Chien-Ming Wang has been the Yankees best pitcher pretty much since he arrived on the scene. His 52-18 career record is outstanding, his career 3.69 ERA and 1.277 WHIP both put him in the upper-echelon of starters in this league. It would be easy for a guy to look at those numbers and think, "I've got this stuff figured out." Lucky for us, the Wanger was not satisfied.
There's one number that's made all the difference in the world for Wang this season, 6.4. As in, 6.4 strike outs per 9 innings. This by no means puts him among the elite strike out pitchers in the league, but it does make him above average, whereas he used to be one of the worst in the league. In 2006 he averaged only 3.1 K/9, in 2007 the number jumped up to 4.7.
I know there's a belief out there that outs are outs, no matter how you get them, and while sometimes that is the case, when a guy like Wang can add the K to his arsenal he goes from being a good pitcher to a great pitcher.
The thing about sinkerballers, even the guy with the very best sinker, is that grounders find holes. Think about it, how many circumstances call for a batter to do nothing more than hit the ball on the ground for a positive result? Runner on third, less than 2 outs: A grounder is a run. Runner on 2nd, 0 out: A grounder to the right side is probably going to mean a run as well. There are times when pitchers need a K, absolutely have to have it. In the past, the Wanger couldn't get it for you, now he can. That's the leap he's taken.
When things are going well, he can sit back, throw his devastating sinker and let guys pound the ball into the ground over and over. When guys get in scoring position, he doesn't have to follow that pattern anymore. Now he uses his slider, change and probably the most important pitch he's developed, a four-seam fastball, to get a batter to swing and miss.
How and why Wang developed his other pitches is a chicken/egg discussion. Last year, his fingernail was basically torn off and he went a long stretch where his sinker wasn't as effective as it usual. He adjusted. Now, with his sinker back, he's taken everything he used as a crutch last season and incorporated it into his arsenal. He's gone from a one-trick pony to a complete pitcher.
Tonight, we'll get the chance to see a true ace take the hill for the Yanks. He's been the team's ace for more than 2 seasons now, but it wasn't until this year that he became a true number 1.
Wang vs. Cliff Lee at the Stadium tonight at 7:00 p.m.