How Chien-Ming Wang Got His Groove Back by Randy Sullivan
Have you heard the talk of the town in MLB Cactus League?
Seems there is a “rising phoenix” in Surprise, Arizona.
And its got a lot of people confused
The entire league is wondering how Chien-Ming Wang, a 35 year old, twice injured pitcher who was sitting at 86-88 mph in AAA last year is now bumping 96 mph and is showing better stuff than any time in his career.
Most “experts” would tell you gains like that at his age are impossible.
Internet gurus are scrambling to analyze his mechanics, looking for the “magic bullet” change that holds the secret to his improvement.
One brilliant mastermind even went so far as to post a studio picture of Chien suggesting that the key was in the infamous “flat arm” syndrome…
That’s got to be it!
Any one can see it in a posed studio photo!
Next they’ll be conducting biomechanical analysis of Glamor shots and Christmas cards!
Let me let you in on an “Ancient Chinese Secret.”
The secret to Chein’s newfound velocity 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 lives 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 disapear. 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.
Whenever I hear of a pitcher struggling with inconsistency, I immediately suspect a recovery problem. Stuff and velo fail him because he’s not fully recovered between appearances.
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 backwards.”
Our CFO/COO, Amy Marsh made arrangements for Coach Wolforth to fly to Tampa in 2 weeks to begin working with Chien. Meanwhile, we completed is 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 I thought Coach Wolforth might deploy.
When coach Wolforth arrived on November 29th, he outlined his plan 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 he athlete. We want Chien sittin’ and getting’… pickin’ and a grinnin’… not thinking and analyzing.”
After reviewing the results of our preliminary assessments and working with Chien the first day, Coach Wolforth chose his 3 main points of intervention (which were in exact synch with my assessment):
1) Improve his deceleration pattern,
2) Improve his forearm flyout,
3) Improve the efficiency and contribution of his lower half.
He spent the next 2 days showing Chien the corrective throwing plan. He also observed Chien’s work with our Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Matt Abramson on his individualized with weight training program. He watched player development specialists Ty Sullivan and Josh Wagner conduct the power building workouts and he looked on as our Fitness and Nutrition Director, Lisa Church took Chien through his Mobility, Scaptivation, and Broga sessions.
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 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.
We earmarked the first 4 weeks for ability development – power building, mobility training, cleaning up his movement pattern and pushing velocity once per week. His throwing plan (6 days per week) included twice weekly long toss, precision drill work, and one velo push day per week. Every aspect of his training plan during this phase — from warmup, to throwing program, to weight training, scapular stability, training, yoga, and plyometrics would be coordinated across all disciplines and would designed to build power. Recovery would involve physical modalities such as Marc Pro electrical stimulation, and manual therapy in our physical therapy clinic.
During the second phase (4 weeks in duration) we would shift to a 50-50 mix of ability and skill. Each week, one on of his long toss sessions would be traded for bullpen session of graduated volume. His multidisciplinary workouts were adjusted accordingly to match the intent of the phase.
The final 4 weeks would be dedicated to refining his skill by completing 2 bullpen 60-75 pitch bullpen sessions per week, with recovery and drill work in between.
The plan was organized into a comprehensive document and posted in a 3 ring binder and included a spreadsheet with daily instructions across every component part.
Chien kept a copy with him, and our staff used it to guide his daily training plan and to document his progress.
On his first velo push day his initial throw was 82 mph and after 15 max effort throws he topped out at 84 mph.
He seemed flustered.
“84?” he asked. I could sense his concern. We were supposed to be increasing his velocity, but he appeared to be going backwards.
I assured him that his body would respond if he would just stay the course and stick to the plan.
Then I prayed we were right.
Chien went home to Taiwan 3 weeks in late December.
He took his notebook with him and executed his plan every day. We compiled a series of videos to remind him of the exercises and drills he should be using. When he came back on Jan 11th and on Jan 14th he topped out at 87 mph.
I was concerned that at this pace he wouldn’t be throwing hard enough by February to impress anyone, but Coach Wolforth saw it differently. He responded to my report via text.
“Perfect. If he’s 87 mph indoors with sneakers on a temporary mound, he’ll be right around 90-93 when the lights go on in real game.”
A week later, on January 21st we checked his velo again.
He started the morning at 85 mph and after about 10 throws had made no progress. A minor leaguer and 2 college guys were training that day, so I had an idea. Maybe Chien needed the added adrenaline of competition to bring push him through his barriers. So I asked the 3 young men to join Chien in a wager. Loser of the velo-off would have to buy lunch,.
Five throws later this happened.
[CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO WATCH THE VIDEO]
Things were starting to look up.
But we still had work to do.
As we entered the final 3 weeks, I arranged for Chien to throw to live hitters during a intrasquad at Durant high school, where my eldest son is the pitching coach and my youngest son a senior catcher. On the first pitch of intrasquad, the l shortstop, Johnny Herman, who has a career homerun total of zero, took Chien deep.
A rather inauspicious start to say the least…
Chien stood on the mound with his arms open and smiled as Johnny rounded the bases having achieved the dream of hitting a homer off of a big league pitcher.
“In spring training simulated game, no one ever swing at the first pitch.” Chien would later comment.
During the last week of January, Coach Wolforth returned to Florida for another 3-day stint, working with Chien. I caught a bullpen for him as Coach Wolforth reviewed his plan, guided him through some strategies for attacking hitters, and helped him developed a process for regaining the sinker if it disappeared unexpectedly. His video analysis revealed improvement on all 3 key components of his delivery, and Coach Wolforth
10 days before his report date Chien tweaked a hamstring, and had to back off on the intensity of his workouts. During this time we focused on physical therapy modalities, manual therapy, and restorative functional movement. In retrospect, the injury might have been a blessing in disguise, as it forced us to avoid overtraining him during this time.
On the last day of his training, we all gathered for a picnic lunch at the Florida Baseball Ranch, and wished Chien success. As he drove away, our horse, Libby didn’t want him to go, and she wasn’t afraid to let him know.
It wasn’t long before Chien became the talk of the town in Surprise, AZ with eye-popping velocities reaching 96.7 mph.
To read what the national press is saying about Chien-Ming Wang’s career rising from the ashes.
With characteristic humility and class, Chien acknowledged his work at The Ranch in the off-season as the key to his new success.
The day he mentioned it to reporters, the entire country of Taiwan visited and crashed our website. We doubled the bandwidth and after his next outing, it crashed again.
Seems our guy Chien-Ming Wang is a kind of a big deal in his home country.
(I personally am hoping for, and looking forward to a Ranch on the Road event in Taiwan next winter. Let’s go Chien!! Make it happen!!!)
Chien was and remains one of the most humble and hard working major leaguers with whom we’ve had the pleasure of working. He showed up every day motivated, driven, and eager to do whatever it took to get him back to the big leagues. He bought into the plan and completely trusted us throughout he process. He deserves all the credit for his resurgence, but the unsung heroes in this story are the staff members at The Florida Baseball Ranch who worked with him on a day-to-day basis.
Josh Wagner and Ty Sullivan who assisted and directed Chien every day on his throwing drills, mobility, and recovery.
Matt Abramson crafted and executed his customized strength and conditioning plan, and with his experience as a professional pitcher, provided depth to our understanding of the demands Chien would face.
Lisa Church provided ScaptivationTM, Yoga, and physical therapy services with zeal and excellence.
Our team of professionals is truly world class, and the passion and precision with which they perform is unparalleled.
And of course, special thanks and credit are due to my friend, colleague and mentor, Coach Ron Wolforth whose knowledge, experience, vision, and leadership guided us through the entire journey.
The resurrection of Chien-Ming Wang’s career has takenplace in a town called Surprise, AZ.
Many among the baseball establishment are indeed surprised.
But as for those of us who witnessed first hand the quality of work and his investment in time and effort this off-season…
we are not surprised at all…
but certainly not surprised.
From the Texas and Florida Baseball Ranch,
Congratulations to our friend Chien-Ming Wang
Do you want to experience the holistic, comprehensive training approach that helped Chien-Ming Wang get his groove back?
Go to www.floridabaseballranch.com/summer and get registered for the most incredible summer of your life!
See you at the Ranch,
Randy Sullivan, MPT
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch