The second half of the Chinese Professional Baseball League has a different feel to it than the first half did. This is evident in the standings where the Fubon Guardians have, as of this Sunday, staked themselves out a 1 game lead over the second-place Chinatrust Brothers. The first half champion Lamigo Monkeys find themselves 1.5 games out, while the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions are in last place, but only 3.5 games off the lead. The 2019 CPBL second half is shaping up to be a down to the wire finish as I’m not sure I can see any team pulling away from the pack.
The same is not true when it comes to candidacy for the CPBL’s Most Valuable Player. A trio of players (two hitters and one pitcher) have lapped the field and loudly declared themselves the best of the best that Taiwan’s professional baseball league has to offer. More than likely a position player will take home the award, no pitcher has won MVP since Mike Johnson last did in 2008 for La New Bears.
Leading the pack among the position players is Lamigo first baseman Chu Yu-Hsien. He’s been obliterating the ball with a slash line of .373/.423/672. He leads the league in home runs with 22 and is second in BA, WRC+ (178), OPS+ (175), and wOBA (.474). The lefty slugger has a good BB% of 8.1, and his 19.1 K% is definitely better than what I’ve come to expect from CPBL mashing first baseman. Yu-Hsien has emerged as a leader on the Monkeys and played a key role in their first-half title.
Another Monkey is nipping at Yu-Hsien’s heels in the form of right-handed hitting catcher Lin Hung-Yu. He’s slashing .372/.442/.617 with 17 home runs and a measly 14.2 K%. His BB% of 5.5 is pedestrian, but he makes up for that by being second in OBP, and third in BA, SLG, OPS+ (168), WRC+ (177) and wOBA (.465). Hung-Yu’s case is also boosted by virtue of playing above-average defense at a much more demanding position in the form of catcher. Being an important cog in the Monkeys dynasty also works in his favor, but he’s not the leader on the Monkeys, that is Yu-Hsien.
The best pitcher in the CPBL in 2019 may have been Henry Sosa, but seeing as he long ago departed for the SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization we’ll never know if he would have been able to keep up his torrid pace. That being the case the best pitcher to play the entire CPBL season has been the perennial best pitcher in the CPBL, Guardians right-hander Mike Loree. In 15 starts he has an ERA of 2.92, the only sub-3.00 ERA besides Sosa. In fact, Loree is second in most pitching stats, behind only Sosa. He’s notched an ERA+ of 140, a WHIP of 1.07, a K% of 21.6, and a BB% of 3.94. Loree’s tWAR of 2.4 is good for fourth among all pitchers, but as he racks up more innings expect him to move to the top of the leaderboard by season’s end.
The dark horse in the MVP race is another Monkey, second baseman/shortstop Lin Li. He’s a dark horse because he hasn’t played in as many games as his counterparts. However, his stats are almost Wang Po-Jung like in their dominance. In 248 plate appearances, he has a slash of .411/.457/.679. He’s hit 12 home runs, 2 triples, and 21 doubles. Li’s 7.0 BB% is middle of the pack, but his 14.9 K% is among the best in the league. You may recall his Monkeys teammates being second or third in most offensive categories, and that’s because Li leads the league in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS+ (187), WRC+ (189) and wOBA (.483). He presents positional flexibility, though he is error-prone and his fielding is likely the one weakness in his armor.
As dominant as Loree has yet again been, the specter of Sosa’s unfinished season removes him from serious consideration. Hung-Yu is nipping at Yu-Hsien’s heels, but he’s nipping because it’s pretty clear that Yu-Hsien is having the better season. If the season ended today Yu-Hsien would be my choice for MVP. The season doesn’t end today though, and that’s why if he keeps up his pace and gets in the at-bats he needs Li should win the MVP award running away. The 23-year-old is playing at a level that his peers simply can’t match and if he isn’t awarded for that with the MVP then the voters simply weren’t paying attention.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown