Late Life: How Chien-Ming Wang Made it Back To The MLB
Late Life: How Chien-Ming Wang Made it Back To The MLB (Part 1 of 2)
It’s the perfect title for a documentary by filmmaker, Frank Chen on rise, fall and resurgence of ex-Yankee Ace, Chien Ming Wang. It premier’s in LA on May 9th. I am honored to be a part of it.
Here’s the trailer
Chien had been a 19-game winner for 2 consecutive seasons with the New York Yankees and was runner-up for the AL Cy Young. But a baserunning injury and subsequent arm trouble had sent him tumbling through the minor leagues and all the way to Indy ball. By the time he toed the rubber in Kauffman Stadium on April 9th, 2016, he had been out of MLB for almost 3 years. Everyone wondered how a guy with a broken foot, a torn hamstring, and a very difficult shoulder surgery could make it back to the big leagues. Observing the situation, it seemed highly unlikely, if not impossible tha he would ever make it back. I mean, he had pain and difficulty raising his arm to even scratch his head, and the first time I put a radar gun on him, it read 82mph — not exactly big league stuff. How did he do it? Let me let you in on an “Ancient Chinese Secret.” The secret to Chein’s comeback is that there is no secret. He got it “the old-fashioned way.”
He earned it.
On November 12th, 2015 I got a call from my friend and colleague at The Texas Baseball Ranch®, Ron Wolforth. He told me to expect a call from the agent of former Yankee great and Taiwanese superstar, Chien-Ming Wang. Apparently, he had heard about Ron’s work in reviving the career of Scott Kazmir, and wanted to know more about the Ranch. Since Chien was livig in Orlando, he preferred to drive over to the Florida Baseball Ranch® rather than making the trek to Montgomery, TX.
I quickly got to work, scouring the internet to learn about his career, his injury history, his path to the big leagues, and any other information I thought might be useful. His agent, Alan Chang called me and relayed his performance history and sent me some high-speed video from an outing from the previous season. According to Alan, Chien had shown flashes of brilliance the previous year but had struggled with consistency. From one outing to the next, Chien would lose velocity and his famous sinker would randomly disappear. He’d have one outing where things felt great and his stuff was electric, then he’d have 4-5 where the stuff just wasn’t there.
We set up an appointment for Chien to come in on November 17th. Coach Wolforth would then come to Florida to work with Chien for 3 days before Thanksgiving, and then again in January. Before our first meeting, I had organized a presentation to outline the plan we would implement to help Chien get back to the big leagues.
Chien and Alan arrived on time, and after a brief tour of the facility and introductions to our staff, we sat in our media room for the presentation. Here is the first slide from that talk.
I think that’s the Mandarin Chinese word for “welcome” or “good morning”… or it might be directions to the bathroom… I’m not really sure. Fortunately, since Chinese is not my first language, Alan was able to translate for me.
I opened by explaining that I believed the key to Chien’s future greatness would be found in achieving consistency, and that would require an aggressive and well-designed recovery program.
Next, I identified the variables that might contribute to poor recovery.
I pointed out that since I hadn’t been around him and I hadn’t conducted a physical evaluation, the only factor I could comment on was the possible biomechanical stressors I had seen on the video I had examined. I presented my video analysis findings on the next slide: I explained that we would still need to conduct a more thorough evaluation if he chose to train with us. Anticipating a major concern, I posted the next slide: Chien’s devastating sinker was his biggest weapon when he was at his best, but it had randomly failed him when he was struggling. So I explained to him why his sinker is so good with this slide. I assured him we would be making all adjustments subconsciously, through guided discovery and that we would be checking his spin rate weekly to ensure his new movement patterns did not alter his “stuff”. Finally, I laid out the objectives of his training as I saw them.
An hour after the meeting concluded, Alan called and said, “Chien was very impressed with your approach and would like to work with you and your team.” I immediately texted Coach Wolforth who thanked me and added some sage advice”
“Please share this with all involved in Chien’s training. In cases like this, we walk a fairly narrow road… If we are too timid or cautious…no change will be made. The body simply views this as ‘white noise’. If on the other hand, our changes disrupt natural sequencing and synch, we can really take him backward.”
The next day, Chien reported for duty and we completed his physical assessment, his body composition evaluation, a pain audit, a performance audit, a command assessment and a spin rate evaluation. Chien’s spin rate of 1400-1450 rpm was the lowest we had ever recorded. That explained the devastating late sinking action.
We began working on his mobility, started his individualized weight training program, performed daily power-building workouts, ScaptivationTM, and Yoga sessions, and we started building throwing volume while teaching him a few of corrective throwing drills to improve his arm action and engage his lower half a little better.
When coach Wolforth arrived for a 3-day stay on November 29th, he outlined his thoughts for Chien:
“Kick the tires first… Make sure he can be pushed (low/no pain) and can handle the work in front of him. Then I want to pick 1 or 2 things that will have the greatest possible impact. Implement them via guided discovery and natural learning… with audacity, clarity, and certainty.” “You know me…the less I MUST get in the weeds… the better I like it. When it comes to the minute details, it’s important for us to know, but many times it can cause unnecessary problems for the athlete. We want Chien sittin’ and getting’… pickin’ and-grinnin’… not thinking and analyzing.”
After reviewing the results of our preliminary assessments and working with Chien the first day, Coach Wolforth identified his 3 main points of intervention (which were in exact synch with my assessment):
When Ron left, I gathered our entire team for a planning meeting. We marked the calendar for the day he would report to spring training. As we counted back we had 12 weeks to get Chien to peak performance. Given his age and his recent performance history, we felt it would be important for Chien to be sitting around 90-93 mph to have a shot at making the Royals big league roster in the spring.
Chien would need a periodized, individualized plan, integrated across multiple disciplines, and ramped to ensure peak performance on opening day of spring training.
I’ll share all the details of Chien’s plan and the obstacles he faced along the way in part 2 of this 2 part series.