Cardinals are interested in possibly procuring the services of Chien-Ming Wang
, late of the New York Yankees
, to help fill in the back end of their 2010 rotation.
Aside from the obvious joy I feel at the potential headline puns I could come up with next year, I'm a little skeptical of this idea. It seems like a decent enough fit, I suppose, on the surface, what with Wang's extreme ground-ball tendencies and Dave Duncan's extreme love for said tendencies, but I'm not so sure this is the match made in heaven it might seem to be at first blush.
In the past, Dave Duncan has had his greatest successes with pitchers who are widely seen as underachievers. He'll take a mid-career guy with good stuff who's never quite managed to find success commensurate with his talent, and then get in his head with a different approach. Dave Duncan can take a guy like Todd Stottlemyre
and get him to stop worrying about strikeouts so much and just execute good pitches.
There's a pattern to the Duncan Method of success. The strikeout and walk rates both fall, and the ground-ball rate goes up. Of course, an airtight defense is necessitated by this approach, but by and large, Tony La Russa
teams have had such defenses. Grounders rarely leave the park, so the pitcher in question sees his home run rate drop. You want to see what a perfect Dave Duncan pitcher looks like? Just look at Joel Pineiro's numbers this year
. A perfect Duncan conversion.
Here's the problem with Wang: He already looks like the 'after' of a Dave Duncan conversion
. Even at his best, Wang never struck anybody out. In 2006, Wang's best year, his K rate was 3.14/9. He was already a ground-ball machine. In short, Chien-Ming Wang was pretty much a perfect Dave Duncan pitcher before he went to hell.
So what's the problem, you ask? After all, we've got a very talented pitcher who has great stuff and already subscribes to the philosophy of the pitching coach. How could anything be more right?
Well, here's the problem: if Wang is already the pitcher Duncan is trying to create, then where else is there to go? In short, I'm not sure Chien-Ming Wang is going to get any better under Dave Duncan because I'm not sure what else Duncan would teach him.
All of Wang's problems have been strictly physical in nature, it seems. Sure, there were times he was ineffective and it didn't seem anyone could quite figure out why, but looking back, it appears he was probably already headed down the path of injury even then. Remember, Mark Mulder pitched almost two years with a shredded shoulder. He even managed to do it well for a while there.
So this is my chief concern with any potential signing of Wang. Whenever the Cardinals are looking at the proverbial low-hanging fruit in terms of pitchers, the impact of Dave Duncan is always one of the big selling points. Sure, the guy hasn't been good in the past, the narrative goes, but just wait until Duncan gets in there and helps him get straightened out. Then we'll see those results that have always seemed just out of reach. But with Wang, I just don't see Duncan doing anything to improve what he has already done in the past. There are much better candidates out there for the Duncan mid-career renaissance.
If the Cards were to pick up Wang, they should be betting he's healthy. They should not, however, be betting Dave Duncan can find some magical 'fix' for a guy who already does everything Duncan has to teach.
Would Wang be a disaster? I don't know. Could be. Then again, he might also finally be healthy and ready to resume his career. But when it comes right down to it, I'd be a whole lot more willing to bet on the health and efficacy of John Smoltz than I would Chien-Ming Wang.
So apparently now the