Foreign pitchers are the lifeblood of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Every team is allowed to carry three foreign players on their main roster, and most of the time all three spots are occupied by foreign pitchers. Mike Loree has been the standard of excellence in this regard, but others like Darin Downs, Bruce Kern III, and Zeke Spruill have been able to come into the CPBL and be really good for some time. Rare is the foreign pitcher who can come into the league and dominate. This year that rarity has taken shape in the form of Henry Sosa.
Sosa’s path to the CPBL was not conventional. The playing side actually was, as he bounced around Minor League Baseball for a few years and enjoyed a cup of coffee in the major leagues in 2011 with the Houston Astros. He played in both the Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional (he still plays in Venezuela in the offseason) and Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana and eventually stuck in the Korea Baseball Organization for a handful of years. Then a loophole in South Korean tax law caused him to leave the country and end up in Taiwan.
The Fubon Guardians have done their part to be a preseason powerhouse for a few years running now. Mostly due to a lack of team chemistry and poor performance they have ended up a postseason also-ran instead of the powerhouse they should be. When they signed Sosa it was yet another move that pegged them as a preseason powerhouse. Being put in a rotation with Loree and Bryan Woodall meant that Fubon should dominate on the mound. Of course, it being Fubon there was a concern that Sosa would not perform and that instead of a triumph he would be used as an example of why spending big on proven foreign pitchers isn’t an avenue to success in Taiwan.
The Guardians are yet again playing like also-rans instead of the powerhouse they should be, but defense and offense are the issues their, not the starters. Sosa, in particular, has been everything the Guardians could have wanted and then some. Through 4 games he has been dominant (and was equally dominant in his fifth start that when added to the results on CPBL Stats should make his advanced stats that much better) and looked every bit the best pitcher in the league. In 30 innings he has notched 1 complete game, an ERA of 1.50, WHIP of 0.73, ERA+ of 162, 31 strikeouts to only 2 walks, and a LOB% of 88.5. This all adds up to a league-leading tWAR of 1.1.
The stats are great, but the eyes paint an even clearer picture of Sosa’s dominance. He still relies mainly on his sinker, but in Taiwan he has started throwing his fourseam fastball harder and higher. Sosa’s fourseam sits around 93-94mph, but he has been getting it as high as 95-96. More than speed though, he has used his sinker and fourseam to set up a devastating slider that CPBL hitters simply haven’t been able to adjust for in any way. By locating his fastball so well he is then able to sweep his slider across the zone and even the best CPBL hitters are left flailing at a pitch that is nowhere near where they thought it would be.
The season is still young, and there is always the chance that the league will figure Sosa out. I’m not betting on that happening, Sosa is the most dominant pitcher the CPBL has seen in some time. He’s not as crafty as a Loree, nor do I believe he will have the sustained success Loree has enjoyed in Taiwan. But, for a short period, it’s crystal clear that Sosa has positioned himself as the best pitcher in the CPBL, even if Fubon still can’t find a way to come together around their new ace.
Lead photo courtesy of Liao Yao-tung – Taipei Times