Friday, August 04, 2006

Why Wang Won't Win

So far this season, Chien-Ming Wang has struck out 48 batters in 156 innings, for a strikeout rate of 2.77 per 9 IP. He was a bit better in that respect last year, but still quite poor: 3.65 K/9. This is not a good sign for his future. Here is a list of all starters since 1980 who:

- pitched at least 150 IP,
- had an ERA above league average,
- had a strikeout rate of less than 3 K/9 and
- were between 24 and 27 years old

It's quite a list:

1. Jeff Ballard

In 1988, at the age of 24, he struck out 2.41 batters per 9 IP, and went 8-12 with a 4.40 ERA with the Orioles. The league ERA was 3.90 that year, so it wasn't a great season. But Ballard seemed to put it together the next year, going 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA. He was 25 and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting, although his strikeout rate wasn't much better: 2.59 K/9. Ballard would only win 13 more games in the majors, going 2-11 and 6-12 with ERAs of 4.93 and 5.60 in the following two seasons.

2. Ricky Bones

In 1993, Bones had a mediocre year, going 11-11 with a 4.86 ERA for the Brewers. He struck out 2.79 batters per 9 innings. But he followed that up with his best season the following year. Although he only went 10-9, he was an All-Star, finishing 8th in ERA at 3.43 and getting his strikeout rate up to 3.00. He had one more above average season the following year, but then was below average every single season of his career after that. He finished his career 63-82.

3. Andy Hawkins

Hawkins went 18-8 with a 3.15 ERA at age 25 for the Padres in 1985, despite striking out only 2.72 batters per 9 innings. He had an mediocre career after that, finishing his career just shy of .500 at 84-91. He had a career ERA of 4.22, compared to a league ERA of 3.68.

4. Ron Romanick

Romanick, the fourth pick in the 1981 draft, went 14-9 with a league average 4.11 ERA at the age of 24 in 1985 (2.95 K/9). He was coming off another decent year, 12-12 with a 3.76 ERA. He struggled the next season, going 5-8 with a 5.50 ERA and never pitched in the majors again.

5. Lary Sorensen

Sorenson had a respectable season at age 24, going 12-10 with a 3.68 ERA (2.48 K/9). He had a couple more decent seasons, but was only 12-24 after age 27.

6. Kirk Saarloos

Too soon to tell.

That's it. Not exactly an inspiring list. One player that didn't quite make the cut is Bill Swift, who had a terrible strikeout rate (2.42) in 1988, but didn't qualify because he didn't have a good season, and therefore isn't a great comp for Wang. Swift did become a good pitcher, leading the league in ERA in 1992 (although just barely qualifying) and going 21-8 in 1993 (when he got his strikeout rate up over 6). But he was a better prospect than Wang (second pick in the draft), and was shuffled around between a starting role and the bullpen in his early years. Still, it there's a pitcher Wang needs to emulate, it's Swift.

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