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The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL, Post-2019 Season Update

October 5, 2019

This is the post-2019 season update on an article I first published two years ago.  I have not published a piece on foreign hitters because no foreign position player has played enough in any relatively recent CPBL season to qualify for the batting title.

WINS

1.      Osvaldo (Ozzy) Martinez  108-85     MiLB, WiL Stats and more MiLB Stats

2.     Mike Loree                84-50     MiLB, Indy-A stats

3.     Jonathan Hurst        76-52     MLB, NPB, MiLB Stats

4.      Jose Nunez                62-30*     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

5.      John Burgos             58-34     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

6.      Mark Kiefer             55-27     MLB, MiLB, KBO stats

7.      Don August               52-48*   MLB, MiLB Stats

8.     Joe Strong                  47-33     MLB, MiLB, Indy-A Stats

9.     Orlando Roman       44-28     MiLB, NPB Stats, WiL

10.     Gabriel “Gab” Ozuna     43-39     MiLB Stats

Martinez, Loree and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, while Loree and Hurst each pitched seven with Loree likely to return for an eighth season in 2020.  Burgos had a terrific 4.5 seasons, Kiefer had four terrific seasons, and Nunez had an even-better-than-either three seasons.  Kiefer won 34 KBO games over three seasons later in his career.

Mike Loree is the most successful foreign pitcher currently pitching in CPBL or since Oswaldo Martinez’s and Jonathan Hurst’s CPBL careers ended after the 2005 season.  After missing the first month of the 2019 season with an abominal strain, the same injury that caused him to miss about the same amount of time at the beginning of the 2017 season, Loree was once again the CPBL’s best starter.  While his 12-9 record wasn’t particularly impressive (but still tied for second most wins), he led the circuit with a 2.78 ERA and finished second with 167 strikeouts.  Loree passed Jonathan Hurst on the all-time wins list this season, but still has about two more full seasons at his current performance level to catch up to Ozzie Martinez.

Joe Strong was a 37 year old MLB rookie in 2000 for the Florida Marlins, but he pitched better in the Show in limited use in 2001.  He pitched professionally through his age 41 season.

* Jose Nunez and Don August both later pitched a season in Taiwan’s other major league, the Taiwan Major League (TML).  Don August only won 18 games in the CPBL, but he then went went 34-30 in the TML, the same as his career MLB major league record.  The CPBL counts TML stats for purposes of career records, but unfortunately does not publish the TML records on its website, making it very difficult for a non-Mandarin speaker to obtain these records.  Thanks to Rob over at CPBL STATS for providing the TML stats necessary to make this year’s edition of this post as accurate as possible.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez             2.18

2.     Jonathan Hurst        2.56

3.     Joe Strong               2.71

4.     Mark Kiefer              2.82

5.     John Burgos             2.84

6.     Gab Ozuna               3.16

7.     Mike Loree              3.19

8.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

8.     Enrique Burgos     3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats 

10.  Don August              3.49

11.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include Jose Nunez (687 CPBL innings, but he topped 700 with TML innings included) and Orlando Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  As mentioned above, he returned to pitch in the TML in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season.

In this extreme hitter-friendly era of the CPBL, Mike Loree’s and Orlando Roman’s higher ERAs are at least equivalent to what the best foreign pitchers accomplished in different, less offensive eras than today.  I base this claim on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his six full CPBL seasons, and the fact that Roman used the CPBL as a springboard to a four-year NPB career, where he won a total of 18 games and saved another six, before returning to CPBL in 2016.  Alas, Roman’s CBPL career ended after the 2017 season, but he was still around to pitch in three Puerto Rican Winter League games last winter as he approached his 40th birthday.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Mike Loree             964

3.     Jonathan Hurst      779

4.     Enrique Burgos      736

5.     Michael “Mike” Garcia      651     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats

6.     Orlando Roman    564

7.     Jose Nunez            545

8.     John Burgos          541

9.     Mark Kiefer           532

10.    Gab Ozuna           508

Enrique Burgos had some of the best strikeout stuff CPBL had ever seen, but it didn’t translate into his W-L record.  He finished his CPBL career an even 36-36.

SAVES

1.     Mike Garcia             124

2.     Ryan Cullen           70     MiLB, Indy-A, WiL Stats

3.     Brad Thomas        59     MLB, NPB, KBO etc Stats

3.     Brandy Vann         59     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

5.     Alfornio (“Al”) Jones     50     MLB, MiLB Stats

6.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

6.   Tony Metoyer       49     MiLB, Indy-A Stats

Mike Garcia is far and away the best foreign closer in CPBL history, and certainly one of the best in league history overall, second only in career saves to Yueh-Ping Lin.  He pitched five seasons in Taiwan (1996-1998, 2004-2005) in between which he was a 31 year old MLB rookie for the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates.  His career CPBL ERA is an even 2.00.  He last pitched professionally at age 39.

Ryan Cullen pitched 3+ seasons in Taiwan, saving a then record-setting 34 games for the Brother Elephants in 2010 and recording a career CPBL ERA of 1.60.  Cullen is best remembered for his final CPBL game, when he threw a pitch, felt pain in his throwing shoulder, and walked off the mound and off the field without motioning to the dugout and waiting for the manager to take him out of the game.  He was released the next day.

Cullen said he didn’t intend to disrespect anyone, but it does not appear that he ever played professional baseball again.  Since he was only 32 and still pitching effectively at the time of his release, I suspect that he either just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball or the injury he suffered that caused him to walk off the field was more serious than it looked in the video of it I’ve seen.

Brad Thomas is an Aussie who pitched professionally in at least seven countries on four continents, concluding his baseball odyssey with 2.5 seasons in Taiwan.  Tony Metoyer pitched parts of seven seasons in the CPBL, where he was used as both a closer and spot starter.

Brandy Vann was a former 1st round MLB draft pick by the Angels.  He had good stuff, but not enough command to reach the MLB majors.  He pitched three years in the CPBL, followed by two more in the TML.  Vann may well be the first foreign player signed by a CPBL team out of an Independent-A league, something that happens all the time today.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more.  Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the 7-11 Uni-Lions as recently as 2015, and in 2014 Miguel Mejia saved a record-setting 35 games and posted a 1.24 ERA for the Lamigo Monkeys, although that record was bested in 2017 by Chen Yu-Hsun, who recorded 37 saves for a Lamigo Monkeys team that set a league record for wins in a season.  Today, though, CPBL teams have decided that starting pitchers are just too valuable for their three available foreign player roster spaces, even though there are almost always some good relievers in the Mexican League to choose from.

It’s hard for a foreign player to have a long career in the CPBL.  If the player has a bad year or even a bad half-season (most foreigners initially receive half-season contracts), he’s too expensive to keep around and too easily replaced.  There are a lot of players of the age and talent level to whom the CPBL salary scale is highly appealing, so CPBL teams can pick and choose their foreign players.  For example, Brian Woodall entered 2019 appearing ready and able to make his way onto my lists by the end of the season, but he was ineffective and released well before the 2019 season ended.

If a foreign player has a great full season or two, he typically moves on to NPB, KBO or back to MLB AAA.  However, a lot of departing foreign players have come back to the CPBL a few years later for another go ’round when it was their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

In its early days, the CPBL appears to have recruited heavily among Latin American players who put up successful seasons in the winter leagues, which makes a lot of sense, since the Latin American winter leagues are pretty good and pay accordingly.  However, with the CPBL season now longer (it has climbed from an initial 90 game season to 120 games today), fewer Latin players seem willing in playing in Taiwan, because it interferes with their ability to play a full season of winter league ball in their home countries.  However, this trend didn’t prevent the Lamigo Monkeys from inking Dominican former KBO star Radhames Liz — at age 35 in 2019, he led the CPBL this year in wins (16) and strikeouts (179).

In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help, and the (summer) Mexican League has been a prime source particularly for off-season signings.

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Joe Panik off to a Strong Start as a Met

August 24, 2019

I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but through his first 12 games for the New York Mets, Joe Panik is hitting a lusty .343 (13 for 38), although his OPS is only .796 as he hasn’t walked much or hit for power.  Batting near the top of the Mets’ line-up, he’s scored 10 runs, however.

There is still plenty of time for Joe to go cold before the 2019 season ends, and it’s likely the Mets will non-tender him after the season either way.   The Mets are still on the hook for a pile of money to Robinson Cano through 2023, and Panik is arbitration eligible and would get a raise from his current $3.8 million salary through the salary arbitration process.

Assuming that Panik continues to hit well as a Met, it’s possible he just needed a change of scenery.  Panik is from the greater New York metro area and played college ball at St. John’s, so perhaps signing with the Mets is a dream come true for Joe.

I’m kind of at a loss to understand why Panik stopped hitting as a Giant the last two seasons, when he’d hit well enough three of the prior four seasons.  If the Mets do non-tender Panik, he may be able to command a $2.5M to $4M one-year deal for 2020, as he tries to rebuild value for his free agency after the 2020 season.

I’m disappointed Panik ran out of steam as a Giant, but I wish him the best going forward, and I hope he can put his career back together.  It’s likely that the Marlins will elect to pay Starlin Castro a $1M buyout rather than pay his $16M option.  If so, the Fish will be in need of an affordable 2Bman, and Panik would fit the bill.

Hot Pitchers

May 4, 2019

23 year old Zac Gallen is ready for his major league promotion.  He’s leading the AAA Pacific Coast League with an 0.81 ERA, his 38Ks is tied for 1st, and the Marlins suck.  Gallen could pitch in relief to start with or one of the Marlins’ currently not very effective young starters could be moved to the bullpen to make way for Gallen.

It’s worth noting, though, that New Orleans with its below sea level air appears to be one of the PCL’s best pitchers’ parks — three of the circuit’s top five ERA leaders play for the Baby Cakes.

Rico Garcia (1.82 ERA, 35 Ks in 24.2 IP) deserves a promotion to AAA.  Devin Smeltzer has already received a promotion to AAA Rochester after recording an 0.60 ERA and 33 Ks in 30 IP at AA Pensacola.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that top two-way prospect Brendan McKay is going to be mainly a pitcher at the major league level.  In 14 AA games, he has a .481 OPS as a hitter, but on the mound he currently has a 2.41 ERA with 33 Ks in 18.2 IP.  If he ever catches up with the bat, he’ll already be a major league starter that no one’s going to want to f@#$ around with.

Great namers MacKenzie Gore and Ljay Newsom are dominating the Class A+ California League.  Their respective 1.32 and 1.47 ERAs are the only ones under 2.00.  Gore has stuck out 38 batters in 26.1 IP, and Newsom has struck out 54 batters in 36.2 IP.  Each has allowed exactly four walks so far.  Gore is the better prospect, because at age 20, he’s two years younger.

22 year old Dominican Cristian Javier is impressing in the Class A+ Carolina League with an 0.73 ERA and 32 Ks in 24.2 IP.

Former No. 1 overall draft pick and recent no-hit throwing Case Mize is not the best pitcher in the pitcher-friendly Class A+ Florida State League.  While Mize has recorded an 0.35 ERA with 25 Ks in 26 IP, Bailey Ober has a perfect 0 ERA (and run average) with 26 Ks in 24 IP.  Meanwhile Damon Jones has an 0.77 ERA with 36 Ks in 23.1 IP.

San Francisco Giants Trade Chris Stratton to Angels for Williams Perez

March 26, 2019

The Giants traded former 1st round draft pick Chris Stratton to the Angels for hard-throwing lefty reliever Williams Jerez.  It’s pretty much a move to clear space on the Giants’ roster, as Stratton has no minor league options left and Jerez does.

I will be kind of sad to see Stratton go.  He had his moments the last year and a half, and it was nice to see him become a major league contributor after looking a few years ago like he might be a total bust.  That said, Stratton can only be seen as a disappointment for a first round draft pick taken 20 overall.

Stratton pitched O.K. this spring, and I hope he can help the Angels in 2019.  Jerez definitely has major league stuff, but his command still needs work.  He’s all but certain to start the 2019 season at AAA Sacramento, where he’ll get to work on it.

Now that the Giants have traded away their sixth potential starter, it will be interesting to see whether they make a run at Dan Straily, who is on the verge of being released by the Marlins.  The Marlins gave Straily a $5 million contract for 2019, but they will only have to pay him $1.2M if they release him before the regular season starts.

Straily has pitched pretty well the last three years, and he’s still only 30, so I fully expect that at least one team will step in and offer him $2M to $3M plus another $1M to $2M in performance incentives, once he clears released waivers and can be signed.  He doesn’t seem like a bad risk at this price for a team that needs one more starter.

Anaheim Angels and Mike Trout in Agreement on 10-Year $360 Million Extension

March 20, 2019

The Angels and Mike Trout are reportedly in agreement on a ten-year extension for the 2021 through 2030 seasons that will pay $360M for these seasons and nearly $430M guaranteed going forward.  Mike Trout is certainly worth a record-setting deal, although I have my doubts about Trout’s ability to remain healthy during the second half of the commitment.

Some commentators think the Angels got a bargain, given that Trout has arguably been worth about twice the annual contract average since becoming a full-time major leaguer in 2012.  Even so, $36M per season takes up a big chunk of budget (although the big market Angels can afford it), and Trout can’t win by himself no matter how well he plays, as evidenced by the fact that he has played in only three post-season games in his eight seasons with the Halos.

My guess is that this will be a great contract for the Angels for the next six seasons through 2024, but will become an albatross like Albert Pujols‘ deal, which still has three expensive years to run even though Prince Albert is no longer even a replacement level player.  Mike Trout is just too big (listed at 6’2″ and 235 lbs, roughly the same as Pujols) to expect that he will age gracefully once he passes the age of 32.  It could happen, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it.

In short, it is probably a fair contract that well benefits all concerned.  The Angels get to hold on to the game’s best player for all or nearly all of his major league career; Mike Trout gets a record-setting deal that well tops the deals that Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Giancarlo Stanton got; and future major league superstars and their agents get a new record to shoot for in future contract negotiations.  It’s a win-win all the way around, and, as I like to say, Mike Trout won’t be going to bed hungry any time soon, even if he did leave some money on the table.

 

The Miami Marlins Sign Hector Noesi

January 19, 2019

The Miami Marlins signed Hector Noesi to a minor league contract which will pay him $800,000 for major league service time.  Noesi presumably will earn an invitation to major league Spring Training.

Noesi made a reported $1.7M to play in the KBO last season.  While he would have had to take a major pay cut to stay in the KBO, after a season in which he posted a 4.60 ERA, that probably wasn’t the reason he didn’t return to the KBO.  After the fine KBO seasons he had in 2016 and 2017, he probably could have found another KBO team to sign him in the $800K to $1M range.

Instead, South Korea recently changed its tax policies for foreign athletes and applied the changes retro-actively specifically because numerous foreign athletes weren’t paying up their taxes.  The changes don’t affect American citizen athletes nearly as much as players from the Caribbean, because the U.S. and South Korea have an existing tax treaty which makes the changes less onerous for U.S. citizen foreigners.

Noesi is from the Dominican Republic, however, and by some reports, had he stayed for another season in the KBO in 2019, he would have had to pay essentially his entire 2019 salary in taxes, current and past.  This tax law change also explains why fellow Dominican Henry Sosa will be pitching in Taiwan’s CPBL in 2019 for a lot less money than he made in the KBO in 2018, in spite of having one of his finest KBO seasons in terms of ERA and strikeouts.

Nine Caribbean-origin ballplayers were included in the 30 foreign players who started the 2018 KBO season (Mel Rojas Jr. is the son of Dominican Mel Rojas, but Jr. was born in Indianapolis and is thus a U.S. citizen by birth).  Only one of those nine is returning to the KBO in 2019, although there are numerous Caribbean-origin players who will be KBO rookies in 2019.  Of course, KBO rookies can’t be required to pay back-taxes they haven’t accrued.

I’m a little surprised, given Noesi’s fairly extensive MLB track record, that he’ll only be paid $800K for major league service time.  Jon Heyman tweeted that the deal involves many incentives, and I would guess it may pay Noesi relatively well ($250K to $300K for minor league service time).

Another Slow MLB Off-Season

January 10, 2019

It’s been another slow MLB off-season, and this baseball blogger is finding it hard to find much to write about except how slow the off-season free agent signing period has been.

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not.  Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents.  Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010.  However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy.  Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

Add to these trends are the fact that analytics have given teams a reason not to spend quite so much on free agents.  Mainly that seems to be playing out in shorter free agents contracts, rather than lower annual averages.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.  The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries.  As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams.  In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write.  With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain.  That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent.  The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors.  Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

Like last season, some of the players who haven’t signed yet are going to get squeezed, particularly if they aren’t Harper and Machado — these two will get paid no matter what — it’s just a matter if they are guaranteed $200M+ or $300M+.  Of course, none of the still free agents is going to go to bed hungry anytime soon.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton.  While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton.  Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022.  Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients.  I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.