Zeke Spruill on the mound for the Lamigo Monkeys.

A Zeke and a Hard Place

Just seven games into his 2019 Chinese Professional Baseball League season Zeke Spruill finds himself without a job. He was released this week by the Lamigo Monkeys, and it’s unlikely Spruill will be picked up by another CPBL club. On its surface, Spruill’s release isn’t much of an event. He wasn’t performing, and it makes sense for that reason that the Monkeys would move on. However, Spruill was a top performer for the Monkeys as recently as 2017. That, plus his foreign player status makes Spruill a good candidate for others to see the fickle nature of CPBL teams.

2017 was Spruill’s first year in the CPBL, and to say he made a big splash would be an understatement. From the very onset, he was a huge get for the Monkeys and as the year went along he only got better. When the season was over Spruill finished with an ERA of 2.56, WHIP of 1.14, and FIP of 3.50. His ERA+ of 148 finished second behind only Mike Loree. Finishing second to Loree is not something to hang your head over, the Fubon Guardians ace is going to be the greatest pitcher in the history of the CPBL when all is said and done. Spruill’s 4.9 tWAR was second best in the league as well, behind Bryan Woodall. The Virginia native had come from what seemed like a series of awful seasons to have an amazing year and help guide the Monkeys to a Taiwan Series title.

Surprisingly Spruill was able to garner a Spring Training invite from the Texas Rangers thanks to his 2017 season. However, the Rangers cut Spruill before he ever saw an inning of work and while delayed by a considerable amount of time he found his way back to the Monkeys for the 2018 season. Things had changed though, and Spruill wasn’t able to fool hitters with his low diving sinker anymore. In 2018 Spruill only pitched in 13 games but he amassed an ERA of 5.12. His WHIP jumped to 1.58 and his FIP to 5.35 while his ERA+ dropped to 92. His tWAR of 0.6 made him a below replacement level player, even if he did win another Taiwan Series with the Monkeys.

The former Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand still had goodwill left over from his 2017, and the Monkeys re-signed him for the 2019 season. 7 games later with an ERA of 6.82, a WHIP of 1.77, FIP of 6.12, and ERA+ of 52 he finds himself without a job. When you post a tWAR of -0.4 it’s, as previously stated, not that surprising to find one’s self without a job. However, I think most of us are accustomed to a different way of going about business when it comes to struggling players. In Major League Baseball a pitcher regressing as much as Spruill would find himself sent to the minors with a chance to possibly get back to form. That simply is not going to happen in the CPBL, unless maybe the struggling pitcher is someone with a sustained track record of success like the aforementioned Mike Loree.

This isn’t isolated to the CPBL, but it is a mainstay of the league. Foreign players in the CPBL know that if they struggle too much and for too long they are looking at getting released. The reasoning being that CPBL teams are paying foreign players too much money for them to continue to struggle or take up a spot on the farm team while trying to work out said struggles. Foreign roster space is limited (only three spots on a CPBL team’s main roster can be taken up by foreign players) and unlike their MLB counterparts, CPBL teams want to win and win now. Foreign players are a huge part of a winning formula for any CPBL team, but if you are a foreign player who isn’t producing they aren’t going to give you much of a leash to bounce back. In the CPBL this is compounded by a lack of multi-year contracts for foreign players.

Zeke Spruill didn’t have it in 2019, and while it may seem shocking on the surface for someone as dominant as he was in 2017 to get the boot this early, it really isn’t. Being a foreign player in Taiwan comes with a certain amount of peril. Spruill is but the latest victim of the play better or be cut mentality that is the CPBL’s attitude towards foreign players.

Lead photo courtesy of Ye Wei – China Times

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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