Wang Po-Jung watches a ball come off his bat in Taiwan.
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Once Upon a Star in Taiwan

2016 was a great year for baseball, all around. In Japan Shohei Ohtani was doing his thing, Mike Trout was being Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor emerged as a household superstar, and the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. All of these things, and more combined to make 2016 a heck of a year for being a fan of the game of baseball. One thing that made 2016 a stellar baseball year for me was getting to tune into Lamigo Monkeys games and watch the otherworldly performance of Wang Po-Jung.

The all too obvious caveat that I’ll give before going too far is that Po-Jung played his 2016 season in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. There are offense-friendly leagues, and then there is the CPBL. Quality pitchers can be found in Taiwan’s professional league, but everything about the league from strike zone to stadium construction is geared towards higher offensive numbers. The CPBL is also a league where the overall skill level is around that of High-A affiliated ball. It’s still highly skilled professional baseball, but it is definitely a step below the major leagues.

All that being said, Wang Po-Jung put up transcendent numbers in 2016. He had one of the best rookie seasons with the bat at any level of professional baseball anywhere throughout the history of organized ball. His 2016 didn’t come out of the blue either. He was a highly touted prospect who saw 29 games with the Monkeys in 2015. Over 111 at-bats he slashed .324/.377/.640 for a WRC+ of 148 and a wOBA of .435. Even as a 21-year-old rookie Po-Jung had a good handle on the league and showed off plenty of the tools that would make his next season possible.

The Cultural University product started 2016 as the Monkeys everyday left fielder. He would move around and see time at all three outfield spots, but left field was his main home. His defense was above average and helped to make him a complete player, but his offense is why we are here. Surprisingly enough, Po-Jung did not get off to a hot start in 2016. Through his first 6 games he was 6 for 27 for a batting average of .222 with only 1 home run, 2 stolen bases, and 6 strikeouts. Not catastrophic by any measure, but not exactly the sort of start that makes one think they are about to see a rookie season for the ages.

Fast forward thirty days and Po-Jung had picked up the pace in a big way. Through 17 games he was 33 for 76 for a batting average of .434. Only 2 home runs, but he now sported 6 stolen bases and his strikeouts barely moved to a total of 8. This date marks the high point of Po-Jung’s season, at least batting average wise. He would spend the rest of the year teetering back and forth between the high .390s and low .400s, but he would never drop below .377. I know that batting average isn’t the best metric, but flawed though it may be, keeping your average above .377 is only something a great hitter is going to be accomplishing.

By the time the year ended, the Monkeys were not very good in 2016 and Po-Jung’s torrid hitting came to an end in the regular season, Po-Jung had put up the sort of numbers that hitters only ever dream about. In 483 at-bats he registered 200 hits, hit 29 home runs, and stole 24 bases, while slashing .414/.476/.689. He only struck out 59 times, while he combined walks and hit-by-pitches to get 62 free passes. For the traditionalists out there he managed 105 RBI and scored 130 runs.

A deeper dive into his numbers shows a 22-year-old kid who completely dominated a league featuring talent ranging from the Rookie to AAA level. The lefty hitter had an OPS of 1.165 for an OPS+ of 172. His K% was a measly 11% and his BABIP was an ungodly .428. That is not a number that should be sustainable, but, Po-Jung sustained it for an entire 116 game season. His end of the year wOBA of .492 and WRC+ of 176 are simply magnificent. There’s a reason that global baseball fans have been touting the wares of the diminutive Po-Jung since he arrived on the scene.

2016 wasn’t an outlier for the Monkeys’ star, his 2017 was actually better than his 2016 in just about every way. He improved his WRC+ to 186, his OPS+ to 197 and his K% to 9. 2018, his last year in the CPBL, was actually a down year for him, what with his 151 WRC+ and 155 OPS+. He’s now playing in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. His numbers have come down to earth a little, but in a new league with better talent, the now 25-year-old is slashing .279/.333/.349. Not otherworldly numbers and Po-Jung has given light to the one major concern with his game. So far his power has not transferred over from the CPBL’s shorter fences, in any way. The season is young though and the Pingtung County native is still showing the raw skills that should translate to better success as the year progresses.

As a 22-year-old rookie Wang Po-Jung was one of the best baseball players on the planet. He just so happened to play in the CPBL and thus a very small number of non-Taiwanese people knew about him. He was, and still remains, a special player. He’s certainly someone worth taking the time to get to know a little more about because his 2016 may be the best rookie season ever and it was only the beginning of what should end as a fantastic career.

Lead photo courtesy of Huang Chih-yuan – Taipei Times

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