The Wei-Chung Wang Dilemma | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Monday night was the latest installment in the Brewers’ ongoing Wei-Chung Wang story. It also may–and should–have been the final straw.

The 22-year-old Taiwanese left hander gave up five runs and recorded only two outs in the eighth inning. Making only his sixth appearance of the season in the team’s 45th game, Wang gave up two home runs and consecutive RBI singles with two outs before enough was enough and he was relieved by first baseman Lyle Overbay.

Unlike Wang’s previous outings, this one came in the midst of a close game. The Brewers trailed 4-3 after a Ryan Braun homer in the top half of the eighth, most likely set up to get Kimbrel’d in the ninth. The timing is something to note, as it comes two days after Tom Haudricourt of the Journal-Sentinel reported this quote by Doug Melvin. 

“Our games are so close, we haven’t been able to get him in there,” he said. “I don’t think you should be afraid to pitch him in some close games. I talked to (manager) Ron (Roenicke) about it. I told him we’re going to do everything we can to keep him.”

The move by Roenicke was understandable given the quote from his boss from just this past weekend. Melvin, seeing him as a regular roster asset, wanted to use Wang in a close game. Trailing by one and facing Craig Kimbrel in the next half-inning, it was a chance for Roenicke to fulfill Melvin’s request and pitch Wang. Had he pitched a scoreless inning, it wasn’t all too likely the Brewers would have scratched a run across. If he got roughed up, it was unlikely that those runs would have mattered post-Kimbrel.

Ron Roenicke’s approach to the “WCW” situation? But it may have signified the end of the Wei-Chung Wang experiment for the Brewers.

A Rule Five draft pick this off-season, the Brewers have to keep Wang on their 25-man roster all season, otherwise his rights will be returned to Pittsburgh, the team that originally drafted him. At 22, the Brewers saw enough potential this spring that they felt he was worth the risk this season.

Last season, that wouldn’t have been an issue. Milwaukee was effectively out of postseason contention midway through May. This season? Different story. It’s much harder to use a roster spot on a rarely-used pitcher that should be developing in A-ball.

The thing is, reading Melvin’s quote to Haudricourt, that isn’t how the Brewers GM is viewing Wang.

 “We look at him as a player who would be a high draft pick (if in the draft last year or this year) and they aren’t easy to find,” said Melvin. “We’re doing everything we can to keep him.
 
“I don’t see where he’s hurting the ballclub. He’s no different than any 12th or 13th pitcher on a team.”

Wang may very well have been, theoretically, a high pick in this year’s draft. Even if that was the case, though, he would still be a a pitcher with A-ball command and a lot of development to do. Using a roster spot on a player who is effectively worth half a loss through 7.2 innings on a first-place team is not the best way to formulate 25 players that will make the playoffs.

If Melvin doesn’t see where Wang is hurting the ballclub, I’ll be willing to offer some insight.

Possibly three years from now, Wei-Chung Wang would be a valuable piece in the bullpen (or even as a starter). To get there, however, it would take plenty of development. It would be great if the Brewers could stash him in the farm system and treat him as a high draft pick–but they can’t. At this point, their options are to use a roster spot on him as he continues to negatively affect them when in the game and not in the game (by shortening the bullpen by an entire player) or designate him for assignment and effectively return him to the Pirates.

The former will only continue to hurt them going forward.

With Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers dominating at AAA and Tom Gorzelanny set to return from the disabled list soon, the Brewers have three more-than-viable options for relievers that would provide positive value compared to the replacement-level player, much less to a pitcher who throws once every 10 days or so and gets roughed up when he actually does pitch.

Roenicke’s move to take Wang out and bring in a position player to pitch may have even been a move to prove the liability of Wang on the roster. I’d say that giving up five runs in .2 innings in a one-run game is hurting the ballclub.

Wang is currently placed in a tough situation. He needs the time to develop, but the Brewers want to keep him, and he can’t simply just be stashed away in the bullpen, never pitching, all season long. Pitching sparsely and getting hit hard by batters much more developed than you must not be too fun, either.

After Monday’s performance, however, the Brewers may have to reevaluate their strategy with Wang.

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