The KC Royals have a new face to consider for the no. 5 rotation spot. Thirty-five year old reclamation project Chien-Ming Wang is lighting up radar guns at 94-95 mph in Surprise.
Wang, who finished second in Cy Young voting in 2006, hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since an uninspiring 7.67 ERA in 27 innings with Toronto in 2013. Last season, the Taiwan-born Wang scuffled through AAA stints with Atlanta and Seattle for a 6-11, 5.88 ERA.
His fastball was hitting a mere 88-89 mph on the radar gun.
But, somehow, Wang is dialing up the heat like he did 10 years ago before the 2009 foot injury that wrecked his mechanics. A pair of interesting articles on Fangraphs.com and Royals Review detail how pitching guru Ron Wolforth rebuilt Wang’s fastball in his facility in Texas.
Trevor Bauer, C.J. Wilson, and Scott Kazmir are other Wolforth disciples who credit the 55-year-old pitching zen master with their major league success. Kazmir’s story is the one that most resembles Wang in that Wolforth helped him rediscover lost velocity. However, Kazmir’s rebirth wasn’t anywhere close the 10-year gap that Wolforth has seemed to overcome with Wang.
Now, Wang is throwing even harder than the 93.1 mph he averaged in 2006. Of course, Wang was a starter then. Now, he’s pitching short stints in Surprise.
So where does Wang fit in with the KC Royals in 2016? Most pundits considered him minor-league filler when he signed this winter. If Wang retains the velocity until his May 1 opt out date, he has to be a candidate for a long relief spot in Kansas City.
I, however, think he can be more than that. Wang could win the no. 5 rotation spot outright.
Yes, Chien-Ming Wang’s path is unusual. Pitchers just don’t get back the “stuff” they had ten years ago. But, Wang’s arm was never the problem. What caused him to lose velocity was his foot, and the mechanical adjustments he made to deal with his lower-half troubles.
Wang could work his way into the KC Royals rotation in 2016 because he’s been starting in the minors. He made 28 starts for the Reds and White Sox AAA teams in 2014, and 20 starts for the Braves and Mariners systems in 2015. In short, Wang has been able to take the ball regularly the last two years.
The key for Chien-Ming Wang will be to show that his velocity holds up over longer stints toward the close of spring training. The weird things is, if Wang’s maintains his velocity in longer outings, it could make the Kansas City Royals more likely to send him to AAA than if they decided they didn’t want to push his recovered fastball.
If the KC Royals think he can help the big club as a starter, they will want to see him succeed in AAA starts before inserting him in the Kansas City rotation. Given the numerous off days scheduled in April, general manager Dayton Moore could give Wang an almost month long trial in Omaha to see how his body reacts to a regular rotation turn before having to make a decision.
To me, the upside of adding another top of the rotation starter is too enticing to dismiss. The KC Royals need to fully explore the possibility of Wang holding down a rotation spot before sending him to the pen.