A new Chinese Professional Baseball League season hasn’t truly kicked off until this site has written about one specific player. This isn’t the only time I, or the site, will write about this player, but until I’ve published an article on Mike Loree everything else is eyewash. We’re now 30 games into the 2021 CPBL season and that means it’s time to check in on the best pitcher to ever grace a CPBL mound.
When we last left off with the right-hander there were plenty of concerns that he had run into some serious regression. After seven seasons of dominance that saw him plant his flag in the ground as the best pitcher in the history of Taiwan’s premier professional league, 2020 was a massive struggle for the American. Things got off on the wrong foot for Loree as he missed considerable time with an oblique injury. By the time he finally took the mound the league had lost most of the new eyes that being the only pro league in action during a global pandemic had brought its way.
To say that those who stuck around weren’t all that impressed with Loree would be an understatement. Every Loree start there seemed to be a popular refrain of us CPBL old-timers saying, “This is Mike Loree we’re talking about, he’ll figure things out and everything will be fine.” That was followed by a poor outing from Loree while the newer fans simply shrugged away a guy who didn’t seem to ever live up to the hype. Loree finished his 2020 season with a 5.00 ERA, 105 ERA+, 4.50 FIP, and 2.8 tWAR in 136.2 innings pitched. In all those categories, plus many more, the greatest pitcher the league has ever seen put up the worst numbers of his career.
It was natural for people to downplay or write off Loree coming into the 2021 season. His 2020 was that bad and he was entering his sixteenth professional season at the age of 34. That’s not exactly when pitchers tend to bounce back and find their form. I read and heard a lot of chatter from fans who thought Loree’s skid was such a definite that he would possibly not make the Fubon Guardians’ main roster in 2021. Some even postulated that the bevy of foreign arms signed by the Guardians could squeeze him off the team altogether. There was plenty of chatter, but eventually, that chatter would have to deal with the fact that its subject was Mike Loree.
Coming into today’s action Loree has logged 40.0 innings this season. He has already accumulated 1.1 tWAR, an ERA of 2.25, a FIP of 2.41, and an ERA+ of 136. Those are all better numbers than what he produced in 2020 and more in line with his career CPBL stats. They don’t tell the whole story of Loree’s return to dominance. While Loree is still puzzling hitters with his forkball the main ingredient that has returned to his game is the command of his pitches. In 2020 he posted a 4.61 BB% which helped add to an unseemly 1.460 WHIP. So far this season, Loree has a 1.91 BB% (best in the league) and a 0.850 WHIP.
To put it more simply, Loree is throwing strikes again. But, not only is he throwing strikes he has regained the movement that made him such a deadly pitcher, to begin with. Anyone who has watched the CPBL for any of Loree’s tenure knows that his ability to stay in the zone with movement has been the key to his dominance. In 2020 everything he threw was flat and to make up for that he started nibbling more and walked far more hitters as a result. When he did come into the zone he was hit hard because his offerings were so straight and lifeless. This season Loree is back to dancing within the zone and no one can match Loree’s moves on that particular dance floor.
As I type this out Loree has just finished a six-inning outing against the CTBC Brothers. He didn’t have his best stuff, he allowed seven hits, but he only walked one batter, struck out five, and let up zero runs. In 2020 Loree routinely took the mound without his best stuff and ended up suffering for that. So far this season, Loree hasn’t needed his best stuff to dominate. Even when he’s not at the top of his game he has retained his movement and been nails in the process. Mike Loree proves all his doubters wrong with each outing and lets the entire baseball world know that he is back and just as dominant as ever.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – CPBL Stats