With his much trailed intro to Taiwanese baseball, John’s back…
Yes, you heard right, the Chinese Professional Baseball League, or CPBL for short, has a storied history on the baseball mad island of Taiwan.
The current iteration of the CPBL has four teams; the Taipei City based Fubon Guardians, the reigning champion Lamigo Monkeys, the Chinatrust Brothers Elephants and, from Taiwan’s southernmost city of Tainan, the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions.
The league is at its smallest in sometime following a mid-2000s game-fixing scandal, but there are plans to expand to six teams in the next couple of years, with a team from the Australian Baseball League set to join the CPBL farm league in 2019 and rumours of another big Taiwanese corporate investing in a new team. As in other Asian markets, the clubs are an extension of the country’s big companies and act as a relatively cheap way for them to gain media exposure (Fubon and Chinatrust are banks, 7-Eleven are grocery stores and Lamigo make shoes, obviously).
Each team has three imports. These are usually starting pitchers as the Taiwanese have struggled to develop this position, and their best bets – including Marlins pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and KBO opening day starter Wei-Chung Wang – have been snaffled by MLB clubs.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably waiting for an answer to the question – ‘MLB is so good, and it takes so long, and there’s so much time, so why should I even bother?’. Well, here it is…
The Baseball is Good
Feels like a given, right? And it is. The standard in the CPBL is often described uncharitably as AA level. As a loose ballpark, this just about fits, but hides the fact that the best players (and there are plenty) would probably make an MLB roster, and that all players are capable of standout play.
The difference in quality is most easily seen on the defensive side of the ball, where the odd bloop drops between fielders, grounders are fumbled and the bullpen’s fourth and fifth arms serve up meaty BP fastballs that the league’s sluggers feast on.
The point is that this actually makes the games exciting – there are loads of runs, and the style is contact heavy and aggressive. It doesn’t mirror the patient, ‘base by base’ approach favoured in Japan, either – the CPBL is full of free swingers ready to punish a sloppy piece of fielding or free pass.
The Atmosphere is Infectious
Like most Asian baseball, the CPBL is the land of cheering squads, colourful stadiums and team songs. At first this feels grating, but before long you’re singing along to the Monkeys chants (and waking up in the middle of the night with them as an ear worm).
There are Four Teams
Right. It isn’t hard to keep up to speed with four teams, even when the broadcasts are in an unfamiliar language (though a strike is still a strike, a double play a double play, and a home run a home run). You don’t need to know who the Cincinnati Reds third best offensive player is. The CPBL is a blagger’s dream.
It is really easy to access
All games are broadcast on CPBLTV, with a large number also streamed for free on the clubs’ own sites. The brilliant CPBL Stats site tracks the numbers in English, and has this great guide to setting up streaming. That’ll set you back the princely sum of £24 for a whole year for all 240 fixtures. Bargain.
Oh and the games are at 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning, so you can watch them with your Saturday morning coffee…
Oh, look at these fonts lads…
Who’s my team?
As noted above, there are four teams to choose from, so pick your favourite font… Just kidding, here’s a quick intro to the four clubs:
The Brothers (formerly the Brothers Elephants) play their games around Taiwan, mostly in Taichung and Taipei City, from 2019 they’ll be permanently based in Taichung. They’re arguably the most storied of the four current clubs, having existed as the Elephants since 1990. They’ve won just one Taiwan Series since the league rebooted in 2004, but are a perennial playoff club, and last year’s runners-up. Oh, and they play in pyjamas, so if you’re a T20 fan, they’re your team.
The Brothers’ star player, and Taiwan’s best-paid and best-known, is infielder Lin Chih-Sheng. Lin is a mega star and multiple league MVP, and was a huge hit in this year’s ABL with the champion Brisbane Bandits. Unfortunately he’s currently residing in the club’s farm team owing to a clash with club manager, abrasive former Dodgers star, Cory Snyder.
Without Lin, and having lost fellow ABL standouts, third baseman Chiang Chih-Hsien and pitcher Chen Hung-Wen, to the Guardians in the off-season thanks to the same beef with Snyder, the Brothers are reliant on sluggers Peng Cheng-Min and Chou Ssu-Chi
Alongside veteran coach Snyder, the Brothers have a battery of new overseas starting pitchers this year following the departure of staff ace Bryan Woodall to Fubon. The three slots are taken by Mitch Lively, Nick Additon and Zack Segovia.
Segovia is a seasoned CPBL veteran, spending three years with the Lions and Monkeys following his last MLB ‘cup of coffee’ in 2014 with the Nats. Additon reached AAA with a couple of clubs and spent a year in the KBO; he flashed a nice curve and good command in his first start of the season. Lively’s wind-up is reminiscent of something from old-time baseball and is a fun watch…
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) March 28, 2018
The Guardians are CPBL’s newest club, with the franchise taking over from the EDA Rhinos to finish dead last in their first season in 2017. The club spent big in the off-season, retaining club ace Mike Loree and adding the best pitchers from both the Brothers and Lions 2017 staff, as well as the Brothers recalcitrant stars. They also invested heavily in their base in Taipei City to make it the best appointed stadium for players and fans alike.
First baseman Lin Yi-Chuan is the second highest paid player in CPBL and a three-time league MVP. He’s backed by a battery of players with experience in MLB systems, including DH Hu Chin-Lung, left fielder Kao Kuo-Hui and relievers Ni Fu-Te and Kuo Hong-Chih.
The Guardians’ overseas roster for 2018 is arguably the CPBL’s best ever. Mike Loree has returned on CPBL’s best ever deal for a foreign talent following a 2017 in which he pitched to a miraculous 2.17 ERA in such an offence heavy league. Bryan Woodall was the Brothers top pitcher, despite having what one might charitably term a ‘funky’ delivery (which is somewhat reminiscent of a budget Max Scherzer), he recorded an eye-watering 0.47 ERA over 13 starts with the Lancaster Barnstormers in Indy Ball’s top level, the Atlantic League, in 2016. Former Yankees farm hand Bruce Billings rounds out the trio, having taken the 2017 MVP crown for the last placed Lions.
Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions
Based in Tainan, the ‘Uni Lions’, were a founder club of the CPBL and have won more Taiwan Series than any other (eight). Recent seasons have been something of a famine, with their last laurels coming in 2013. The club has an ardent British fan, Tom Chapel, a Tainan based English teacher who recently appeared on Taiwanese TV to explain his fandom.
The Lions are the only team for whom the star is a Taiwanese pitcher, Pan Wei-Lun. Their other star is also a Pan – Pan Wu-Hsiung is a big hitting DH. Occasional first baseman Teng Chih-Wei is one of the best stories in CPBL; profoundly deaf since childhood, he’s one of the most recognisable players in the game and has a cult following despite only brief forays onto the field.
As with the Brothers, the Lions start 2018 with an all new overseas rotation. Best known amongst them is Josh Roenicke who has seen time in over 60 MLB games with a handful of clubs. Ryan Verdugo and David Martinez are less decorated but have both had the proverbial ‘cup of coffee’ in between solid showings at AAA level.
Martinez looked red hot in his first start, highlighting why many pundits feel the Lions have a real chance of leaping from third to first in 2018.
Lions pitcher David Martinez gave up 2 hits and a run to his first 3 CPBL batters. Then the righty flipped the switch and went beast-mode, retiring 19 of the next 22 Guardians he faced. Final line 6.2IP, 4H, 1R, BB, 7K grabbing the win and the game’s MVP in the 3-1 Lions victory pic.twitter.com/5Czam5oQLm
— Josh Inglis (@inglis_josh4) March 30, 2018
The reigning Taiwan Series champions, the Lamigo Monkeys are also a relatively new club having taken the place of the Kaohsiung based La New Bears in 2011, albeit under the same ownership group and now based out of the Northern city of Taoyuan. The Monkeys 2017 success came on the back of solid pitching, and a second straight MVP season from young phenom Wang Po-Jung.
Wang is the current darling of Taiwan, his back-to-back MVPs came in his first two seasons in CPBL and there is genuine fear that 2018 could be his last in Taiwan with MLB and NPB scouts at almost every game he plays. His 2017 average was a cool .407, including 31 homers. In 2016 he tallied .414 with 200 hits. He is pretty, pretty good.
Second baseman Kuo Yen-Wen and first baseman Chen Chun-Hsiu vie with Wang for the fans’ affections, but fight a losing battle. Both members of past Taiwanese national teams, they show that the lineup has some depth. Closer Chen Yu-Hsun is the league’s best paid reliever and one of its more colourful characters.
Lamigo lost their one and two starters after Zeke Spruill returned to the States with the Rangers and Zack Segovia moved to the Brothers. Joining the dependable staff horse, ex MLB pitcher, Darin Downs (a budget Chris Sale, with less height and ‘zip’ on his offerings) are Bruce Kern and Michael Nix. Both have league experience (this is very important to Taiwanese clubs) but mixed records; Kern is the league’s hardest thrower, reaching back for 96mph at his max.
Here’s Downs turning a pretty sweet DP in today’s fixture with the Brothers:
— CPBL STATS (@GOCPBL) March 30, 2018
CPBL Stats is the essential resource for the English fan – up to date numbers and brilliant ‘How To’ guides in our lingua franca. Also has a great Twitter account with clips and gifs of today’s top plays.
Photographer Mark Buckton takes awesome photos of the CPBL and posts them on his Twitter feed.