The sun shining, the pull of the tides, the moon filling up the night, and Mike Loree being the best pitcher in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Since he entered the league in 2012 Loree has been at or near the top of the pitching leaders every year. In an extremely hitter-friendly league, he’s never posted an ERA above 4.00 or a WHIP above 1.35. Whether with the Lamigo Monkeys. EDA Rhinos, or Fubon Guardians he has remained a constant source of domination year-after-year.
In 2018 Loree showed some signs of shakiness, but he still stayed near the top of the league. In the early goings this year it appeared as if father time had finally caught up to the 32-year-old. In his first two outings of the year, he looked downright human. His usually devastating forkball was up in the zone far too often and he paid the price. Over 9.2 innings he had amassed an ERA of 5.59 and walked five while giving up lots of hard contact. In his second start against the Monkeys, he ran into a wall in the fifth inning and wasn’t able to record a single out before being chased from the game.
Following his April 20th showing, I planned to write about Loree’s struggles. Watching the mighty fall isn’t easy, but it does give one plenty to write about. Things got in the way, as they often do, and as a couple of weeks passed Loree did what he is wont to do and showed why he is the standard bearer for quality pitching in the CPBL. The mighty are mighty for a reason. Loree’s time at the top will eventually come to an end, but it turns out we were all quick to jump the gun on 2019 being the end.
In his April 26th start against the Chinatrust Brothers Loree looked much more like his old self. He went 8 innings, struck out 5, and surrendered only 1 walk. Most of all he had his forkball biting again as he used his go-to pitch to engineer 12 groundouts. The Brothers are the best team in the CPBL so far in the young season, even if their hitting leaves much to be desired. For that reason, it felt right to temper my reaction to Loree’s superb outing.
The right-hander improved his numbers in his next start, only this time it was against a much better hitting team, the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions. Over 8 innings Loree gave up 1 hit, struck out 11, and walked 1 en route to giving up 1 run on the day. It was, in every possible way, the Mike Loree who had been confounding opposing hitters in the CPBL since 2012. His forkball worked both low and high, and he was able to insert it into an at-bat no matter the count. When the Lions made contact it wasn’t typically solid, or particularly good. Loree looked in control of himself and the Lions, he looked like Loree has always looked when he is on.
Even after the disastrous second start against Lamigo Loree finds himself with the usual gaudy Loree numbers. His ERA of 2.45 is second best in the league, as is his ERA+ of 145. His FIP of 3.96 is high for him, but that’s mainly being affected by the aforementioned second start against Lamigo. Loree’s WHIP is a minuscule 1.05, also good for second in the league, and he’s managed to get back to a more normal K% of 21.7. The overall package comes out to a tWAR of 0.5, and despite his bad start to the season, he remains a top ten pitcher in that category.
On the surface, it feels like Henry Sosa has been running away as the best pitcher in the CPBL this season. He is a whole win better than Loree at this point, but even weighed down by a pair of bad starts Loree remains within striking distance of his Guardians teammate. That’s the thing with a pitcher the caliber of Loree, he is always near the top. Maybe Sosa will last the whole season, but maybe, just maybe the man who has been the epitome of CPBL pitching greatness for eight years now will stay true to form and catch the new ace of Taiwan?
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Central News Agency