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What’s Wrong with Chien-Ming Wang?

May 1, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 2 Comments

A reader asked me what was up with Chien-Ming Wang, so I went to the tape.

I watched some video of Wang from way back in 2007 up to his most recent start and I also happened to catch Steve Phillips and his breakdown of Wang’s mechanics on “Baseball Tonight”.

One of the changes mentioned by Phillips was a change in posture, something I noticed, but couldn’t confirm because of the difference in camera angles in the video I watched. But the Phillips piece helped me confirm there had in fact been a change in posture. He’s much more slumped over than he was in the past, which you can see below. The 2007 version on the left (95 mph fastball), while the 2009 version on the right (88 mph fastball):

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

The next thing Phillips mentioned was Wang’s dragline. Now, Wang has never had a consistent dragline. Most times there would be dragline, especially on the fastball, but there would be times where Wang never had a pronounced dragline. But it’s true that when Wang throws for a high velocity, there usually is a more pronounced dragline. Compare the two clips below. Again, the 2007 version is on the left and the 2009 version is on the right:

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Let me explain the significance of the dragline and how it relates to posture. The dragline is a result of efficient mechanics. A pitcher with poor posture that lacks balance is at risk for having their back foot lift up prematurely. An inefficient hip rotation can also lead the back foot to lift early. A dragline is not always necessary for a pitcher to produce velocity and many pitchers are very successful without a dragline, but for Wang, he seems to be a pitcher where the dragline is an indicator of mechanical efficiency and therefore is necessary for velocity

The third thing Phillips mentioned was that Wang’s leg kick was lower in 2009 than it had been in the past. The below clips are synchronized to release with the 2007 version on the left and the 2009 version on the right. In addition to Wang’s leg kick being higher in 2007, also take note of how Wang’s knee in 2009 starts to drop before the point in which the 2007 version’s knee reaches its uppermost point:

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Wang’s tempo — meaning the number of frames from when the knee reaches its uppermost point to the point of release — for both versions is 25 frames. So if the 2007 version is covering more distance in the same amount of time, that means his body is moving faster into release than the 2008 version. The faster a player moves into release, the more velocity one generally has.

We also see changes in his arm action, but I think it’s because Wang’s body is moving faster. If the body’s moving faster, so is the arm. It’s all about efficiency and making sure all those moving parts are in-sync with one another. It’s likely that Wang’s timing as it relates to his arm action has been thrown off by the changes to his tempo and posture.

So my advice for Wang? First correct the posture problem by going back to a more upright position. Second, he needs to increase the tempo of his delivery and get his body moving at a faster rate, which should help correct the timing problems he’s developed. If he fixes the first two issues, the dragline should come back on its own because a dragline is a result of efficient mechanics and not something a pitcher can control on his own.

I’m not saying anything groundbreaking here, but it’s extremely important for Wang to get back to what he once was because the Yankees will be looking at a long road to the playoffs in the vaunted AL East without him.

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    • 13thMan said:

      Good analysis. But if it’s so simple Steve Phillips, you, and I can see it, why is it July 3rd and instead of the mechanics being fixed Wang is reinventing his entire pitching mentality, pitching around batters using his new slower and with less break sinker rather than attacking batters like he used to? I think it’s because he’s not physically capable of going back to what he once was. He knows what he’s doing wrong, he just can’t fix it. That said, if the Phillies or Rangers want Wang in a trade, as rumored, I’d do it for a few good prospects…

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      13thMan, this is a little late. Completely missed your comment.

      I think, while mechanical problems can be easy to detect, it’s much harder to actually implement a change. Pitching is a fluid activity that is done without thinking because of repetition and muscle memory. Pitchers fail when they think too much. And when they think about their own mechanics, the pitch location becomes secondary.

      And then there is the whole timing thing. When a pitcher makes one change to their delivery, they have to make other changes to correct any timing problems that might develop because of that original change. Everything has to be in-sync…and this is why it’s so hard to make adjustments during the season because it’s hard enough facing big league hitters, but having to focus on repeating your delivery as well makes the task that much more difficult.