This past Sunday, while most of Washington D.C. was watching the Redskins game (congrats on the win and the 2-0 start) Chien-Ming Wang made his 10th start of the season for the Nationals against the pesky Florida Marlins and was solid. Wang pitched 6.2 innings, giving up 3 earned runs and 6 hits while throwing 93 total pitches, 60 for strikes. He finished the day with 5 strikeouts against zero walks and truly only threw two poor pitches all day, the home run on a hanging slider to Gaby Sanchez to leadoff in the 5th inning and the two-run home run to Brett Hayes on a “non-sinking” sinker with two outs in the 7th, which incidentally would be his last pitch of the afternoon. After another respectable outing from Chien-Ming Wang Sunday afternoon, the question must be asked: Should the Nationals look to re-sign Wang for 2012?
In his ten starts thus far with the Nationals since returning to the major leagues, Wang has produced a 4.31 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP (Walks +Hits divided by Innings Pitched), with 21 strikeouts and 13 walks in 56.1 innings pitched. However, in his past three starts over 17.2 innings, he has 12 strikeouts against zero walks, proving what my eyes tell me, that his control is slowly rounding into form. His sinker is currently averaging 90.6mph, down from 91.8mph the season prior to his shoulder injury and down from 92.3mph for his career, a decrease more significant than you might expect at first glance: That 1.0-1.5mph difference takes his sinker from virtually unhittable to merely average/above average. His slider has averaged 83.9mph this season, down from a career average of 84.7mph; the slider has been woefully inconsistent since his return, at times it has shown great tilt and perhaps even improvement from his pre-injury days, however, on the occasions he has thrown a poor slider, they tend to get hit hard. The team(s) attempting to sign Chien-Ming Wang this off-season will be gambling that a full off-season of strength training and throwing will allow him to recover more of the velocity he has lost and perhaps show continued signs of improving command. With his health and stuff as it is presently, Wang is likely a decent #5 starter in the National League. On the other hand, if he can find another 1-1.5mph on his sinker and slider this winter and continue to improve his control, he has top-of-the-rotation potential, making him a shrewd gamble for the Nationals or any team this off-season.
Assuming the Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and John Lannan practically locked into three of the five spots in the 2012 starting rotation, I would be looking to re-sign Wang to compete for one of the two unclaimed rotation spots. I think there is a place for Wang next season with the Nationals, and I think the Nationals should see what he looks like after a healthy off-season and five additional months to strengthen his right shoulder. Wang signed in the off-season for $1 million guaranteed, with plenty of incentives built in based on total starts and innings pitched. With the decent results he has produced since returning to the major leagues, I am sure there will be more competition from other clubs to sign him this winter, but the fact that the Nationals have worked so diligently with Wang to rehabilitate his shoulder, I think if the Nationals want him to return they could work something out. I would look to sign Wang to a one-year contract for 2012 with a base salary of $2 million, with incentives tied to innings pitched and number of starts: anything cheaper I would fully support as a worthwhile gamble with tremendous potential to payoff.
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