The 2020 Chinese Professional Baseball League season is starting off in much the same fashion as the 2019 season. Two teammates are battling it out to be the face of the league. One of those two, Chu Yu-Hsien has probably cemented his place as the heir to Wang Po-Jung as the player most associated with Taiwan’s top league. At the same time, Lin Li has taken over Po-Jung’s role as the best player in the league. There’s nothing wrong with being the star of the league and every single one of us would take Yu-Hsien on our team. Li is special, the sort of special that turns heads and possibly changes the landscape.
Li first came onto the scene with the Lamigo Monkeys in 2018. He had impressed in his brief 2017 appearance with the top league team. 2018 represented his first full-time action with the Monkeys proper and Li didn’t exactly light the world on fire. In 335 plate appearances, he slashed .317/.352/.458. That was good enough for a 105 WRC+ and in the offensive-minded CPBL a fairly average season. A 4.7% BB rate isn’t exactly unheard of in the CPBL, plenty of top players in Taiwan get on base via hits as opposed to walks. What they do that Li was not able to do in his rookie season is to not strike out at an unhealthy clip. 24% is only a good K rate if you’re a pitcher. When you’re a hitter with that number it’s hard to find sustained success in the CPBL.
The slow start caused Li to be lost in the shuffle. Why would he stand out on a team with both Po-Jung and Yu-Hsien? When 2019 rolled around Li was in the shadows and he stayed that way all year long. Yu-Hsien garnered all the attention while Li put together the considerably better season. In 445 plate appearances, the super infielder slashed .389/.438/.639. He still only walked to the tune of 7%, but he cut his K rate all the way down to 16%. At 23-years-old Li made massive adjustments to his approach at the plate. He relaxed more, shortened his swing, and went on a tear. When the year ended he had amassed a WRC+ of 172. He was 19 points better than Yu-Hsien and yet it was Yu-Hsien who took home most of the acclaim.
One reason for that is that Li doesn’t hit the mammoth home run balls that Yu-Hsien does. Li hit 20 home runs in 2019, but his never hung as long or went as far as Yu-Hsien’s. If there’s one thing Taiwan baseball fans love, it’s long and majestic home runs. Li was also hampered by injuries in 2019, while Yu-Hsien had a nearly completely healthy season. When Li was on the field he was better and ultimately Yu-Hsien only played in 15 more games than his teammate, but those 15 games loomed large in the public’s mind. Then Li struggled in the playoffs and he was ensconced in his place behind Yu-Hsien in the CPBL pecking order.
Fans, CPBL, or otherwise, don’t take defense into account as they should. Li is a perfect example of a stalwart defender who is overlooked because his defense often isn’t of the dazzling variety. The CPBL is a league with defensive issues, even its most ardent fans are able to admit this fact. That’s what makes Li stand out, especially compared to the pedestrian defense offered by Yu-Hsien. Li offers above-average defense at third base and second base with average defense at shortstop. The thing with being a hitter of Li’s caliber is that even a little bit of decent defense goes a long way. Being above average goes even further, and Li’s defense helps him to go quite far.
In the early going of this season, Li is again impressing, albeit in the shadows. Yu-Hsien is all the rage while Li is keeping pace with him. The numbers don’t really matter at this point. Both Rakuten Monkeys are putting up absurd comic book results. Yu-Hsien is hitting home run after home run while Li is almost impossible to get out. Chances are things will continue in this fashion for the rest of the season. When the dust settles Yu-Hsien will get all the acclaim, while Lin Li stays in the shadows and retains his place as the best player in the league.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – ETtoday