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What’s Wang?

In the comments to Alex’s post on Chien-Ming Wang below, reader “cult of baseball” brought my attention to this outstanding video analysis by the MLB Network’s Dan Plesac.

According to Plesac, Wang’s balance is all off. When he lifts his left leg to deliver the ball, he’s not lifting the leg nearly as high as he had a year ago, he’s bent at the waist, whereas last year he was standing straight up, and his hands are both lower and farther away from his body. There’s been a lot of talk about Wang not getting on top of his pitches, particularly his signature sinker, thus leaving them up in the zone. Plesac’s analysis shows why that might be the case.

Plesac then takes that a step further and suggests that because Wang is putting all of his weight on the right foot he broke last June when he lifts his left leg, his poor posture in that position could be a sign that the foot isn’t fully healed. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it could be a bad habit he picked up during his rehab process borne out of a fear of placing too much stress on the foot. If that’s the case, the root of the mechanical flaw is mental, which is another theory that’s been bandied about of late.

Whatever the problem is, the Yankees need to fix it, either by fixing Wang or removing him from the rotation. The Yanks are 7-3 in games Wang hasn’t started, which is a great start, particularly given the injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Xavier Nady (and to a far lesser degree Mark Teixeira), poor performance from Hideki Matsui and Cody Ransom, and the erratic performances of the middle relievers.

Second to the points about Wang, the Plesac clip highlights what a great job the MLB Network is doing in covering the game. Their analysis is thoughtful and insightful, even when it’s couched in old-school aphorisms (think Jim Kaat, who has returned to work as one of their color analysts for game broadcasts). The on-camera report of their commentators is entertaining, playful, and often quite funny, but never comes off as attention-seeking (see: ESPN, Joe Buck), but rather just as the natural result of knowledgeable baseball fans shooting-the-shit over the game they love.

Perhaps most significantly, to me, the network very much embraces the game’s history. The programming and promos are littered with vintage highlights, games, and features. One of the most eye-opening passages of Howard Bryant’s excellent (only partially because I edited it) Juicing the Game describes Fox Sports president (ca. 1995) David Hill diagnosing baseball’s problem as its affection for its own history:

“And one more thing,” Hill said to his lieutenants. “If anyone talks about any dead guys during a broadcast, I’ll sack ‘em. I’m sick of dead guys! Whenever I turn on a baseball game, all I hear about is dead guys. If I hear a name, I’m gonna ask, ‘Is he dead?’ And if he is, you’re fired. You’re all fired!”

Fox has been mutilating baseball coverage for roughly 15 years, and ESPN has followed suit. The MLB Network is undoing those wrongs, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Tags:  Chien-Ming Wang  MLB Network

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51 comments

1 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 20, 2009 8:40 pm

Lots of posts to read this morning!

No game = :(

time for this then.. http://tinyurl.com/bj47wf

2 cult of basebaal   ~  Apr 20, 2009 8:59 pm

it's also worth remembering what Girardi had to say about CMW after his last start:

“We [Girardi/Eiland] looked at his hands break, his leg kick where his head is and if it’s on line, the angle of his arm. We haven’t had a chance to discuss it with him yet. We had some healthy stuff that we saw and we understand that we need to make some adjustments. … Physically there are some things I think we need to correct that’s leaving him up in the zone.

Sounds like they were focusing on issues very similar to what Plesac was spotting.

3 SteveAmerica   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:01 pm

I really think this is an excellent post Cliff, and I couldn't agree more with Hill and the larger sentiment he conveys. Part of MLBs problem, it seems to me, is that it's way too in love with it's own bullshit.

The reaction to Swisher's pitching debut is a great case in point. Swisher was having fun and got pilloried for it. In the NFL A-Rod would be T.O. or Chad Johnson, but in baseball "colorful" characters are reviled.

To paraphrase someone cooler than me, baseball needs to lighten the fuck up.

4 PJ   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:02 pm

I like the MLB "Studio 42" as well, Cliff!

How about a game of wiffle ball, stick ball, tape ball, or cut ball, there?

;)

5 SteveAmerica   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:03 pm

Also, I think Wang is developing a weird strain of Ankielitis. Or Knoblauch Syndrome. Call it what you like, the deeper this is rooted in his head, the worse off the Yankees and Wang are.

6 monkeypants   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:21 pm

[3] I really think this is an excellent post Cliff, and I couldn’t agree more with Hill and the larger sentiment he conveys. Part of MLBs problem, it seems to me, is that it’s way too in love with it’s own bullshit.

So, you do realize that Cliff was complimenting MLB Network and condemning Hill's sentiments?

7 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:22 pm

[6] Tee-hee..I noticed that too..

[5] Oh god no..that would be a disaster.

8 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:26 pm

I'm gonna join you guys in hoping that there's nothing seriously wrong with Wang that a strenuous mechanical fix won't cure. If it's obvious to the coaches, then what's to be side besides WAKE UP, WANG!!! >;)

9 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:29 pm

[8] Everybody Wang Chung tonight?

10 PJ   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:45 pm

[8] LOL @ Will's "Sister Mary Elephant" impression...

;)

11 RIYank   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:48 pm

Anybody notice that Good Ol' Ross Ohlendorf is mowing down the Marlins?

7 IP 2 H 1 BB 5 K 0 R

12 PJ   ~  Apr 20, 2009 9:59 pm

Point of Order...

Rich posted the Plesac clip here at Banter first under Alex's "What Do You Call a Sinkerballer Whose Sinker Won’t Sink? Sunk" article in Post #29.

No offense Cult/Cliff/et al!

Gotsta get tha "sorcery" right... and all!

I'm just sayin'...

;)

13 Shaun P.   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:04 pm

[11] No, RI, but it IS the National League. I'm being a little tongue in cheek, but I do think there is enough of a difference between the leagues right now, that it probably is easier to pitch in the NL than in the AL.

In any case, good for him. I always liked Ohlendorf, and Karstens too.

[0] Cliff, I couldn't agree with you more on MLB Network. On the highlights and recaps, Its like watching Baseball Tonight when it was awesome - but better. Sometimes I think there are a few too many ex-players, but they picked some good ones for sure.

14 tommyl   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:25 pm

[11] Whatever, we got Nady and Marte....oh wait....

15 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:31 pm

Anyone notice that the ads for Singles.Net have gotten wayyyy bigger on the espn baseball page..?

Ah, I'm bored here without the game to follow. Time to go "meet a client" for lunch..

Can't wait for Burnett-Beckett this weekend! Hope we tee off on that Texan A-hole and wipe that smug smile off his face..

16 cult of basebaal   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:34 pm

hey ... can anyone ID the Cleveland batter that Wang is pitching too in the 09 clip from the MLB video?

17 JohnnyC   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:41 pm

David Hill...there's a whole, long, sad story there to be written. Murdoch's sports guy -- he made billions for Rupert worldwide with BSkyB's soccer coverage. But the quote from Bryant delineates his contempt for American sports. He doesn't get it, never has, and could care less.

18 cult of basebaal   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:41 pm

[16] err, pitching to

19 PJ   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:43 pm

Sizemore

20 JohnnyC   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:46 pm

[15] I take it you're a big fan of the Tout Puissant Orchestre Kinshasa and the James Brown of the Congo, Franco.

21 The Hawk   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:47 pm

Dammit who posted the link to that video first? I forget, but it was yesterday. You need to stand up and get some serious accolades yo.

22 PJ   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:50 pm

[21] See post [12] within this article, Hawk...

;)

23 The Hawk   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:56 pm

[22] How did I miss that? I was looking for it. I guess in the midst of my whirling righteous indignation I wasn't seeing straight. Just goes to show ...

24 PJ   ~  Apr 20, 2009 10:58 pm

[23] Got ya back pal!

;)

25 cult of basebaal   ~  Apr 20, 2009 11:04 pm

[19] thanks!

26 PJ   ~  Apr 20, 2009 11:32 pm

[25] Sure thing, Cult!

27 Rich   ~  Apr 20, 2009 11:37 pm

[5] Also, I think Wang is developing a weird strain of Ankielitis. Or Knoblauch Syndrome. Call it what you like, the deeper this is rooted in his head, the worse off the Yankees and Wang are.

He may be at risk for his problems becoming more mental than physical at some point down the road, but I think it's a little premature to assert that this process has already begun.

One of the reasons that I think the Yankees have handled Wang so poorly is that they have continued to assert that he is making progress while he continues to meltdown on the mound. He should have been DLed after his second pitiful start.

28 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 21, 2009 12:26 am

[20] Huge, huge HUGE fan! 14 cds and about 10 on vinyl so far..Congolese Rumba is so hypnotic and joyous, don't you think?

I met a collector here who has more than 200 Franco albums..that's a lot of Rumba!

29 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 21, 2009 12:44 am

Breaking News! The source of Wang's troubles have been found! My friend in Taipei,Taiwan says this was on the tv news last night..his direct quotes below..

"was watching the news last night, they went to his apartment building in tainan and said the fengshui was wrong. they highlighted some stones outside the main door to the apartment "blocking the energy" and the barrier to the underground car park..."

So does Cashman pay a fengshui expert to head straight to Taiwan to fix this???

30 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 21, 2009 12:46 am

[8] "Whenever I feel afraid,
I hold my head erect
and whistle a happy tune...

>;) Needed that, thanks!

31 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 21, 2009 12:48 am

[29] Well, there go the ticket prices again...

32 tommyl   ~  Apr 21, 2009 12:57 am

You know, I normally like Tom Verducci but he just said one of the stupidest things I've heard on MLB Network. In reference to the Marlins' 11-1 start, they displayed a graphic showing teams in the last 20 years that have gotten off to the best starts, the result, one first place (division finish), a few seconds, and a third. Any reasonable person would look at that, say the Marlins are on a good run, are likely to be a decent team but we can't tell much more. Instead, Verducci talks about how teams that get off to this great start tend to do really well, and finish high, often making the playoffs. Um...Tom, are you looking at the same numbers I am?

33 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 21, 2009 1:16 am

[31] Jack up the shrimp cocktail prices perhaps?

34 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Apr 21, 2009 1:23 am

Tommy, I saw that too. It was poor coordination between graphic and commentator. Verducci was working off a stat that said that 12 of 15 teams that started 11-1 did well (first place finishes, I think it was). The catch is that the three that didn't were from the last 20 years and showed up in the graphic, undermining his point.

I don't really place much stock in hot or cold starts myself. This came up when the Yankees had an awful start a few years back and many stats were quoted arguing that teams rarely overcome poor starts. I think the logic in both cases is backwards. If a team gets off to a streaky start (good or bad) that doesn't mean they're more or less likely to be very good or very bad over the entire season. Rather I think a team that actually is very good or very bad to begin with is more likely to have that sort of streaky start. That may sound like circular logic, but I think the distinction is important. It's not the start that matters, it's the quality of the team, and I just don't think the Marlins are a playoff quality team (though their starting pitching might prove to be better than expected).

35 PJ   ~  Apr 21, 2009 1:44 am

[29] Quick! Lemme get my golf sand bunker rake and go there and "fix" his Japanese Sand Garden, too! Given enough time, I can make it look like the mound at YS2.0!

Anything to help him get out of his funk, OK!

;)

36 nemecizer   ~  Apr 21, 2009 3:29 am

[29] Seems perfectly reasonable to me. If eating chicken before every game and drinking a case of beer on a cross-country flight worked for Wage Bogs then I am willing to buy some rocks a screwing with Wang's chi.

37 nemecizer   ~  Apr 21, 2009 3:30 am

*Wade Boggs, not Wage Bogs. It's a little early in the nation's capital this morning.

38 RIYank   ~  Apr 21, 2009 6:50 am

Cliff,

If a team gets off to a streaky start (good or bad) that doesn’t mean they’re more or less likely to be very good or very bad over the entire season. Rather I think a team that actually is very good or very bad to begin with is more likely to have that sort of streaky start.

A team that starts very hot is more likely to be a good team than a team that starts around .500. I don't think you meant to deny this -- it actually follows mathematically from the second sentence.
But I think I agree with the spirit: sports journalists sometimes seem to think that a streak causes a team to be better, or worse, and I think that's very doubtful. It's an indicator.

39 RIYank   ~  Apr 21, 2009 6:51 am

Oh, ithat's how you do that quote-in-a-box thing!

40 Joel   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:06 am

Wang's situation shows you the fragility a professional athlete's career. Here was a guy who had won 19 games two years in a row and was on his way to making massive, life-changing money at free agency. Next thing you know he's rounding third in some interleague and he's out for the season. Now his career could be in jeopardy unless he overcomes some serious mental/physical problems.

41 monkeypants   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:10 am

[34] [38]

At the same time, a team that gets off to a hot start never loses those games--those wins are banked for the rest of the season. Even if a mediocre (.500) team starts 10-0 for whatever reason, even if we expect regression for the rest of the season, that does not necessarily imply that they will lose an "extra" ten games for the remaining 150 games or so. Rather, we should expect them to play around .500 ball, and pick up about 75 wins, give or take a couple. So in effect, a "hit start" might result in that .500 team ending up with 85 wins or so, rather than 80.

42 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:23 am

[41] I think more goes into it than that. The most important element is probably the schedule. A team that either plays a lot of early home games or faces easier opponents should get off to a better start. I don't that necessarily means that will translate into a higher win total than expected. The longer the stretch, the more meaningful the early indicators, but ultimately, I think you need to look at each team individually.

In the Yankees case, I think there 7-6 starts speaks to a team that has sprung a few leaks. If the team can patch those holes up (get Wang straightened out and Arod healthy), I think the signs point to a very good season. If those holes remain open, or others spring up, then a more modest win total is likely.

43 The Mick536   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:23 am

How many fans attended the Pittsburg/Marlins game last night? Looked like a couple of hundred. I attended Expo games when they drew bubkus that had more fans. Red Barber was fired for counting the empty chairs. Can't wait until the Yankees do it.

How about Bonifacio?

44 ny2ca2dc   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:23 am

Having had serious foot and ankle injuries, I can at least say that it does indeed take a long, long, long time to get right. Like at least a year. Even when you feel like you're centered and operating normally, you can end up still favoring it. The immobilization also causes all the little tiny joints and tendons to freeze up, and your proprioception gets all messed up. I'm sure Wang is getting good care, but it's one thing to re-train yourself to balance in a gym, and another to do it on a mound under pressure (I would imagine). Further, pushing off the rubber would sure seem to stress and twist the area Wang injured, which isn't a cool feeling.

45 Raf   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:42 am

[44] But still, you would think they would've noticed something during ST

46 tommyl   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:52 am

[45] Yeah, but its really subtle. I mean, looking at it in real time we didn't notice it, it took video, slow mo etc. And in ST I'm willing to concede he was just passing his pitching milestones without injury. At any rate. Girardi and Eiland's comments seem to imply they are on top of things now, so I'm willing to give them a bit of rope.

47 monkeypants   ~  Apr 21, 2009 8:53 am

[42] Of course each individual case differs. But the fact remains that the wins (or losses) never come off the books.

48 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Apr 21, 2009 9:00 am

Joe Sheehan, over on BP is actually suggesting Yankeedom is in overwrought mode on CMW. Key line: "Paying too much attention to too little information fills Yankee fans' heads with imaginary disasters" He pulls up a chart of some of Mussina's nightmare stretch in August 2007 and points out that Wang's happens to be at the start of a season so there are no GOOD numbers framing it (Moose was good before the nightmare, and solid after).

Sheehan ends saying: "The argument here isn't for doing nothing. The argument is for not panicking. There's not much reason to think that Wang isn't just a mechanical adjustment away, literally inches, from regaining his form as a mid-rotation starter. That's what fixed Sabathia: Some film work, some time with Carl Willis, some throwing off of the bullpen mound. Wang's last three starts are hideous, but you can look at recent Yankee history and see the same, you can look at a guy in the same rotation with Wang and see the same." (The guy he refers to in the rotation is Sabathia, last spring, of course.)

My own vague sense out of all of this, is that there is a very fine line for certain kinds of pitcher between real success and hopelessness. Wang was iffy in spring, and many noted it, but he wasn't ... this. It gets complicated by confidence issues, or lack of confidence, and by the reality that this is NY, not Kansas City. His next start will be under unbelievably close scrutiny. It is hard to pitch in that situation. I still wonder if that is a part of what happened with Kennedy.

49 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 21, 2009 9:22 am

[45] Eiland actually stated that Wang wasn't all the way back in ST either. Perhaps facing full blown competition has revealed the depth of Wang's struggles, whereas ST masked some of the problems.

50 SteveAmerica   ~  Apr 21, 2009 11:21 am

[6] I agree with both sentiments.

1. MLB Network is doing a great job of breathing some fun back into baseball coverage.

2. I agree with Hill in that a lot of MLB coverage is stale and not terribly engaging. MLB celebrates the game and the social connections it fosters.

There's a way to talk about the past without making baseball seem like a club run by and for old crusty dudes.

51 Joel   ~  Apr 21, 2009 12:33 pm

[50] Given the state of professinal sports in America, a "club run buy and for old crusty dudes" may not be the worst thing for our society. : )

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