The thing that will always strike me about Chien-Ming Wang’s time with the Yankees was how quickly the tenor of it changed. For the better part of two years, the debate was over whether or not Wang was a “true ace” – a debate I always found sort of silly since it seemed like such arbitrary semantics. Wang won 19 games in back-to-back years and was the team’s best pitcher (often by far); call him whatever you want, but his importance didn’t change.
I always liked Wang – he was incredibly soft-spoken, but had a good sense of humor and better English than he let on. His teammates teased him like anyone else, and he enjoyed it – Derek Jeter would often walk into the clubhouse and call out, even from across the room, “What up Waaaaaaang?” just to see him laugh. Although I never felt like he was going to be an all-time legend, I really believed that Wang had the stuff (and the make-up) to be a legitimate stud for years to come.
That’s what made his downfall so stark. Greg did a nice job this morning breaking down the statistical trends that corresponded to his struggles, and the truth is that his injuries clearly affected some element of his delivery. I remember a scout once telling me that guys like Wang – pitchers who weren’t overpowering and couldn’t rely on velocity – had to be even finer with their mechanics or else their sinker would sit up in the zone and get hammered. I think we all saw at the start of 2009 just how that looked.
I know that Wang was a player who inspired a variety of reactions from Yankees fans. No doubt, it was hard to get past some of his struggles in big spots, especially the limited postseason opportunities he had. But to me, I’ll always think of Wang as the star who never fully formed. The injury in Houston was freakish and unexpected, and I’m glad to see that Wang is trying to make a comeback.
Will he revive his career and return to form? Maybe, maybe not. If he doesn’t, though, it’ll be hard not to wonder what might have been.