Chien Ming Wang is the most under appreciated pitcher in baseball.
I know what you're thinking: a Yankee who doesn't get the attention he deserves? Well, it's true. Just look at the facts.
The under-appreciation of Wang isn't new. In the minor leagues, he was always a side prospect; never the gem, the can't-miss blue-chipper—despite quickly rising through the Yankees farm system to ultimately post a 2.03 ERA in AAA in 2004 (with a .98 WHIP). That year, BaseballAmerica.com only rated him the 10th best prospect in the Yankee farm system (at that time, considered a very weak farm system), behind such prospects as Steven White and Christian Garcia.
In the majors, it's been the same way. Coming into this season, Wang had the third highest winning percentage in baseball (behind Carpenter and Halladay). Also, he had the most wins in the past two years with 38. Nobody, not Santana, Webb or Sabathia had that many.
However, listening to baseball fans, you wouldn't know that. In a quick survey of web sites where pitchers were rated for the 2008 fantasy draft, Wang was rated 31st coming into this league. How can the winningest pitcher in baseball be ranked 31st—behind the likes of Ian Snell and John Maine? Earlier this spring, SIKids ranked him the 33rd best pitcher in baseball—again behind Ian Snell.
Even Forbes magazine didn't put him in their "Top 10 Pitchers For The Buck" despite the fact that Wang hasn't earned 1 million dollars yet in salary from the Yankees, even though he's 54-20 in his career.
Heck, even Yankee fans call him out. On a Yankee fan web site earlier this year, one writer called him "awful" and said he was overrated, just a ".500 pitcher." This despite being 8-2 to start this season and his opponents batting under .250 against him (down from a career .265 BAA). Not to mention also that Wang is the first Yankee pitcher to win at least 19 games in consecutive seasons since Tommy John did it in 1979-80. Awful...? Wang won his first 6 starts this season and is 18-5 since last year's all-star game, something he wasn't invited to.
Some people point to the fact that he isn't a strikeout pitcher and gives up his fair share of hits. But this misses the point. Frankly, Wang isn't a dominant strikeout pitcher. He's a durable ground-ball pitcher (and an excellent fielder) whose strikeouts are increasing every year. For example, in 2006, Wang had 76 SO in 218 innings; this year, he had 54 in 95 innings. That said, even as he gets more strikeouts, he's still a pound-it-the-dirt ground-ball pitcher. That's his bread and butter.
But all that doesn't seem to be enough to win him the credit he deserves. Earlier this season, here on DugoutCentral, someone wrote that Wang should switch from being a ground-ball pitcher to a strikeout pitcher. As evidence, they wrote that Wang's ERA goes up with men on base. So he should learn to strike men out and avoid that problem.
However, one stat that this person didn't factor in is, in fact, Wang's forte: the GIDP. Last year, Wang was tied for the league lead with 32 GIDP. And while, yes, as a "contact" ground-ball pitcher, Wang does give up some hits, he doesn't give up HRs. He allowed just 3 HRs in his last 108 innings in 2007, and overall has allowed just 7 HRs in his last 203 innings. Strikeout pitchers, on the other hand, give up HRs. Last year's leader in SO, Scott Kazmir gave up 18 HRs; No 2. Johan Santana gave up 33. Wang gave up 9.
In fact, Wang's career average of 0.51 HR/9.0IP (30HR, 533.2IP) is the lowest since Bruce Berenyi allowed just 0.37HR/9.0IP over his seven-year career from 1980-86. And, remember, Wang pitches in Yankee Stadium, which was ranked 7th in stadiums giving up HRS last year, just behind Coors Field.
So yes, Yankee fans, you can complain that Wang isn't a strikeout artist; he isn't Nolan Ryan—then again, who is? But he does happen to be a durable pitcher (pitching at least 6 innings in 66 of his 80 career starts as well as pitching at least 7 innings in 14 starts in 2007) who wins ballgames, prevents HRs and is becoming more of a strikeout pitcher while remaining the double play machine he's always been.
So while you may not love him and wish he was more of a strikeout artist, you have to appreciate him for the superb pitcher he is.