Back once again to offer the Federal Faithful more reasons to be hopeful about the 2011 season. In fact, I'm so optimistic it's often been said that I fart sunshine and rainbows. Okay, so maybe that's never been said, but it would have been slightly funny, and a little disturbing, if it had been.
Up at #9, we have Chien-Ming Wang, and I think we're all hoping that he'll Wang Chung in 2011 (Sorry, couldn't resist) but also that there's enough band-aids, scotch tape and bubble-gum holding his shoulder together for him to actually make an impact in 2011.
I know a lot of people were disappointed that the Nats spent $2M on Wang last year for him to never make a single start, but look on the bright side, it wasn't your money. Okay, so maybe it was the money that you spent on tickets, $50 beer and that sweet Willy Mo Pena jersey being re-spent on a long-shot comeback story, but that was last year, this is this year. If it makes you feel better, just imagine that he signed an incentive laden $3M two-year deal.
In all fairness to Wang though, shoulder injuries/surgeries are the toughest for a pitcher to recover from. Typically, shoulders heal even slower than elbows and missing the better part of two years isn't all that unheard of. The other thing working in Wang's favor is that his surgery was to repair the capsule (fibrous membrane that surrounds the joint) in his right shoulder, and not the labrum or the rotator cuff. The other pitcher to recently have a similar surgery was Johan Santana and while the Mets still suck, Santana has continued to pitch well even after going under the knife.
Some of the naysayers, who are always naysaying by the way, point to Wang's inconsistency prior to his injury. However, I don't think his inconsistency was a result of him losing velocity or that his stuff lacked filth. Fangraphs, put out a great article in February last year about how Wang's release point had undergone a serious change and that it was affecting the sink on his pitches that had made him such a groundball machine. While the good folks at fangraphs think that this is/was a cause for concern, I think it's easily explained away by the fact that he was hurt and may have changed his release point to negate some of the pain or may have been compensating for a minor foot injury at the time. Whatever story you want to concoct to help you sleep at night is fine with me, but I don't think it's that tough for a guy with Wang's control to to adjust his release point by 5 or so inches.
Wang is a guy who posted sub-4 FIPS and plus 4 WAR in each of his two injury free seasons, and at 30 years old should still have a lot of mileage left in him. If he can regain close to the form he showed with the Yankees, he should be further helped by playing his home games in a more neutral park and not having to face the AL East. I actually think that Bill James' projections for Wang this year are spot on. 24 GS, with a 3.99 ERA and a 3.80 FIP, if he can do that, it would provide a big boost to the Nats record.