As much as I love Baseball Reference, there are massive gaps in what they cover. For instance if you were to search Mike Loree and look at his career you would think that he has been out of baseball since a subpar 2012 with the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks. Most wouldn’t give that fact a second thought. The ALPB is an independent league and players often reach the end of their careers when they deliver a bad season in any indie league. When it comes to Loree the truth is much better and it contains eight more years of a great career.
No one is at fault for not knowing much about Loree. He was an unheralded prospect in affiliated ball who only made it as far as four appearances at the AA-level. His Baseball Reference page shows one good season in unaffiliated ball sandwiched by two mediocre seasons. There’s nothing about Loree that sticks out in the baseball most people know about. That’s because Baseball Reference and all the other mainstream stats sites don’t keep track of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In the CPBL Loree hasn’t just put together a great career he is in the process of putting together the best career by a foreign pitcher, and maybe eventually just pitcher in general, in the history of the league.
It all started with that bad 2012 Ducks season. When the Ducks cut him loose there wasn’t exactly a market for Loree. Naturally, when the Lamigo Monkeys approached him about playing in Taiwan he took them up on the offer. That first shortened season he appeared in 8 games, starting 7, finishing with an ERA of 2.50 and a WHIP of 0.930 in 50.1 innings pitched. In 8 games he put up an ERA+ of 142 and a tWAR of 1.3. It was clear from the onset that Loree had the goods to succeed in the CPBL and his forkball immediately played havoc with opposing batters’ ability to make contact with the baseball.
In the year that followed Loree would continue to establish his dominance in Taiwan. He briefly left the league to spend the 2014 season with the Northern League’s KT Wiz the year before they made the jump to the Korea Baseball Organization proper. He was quite good with the Wiz, but ultimately he was released in favor of a younger pitcher with stuff that represented a higher upside. When Loree returned to the CPBL in 2015, this time with the EDA Rhinos, he never missed a beat. The 2016 season was the last for the Rhinos, they would change their name to the Fubon Guardians for the 2017 season, and that year he guided the Rhinos to a Taiwan Series title.
We’re going to focus on the 2017 season for a second because it is probably the best example of the stranglehold Loree has had at the top of the CPBL pitching leaderboards since his arrival. The now Guardian appeared in 25 games that season and threw 160.2 innings. His ERA+ of 156 was made possible by a 2.18 ERA, a 5 BB%, and a WHIP of 1.010. The most insane stat Loree put up that year was his K%, it was a whopping 24. Prior to and following 2017 batters had issues with Loree’s forkball, but in 2017 every pitch he threw was damn near unhittable. Loree comfortably led all pitchers in 2017 with a 5.3 tWAR.
Loree’s next great challenge was in 2019 when the Guardians signed Henry Sosa and it appeared as if a new ace had entered the fold in Taiwan. Sosa did end up having the better season, but the way that Loree responded to the challenge shows he has no intention of becoming complacent with his status as top of the mountain in the league. Sosa only appeared in 12 games, and while they were an extremely powerful 12 games it was Loree who kept pace and ended up putting up almost as powerful numbers over 26 starts. Loree ended the season with a 2.78 ERA. 1.000 WHIP, 143 ERA+, a still whopping 24 K%, and a tWAR of 4.9. Loree responded to the challenge from his own teammate, and then some.
The 2020 CPBL season is about to kick-off and once again the battle for the best pitcher in the league will come down to Sosa and Loree. Even if Sosa has the better season there’s little doubt that Loree will keep pace with him and put up his usual great numbers. To those of you who are new to the CPBL Loree is the pitcher you need to seek out and watch. He’s been the class of the league, 27.5 tWAR in 7 seasons, for some time now and his forkball is still a devastating pitch. It’s always fun watching greatness in action and that’s what you will get every single time you turn on a Mike Loree start.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown