Chu Yu-hsien at-bat for the Rakuten Monkeys during the 2020 season

CPBL Changes Are Afoot

All year long I keep tabs on player movement throughout the unaffiliated leagues. I pick and choose the transactions that interest me the most and write about those. Or, at least I add the player names to my notepad and then try to write about the transaction, time willing. I’ve added a handful of names in the past month and most of those names have been from Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. The majority of the CPBL players who have been signed, at least that interested me, have been foreign position players. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is in the CPBL.

This site has written about the CPBL enough that most should understand the general operating mode of the league. For years now it has been foreign pitching, more foreign pitching, and even more foreign pitching. The facts are that Taiwan has no problem producing high-level bats that can hit the ball. Where they have struggled is in producing arms that could excel on a regular basis. I’m not quite sure that has changed completely, but the rash of foreign position player signings could point to a belief that has changed as well as a few other things.

The belief that the native-born pitchers are starting to catch up to the hitters is likely tied into pitchers like Hsu Jo-hsi and Jen-ho Tseng. Jo-hsi is 100% native grown and perhaps the best young arm to come out of Taiwan, ever. Tseng is a seasoned professional who has many years in affiliated ball as well as a successful stint in the Australian Baseball League under his belt. Jo-hsi and Tseng aren’t the only Taiwanese pitchers excelling but they best represent the two-pronged hope for the future of the league. Jo-hsi is an amazing prospect who has a few more possible amazing prospects following behind him. Tseng is the prodigal son coming home and there are other high-level arms that are possibly returning home after him. All of this speaks to the possibility for less of a reliance on foreign pitchers in the coming years, though I’m not as convinced of this as some others seem to be.

If it’s not the improved pitching pipeline then there is the expansion option. Currently, the CPBL sits at five teams with the goal of expanding to at least six in the next few years. With expansion there comes a league-wide need for star power and more specifically for big bats that can carry a team day in and day out. CPBL officials realize that their teams need big foreign draws who won’t just be on the mound once, maybe twice, a week. Those star pitchers help, but for true star power, they need that dynamic bat who plays five or six games a week. They already get that from plenty of homegrown players, but if they can get it from foreign position players then they will attract not just Taiwanese interest but interest outside of Taiwan as well. The CPBL wants to not just expand in size but also in footprint and star foreign position players would play a large role in that.

Perhaps it is that CPBL teams have come to believe that they can win more games with these seasoned foreigners in the lineup every single day. Based on the signings they aren’t abandoning the foreign pitcher push quite yet. Each of the five teams is loaded with foreign pitchers and that won’t be changing any time soon. However, rosters in the CPBL are slightly more flexible and that makes adding in a foreign position player along with the foreign pitchers a viable option. There’s no questioning that players like Telvin Nash, Xavier Batista, and Wilin Rosario have proven pedigrees and have been able to win in many different leagues the world over. Veteran everyday players with their experience can help to push a team over the edge.

The last possibility is that CPBL teams are concerned that offense has been on a downward trend since they switched to deader baseballs a season or so ago. While some homegrown Taiwanese hitters have struggled with the new baseballs there is likely the belief that foreign hitters won’t struggle. Rossell Herrera and Eduardo Núñez didn’t play full seasons last year, but even with the dead baseball, they put up 128 and 145 WRC+ seasons respectively. There is clearly the belief that foreign hitters can handle the dead baseball better than the majority of homegrown talent. The names that have signed so far this offseason are proven big boppers and perhaps that will replace some of the offense lost by each team when the switch to the new baseballs took place.

Any of the above reasons could be valid, in fact, I believe that in reality, every reason listed above plays a role in the foreign position player boom we are seeing in the CPBL. One thing is for certain, the CPBL is poised to look a lot different moving forward. I’m not sure where this will take the CPBL or what actual effects it will have on the league. I’m looking forward to the ride though, just as every CPBL fan should be once the 2022 season commences.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – SupChina

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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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