world.
Ian Desmond was outstanding in 2009 but has a tradition of disappointing. He posted BABIP'S of .371 and .425 in AA and AAA before reaching Washington at the end of the season, which leads one to believe he may be up for a relapse. Adam Kennedy had a come back year in 2009, but prior to that he had struggled in his two-year stint with the Cardinals and was inevitably released. Cristian Guzman at this point in his career isn't a very good fielder, hitter, or thrower, and walks only slightly more at the major league level than I do. The Nationals are forced to at least play him a little bit though, as they are paying him $8 million this year.
So what can the Nationals do? They have three middle infielders that at most, in my mind, I only have 66 percent confidence in. They have a budding young star that they want to give playing time, but an old over paid shortstop who they are paying to produce, and a second basemen that hopefully will be a guy who can give them the consistency they need in that position, but no guarantee's.
So here's the solution Mr. Rizzo and Riggleman. A plan that will allow all three players to play, and an opportunity to help them all excel.
I propose a three-way (I thought the giggles stopped with Wang, oh-well) platoon.
Adam Kennedy, a left-handed hitter, right-handed thrower, was horrendous against lefties in 2009. Kennedy batted .241/.303/.333 against southpaw's in 2009 compared to .306/.363/.437 against righties. In fact, in his whole career Kennedy has only batted .245/.303/.329 against left-handers and .291/.348/.409 against righties.
Cristian Guzman, a switch hitter, preformed poorly against righties in 2009 but well against lefties. Against righties in 2009 Guzman hit .277 but only reached base at .301 and slugged .379. Against lefties (and batting right handed), Guzman hit .307/.323/.425, a large improvement than on his other splits. It may be wise for Guzman just to make the move to bat as a righty full-time.
Ian Desmond, a young player, is about equal against both righties and lefties for all intensive purposes, and at his age shouldn't be limited against which pitchers he hits against.
With these stats it seems to me the solution is simple. Against right handed pitching, play Adam Kennedy at second base, and play Ian Desmond at shortstop 60 percent of the time while having Guzman get 40% to work on hitting right handed batting from the right side. Eventually as the Nationals get more comfortable with Desmond playing full-time, they can give him 100% playing time at short against righties.
Then, when the Nationals face a lefty, have either Guzman or Desmond (preferably Guzman) play second base, the other short, and have Kennedy sit.
While this strategy may seem hard to manage, to me it seems like the best way to get the most out of the three players while still keeping in mind several key principles. Them being:
1. Ian Desmond needs to play, but cant be relied on yet.
2. Cristian Guzman needs to be a valuable asset with his contract, this may be the best way to capitalize on him
3. Adam Kennedy kills right handed pitching but can't handle the lefties, this makes him the most effective.
What do you think? Is this plausible? Would it work? Is it missing something fundamental and important?
Around the Horn Baseball is having a debate on whether or not the Nationals should let Stephen Strasburg start the season in Washington or whether they should keep him in the minors. Joe Tetreault from TetraultVision argues for the Nats including the hurler in their opening day line up, and Slanch from The Slanch Report argues against it.
I was surprised as both sides have really strong arguments. I expected going into it to just see the usual debate about rushing young pitchers, but both sides have valid points. There is also a debate going on in the comments section, feel free to join in!
The debate is part of The Great Bloguin Baseball Debates, a series The Nats Blog will be joining later this winter:
Follow us as each week as our best writers from around the Bloguin Network take aim at each other and square off on anything and everything baseball from "who was better, Mays or Mantle" to "Should MLB have a salary cap?"
Pick a side and agree or disagree. Take part in the debate by posting a comment giving your own opinion. There are no holds barred and nothing is held back in the "The Great Bloguin Baseball Debate."no comments
Those of you who watch NBC's The Office know that the company which the show revolves around, Dunder Mifflin, was recently saved from bankruptcy with a buy-out from a larger company “Sabre.” If you watched last Thursday’s episode you found that that company isn’t pronounnced “SAAB-RAY,” as the characters of The Office had been saying it, but in fact “SABE-ER.”
As a baseball fan this immediately strikes a cord in my mind, making me think of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. SABR of course is the driving force in researching and analyzing baseball in new lights that previous generations may have overlooked. The most notable 'sabrematricians' are Bill James and Rob Neyer who are constantly pushing the envelope with new statistical ideas and baseball principles.
Sabre, the company, is also an edgy corporation that in the latest episode comes into Scranton to try and change the way things are done, to make the company more efficient. Hilarity ensues.
This may seem like a silly coincidence, however I'm betting it's less of one than you might think. Some of you may remember, Fire Joe Morgan, an amazing baseball blog that ended last year. The blog relentlessly and hilariously defended Moneyball and Sabermetrics from bullying, and ignorant "old-school" baseball writers who would attack these new principles. Ken Tremendous (Michael Schur), was one of the wring leaders of the band of writers for Fire Joe Morgan, and was also an accomplished T.V. writer, and at a time the head writer for The Office. You know him better as Mose, Dwights creepy
Recently Schur has been writing for NBC's new show Parks and Recreation (a great show if you get the chance) but it's not ridiculous to believe that he still has some sway with the writers over at The Office. So is it a coincidence? I'll let you decide, but either way it's probably a good thing that the public will now associate the name SABR with Christian Slater...and not dudes in their parents basement.
Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported today that "The Nats are aggressively pursuing Wang." Silly headlines aside, when the giggles settle Wang could be considered the final veteran arm that the Nationals are looking for to complete their 2010 starting rotation. Ladson wrote:
"The Nationals are "aggressively pursuing" free-agent right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, according to a baseball source. It's not certain whether Washington has formally extended an offer just yet.
The source went so far as to say that Wang could make a decision within the next 10 days, and the Nationals are one of the finalists to acquire his services. Washington did not confirm it's interested in the 29-year-old hurler."
As recently as 2008, Chien-Ming Wang was the ace of the New York Yankees, a position he held for three years before injuring his foot and ending his 2008 season. For reasons that have escaped many, Wang never seemed to recover from the injury that ended his 2008 campaign. In 2009 he became the first player to throw a pitch in the new Yankee stadium, but things quickly fell apart.
The Taiwanese import went 0-3 in his first three starts with a 34.50 ERA capitalized by a 22-4 loss to the Indians on Apr. 18. Following the butchering by Cleveland, many in the Bronx tried to speculate what was wrong with the clubs former ace. Some believed he was favoring his injured foot, and some believed he had some serious mechanical issues; including a lowered kick, and an arched back on his drive. MLB TV pointed out that his release point was a whole five inches higher than it was in 2008. In July Wang was placed on the injured list after he elected to have season-ending shoulder surgery. He finished 2009 with a 1-6 record, 9.64 ERA, and a .365 BAA.
In December the Yankees opted to non-tender Wang ("tender Wang"...hold the giggles), and here we are with several teams pursuing CMW.
Looking at the numbers, what really has hurt Wang ("hurt Wang"...hold the giggles) has been the gradual decline of the effectiveness of his fastball. In 2006 his fastball was rated 18.8 runs above average according to FanGraphs. That value dropped to 13.0 in 2007, and only 8.6 in 2008. It fell off the table in 2009 when his fastball wasn't even at replacement value, rated at -16.4. As you can see, with Wang's fastball went his success:
2006: 19-6, 3.63 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 62.8 GB% (18.8 FB)
2007: 19-7, 3.70 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 58.4 GB% (13.0 FB)
2008: 8-2, 4.07 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 55.0 GB% (8.6 FB)
2009: 1-6, 9.64 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 53.3 GB% (-16.4 FB)
The most notable thing that jumps out when looking at those stats is how much Wang's ground ball percentage decreased in correlation with the value of his fastball. It appears that his fastball lost movement, causing his best pitch to no longer induce ground balls, but instead be sprayed around the ball park. In 2006, Wang's fastball was rated the fourth best in the majors, in 2009, it was one of the worst. For Wang, a ground ball pitcher, the ability to induce ground balls is absolutely vital. In 2006 his 62.8 ground ball percentage made him the best ground ball pitcher in the American League, however in 2009 he was merely average in ground ball percentage.
Determining the reason for the decline in Wang's fastball is still up in the air. Clearly, as seen above, his mechanics changed which likely caused his fastball to have less movement and less sinking action. But Why?
The answer is one of two things. Either Wang picked up some bad habits due to the nagging injuries which caused a shift in his mechanics and ultimately led to the shoulder injury, OR Wang was forced to adjust his approach because of his injuries, and he will no longer be able to regain the mechanics that produced all those ground balls several years ago.
For the Nationals, this could be a good gamble if it is the first scenario, but not so good if it's the second. There is a shift in the market towards attaining pitchers who can get ground balls, and if Wang can produce a GB% in the upper 50's again, he will be successful anywhere. All the Nationals would have to do is correct the previous problem and Wang should be good to go. However, if its the second scenario, thats some lousy Wang.