How Injury To Yankee's Ace Will Affect Bettors
by Trevor Whenham - 06/18/2008
Chien-Ming Wang has been one of the best pitchers in the major leagues over the last few seasons (he has more wins than anyone since the start of the 2006 season), and he has been the frequent savior of his New York Yankees this year, but he's clearly not much of a runner. Playing in the American League he doesn't run the bases much, and when he did recently in Houston it ended in disaster. He hurt his leg rounding third trying to score on a Derek Jeter hit. At first it didn't seem too bad, but it turns out that he could be on crutches for six weeks and out of action for 10 or more. The cause of the woes is a partially torn tendon in his right foot. The kicker for Yankees fans is that it wasn't even an important run he was about to score - the Yankees rolled to a 13-0 blowout victory over the Astros.
The Yankees' season didn't get off to a great start. That's an understatement. To the chagrin of many, though, they have started to turn things around. They are now five games above .500, and they are closing ground on the Rays, the unlikely wild card leaders. They have won five in a row, and eight of their last 10. But now they have to play without their best pitcher (Mike Mussina may have more wins, but Wang is the clear ace of the staff). Bettors have to determine what impact this will have on the team.
Let's start by looking at what he has done so far. Wang is 8-2 on the year. More importantly, the team is 12-3 in his 15 starts. Despite being less than even money in 14 of his 15 starts, and a heavy favorite of at least -150 six times, Wang is the ninth most profitable pitcher in the league, with a flat bet profit of almost eight units if you were to have bet on all of his games. Statistically, the most remarkable thing this year is what it has been since he joined the league - he just doesn't give up the long ball. He has sacrificed only four home runs in 13 games. On the other hand, critics would be quick to point out that he doesn't have a strike-to-walk ratio that is as high as it should be for an elite pitcher. He is at just 1.54, and that's well below league leaders like Edinson Volquez at 2.39 or Cliff Lee at a gaudy 5.43. Despite that, though, Wang is one of the best pitchers in the American League, and he will be sorely missed by his team. But what will his absence mean?
The biggest problem his absence creates is a sudden increase in innings that need to be filled. Up to this point Wang had not missed a start, and his 95 innings (seven and a third per game) are the most on the team. That wouldn't be a major problem if they had an obvious body to fill the gap, but they don't. They already had enough problems finding a reliable fifth starter (and a fourth, really), so this is not a welcome problem.
No matter what, the new starter is going to be a big step down. It looks like the first guy to get a shot will be journeyman reliever Dan Giese. He was drafted in 1999 by Boston, but he only made his major league debut last season for the Giants. He's off to a solid relief start this year in limited appearances, but he has never started a game in the majors. That's hardly comforting, and that's probably the best option. The next best choice is to pull up someone from the minors. Phil Hughes is out with a strained oblique, and Ian Kennedy has struggled, so the first ones to come up would probably be either Kei Igawa or Jeffrey Marquez. Igawa was terrible when he was called up to replace Kennedy earlier in the year, and wasn't much better last year, so that's hardly exciting. Marquez was picked in the 2004 draft as compensation for losing David Wells. He has never pitched in the majors.
There are a couple of things that will likely happen as a result of this injury. First, there is going to be a soft spot in the rotation every five days until they get things figured out. There probably won't be a lot of value in the games because the public won't miss the fact that Wang is out and that his replacement is lacking, but there will definitely be a weak spot in the rotation. Bettors might be able to exploit that. The other thing that will happen, though, is that the public will probably overreact. This is a team that has already dealt with losing Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and several pitchers, and they have done fine, so there is a reasonable chance that they will be able to overcome this reasonably well, too. Until they prove that, though, the public is likely to assume that the sky is falling. That could create some value - something that we almost never see for the Yankees.
As a bettor the important thing to remember is that Wang has been pretty good, but he hasn't been dominant. The team wins behind him, but his ERA is over four, he gives up more walks than he should, and he often gives up a lot of hits. He is helped by a team that can hit a ton, and the same can be said for the pitchers that replace him. The team will probably take a step back, but make sure you do your homework before you decide that it will be a big step.