The Best Foreign* Pitchers in the History of Taiwan’s CPBL

Posted October 12, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, CPBL, Florida Marlins, KBO, Miami Marlins, Minor Leagues, NPB, Pittsburg Pirates

* This post is a work in progress.  The CPBL’s website is in Chinese using Chinese characters.  Figuring out who the foreign players are for someone like me who has no knowledge of written Chinese is an inexact science.  I have not included Japanese or Korean players in my lists, if there are any who qualify, because it is simply too difficult to figure out who all the Japanese and Korean players are.  I invite anyone with an interest to correct or supplement my lists.

I’ve been following Taiwan’s CPBL closely for the last three or four years now, and it strikes me as time for a list of the best foreign pitchers in CPBL’s 28 year long history.  I won’t bother with foreign hitters at this time, since it does not appear that any foreign position players have played in the league since the end of the 2015 season.

WINS

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

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

3.      Mike Loree                62-33     MiLB, Indy-A stats

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

5.      Jose Nunez                56-25     MLB, NPB, KBO, etc Stats

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

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

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

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

Martinez and Hurst are the only long-term veterans among pitchers I could find in my search of the CPBL website.  Martinez pitched nine seasons, Hurst pitched seven.  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.  His 2017 season, in which he won his second pitching Triple Crown (2.18 ERA, 16 wins, and 154 Ks) in only four full seasons, firmly establishes him as one of the circuit’s all-time best foreign pitchers.

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 year old season.

ERA   (650 IP)

1.      Jose Nunez               2.13

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.     Osvaldo Martinez    3.20

7.     Enrique Burgos   3.20     MLB, MiLB Stats

9.     Mike Loree               3.22

10.    Orlando Roman     3.78

I set the 650 IP limit because I wanted to include both Nunez (687) and Roman (691).  Nunez won 56 games over three seasons, before moving on to greener Japanese NPB pastures.  He also pitched in the Taiwan Major League (TML) in 1998, during that competitor league’s six-year history before it folded/merged into the CPBL after the 2002 season. But, no surprise, I haven’t been able to find the stats for the TML on line.

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, based on their W-L records, the fact that Loree has been arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his four 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.

Roman will be 39 in 2018, and it remains to be seen if he will return to CBPL next season.  Given his experience, he is surely high paid by CPBL standards (he probably makes $25,000 a month for a seven month season), and his second half of 2017 wasn’t great — he had a first half ERA of 3.95 and a second half ERA of 4.96.  Given that the CPBL plays a split season and Roman’s age, the China Trust Brothers may decide he isn’t a good risk for the money next year.

STRIKEOUTS

1.     Ozzie Martinez      1,286

2.     Jonathan Hurst     779

3.     Enrique Burgos     736

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

5.     Mike Loree             640

6.     John Burgos          541

7.     Mark Kiefer           532

8.     Orlando Roman   564

9.     Jose Nunez           511

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

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

5T.   Dario Veras           49     MLB, MiLB, KBO etc Stats 

5T.   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 may have just decided that he’d had enough of pro ball.

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.

Unfortunately, the CPBL doesn’t hire foreign relievers much any more, with the Uni-President 7-11 Lions the only team that’s still looking for the next great foreign closer.  They haven’t found him yet, although Werner Madrigal saved 16 games for the Lions in 2015.  As recently as 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.

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.  If the 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 come back to the CPBL later for another go ’round when it’s their last best chance to make a substantial wage playing summer baseball.

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.  In recent years, the independent-A Atlantic League has been a major source for CPBL teams looking for in-season pitching help.

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The Best “Foreign” Pitchers in the History of Japan’s NPB

Posted October 10, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, NPB

This is the post-2017 season update on a topic I’ve been writing about for the last couple of years, which I hope to continue updating annually, at least so long as the leader boards change. The post lists the best “foreign” pitchers (see discussion below) to have pitched in Japan’s NPB in terms of career NPB wins, ERA (800 innings pitched minimum), Strike Outs and Saves.

WINS

1. Victor Starrfin* 303-176

2. Tadashi Wakabayaski 237-144

3. Taigen Kaku (Tai-yuan Kuo) 117-68

4.  Genji Kaku (Yuen-chih Kuo) 106-106

5.  Gene Bacque 100-80

5. Joe Stanka 100-72

7. Randy Messenger 84-70

8. Jason Standridge 75-68

9. Nate Minchey 74-70

10. Jeremy Powell 69-65

11. Seth Greisinger 64-42

12. D. J. Houlton 63-39

One of the things you learn when blogging is that the answers to seemingly simple questions often aren’t that simple at all.  Who exactly qualifies as a “foreign” player for NPB purposes?  For some players, that is an extremely complicated question.

Tadashi Wakabayashi was a Japanese American born in Hawaii. He played in NPB from 1936 until 1953. He originally held duel citizenship but renounced his Japanese citizenship in 1928, but then renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1941 and became a Japanese citizen again, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

On the other hand, Victor Starfin, who went 303-176 as one of NPB’s all-time great aces, while being born in Russia, emigrated to Japan after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when he was a small boy. He grew up in Japan and went through Japan’s education and baseball systems, before becoming NPB’s first 300 game winner.

Wally Yonamine, another great Nisei star of NPB, clearly seems more “foreign” to me for NPB purposes than Wakabayashi because Yonamine had a professional sports in the U.S. before going to Japan, and he died in Hawaii as well as being born there.

Wakabayashi played high school ball in Hawaii and then went on a playing tour in Japan, where his pitching earned him a scholarship at a top Japanese University (Hosei University). That certainly makes Wakabayashi less “foreign” than Yonamine — even today foreign players who play at Japanese Universities for four years before going pro are not considered “foreign” for NPB roster-limit purposes.

Is Wakabayashi more foreign than Micheal Nakamura, mentioned below, who was born in Japan, but graduated from high school in Australia, played college ball in the U.S. and then had a long U.S. minor league career before joining NPB?  A comment to the original post said that Nakamura was treated as “Japanese” for NPB roster-limit purposes, presumably due to his Japanese birth.

Ultimately, I elected to list both Starrfin and Wakabayashi as “foreign” players, mainly for the sake of full inclusion.  I left Starrfin off my list last year, but people have commented that he should be treated as “foreign,” because he was treated that way during his playing days.  I have left it up to you, gentle reader, to make your own determination on this perhaps not very significant question.

Tai-yuan Kuo and Yuen-chih Kuo, known in Japan as Taigen Kaku and Gengi Kaku, respectively, were Taiwanese pitchers both of whom starred in NPB in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The two Kuos/Kakus were the best pitchers to come out of Taiwan prior to Chien-Ming Wang breaking through to have MLB success in 2005.

Gene Bacque and Joe Stanka were two Americans whose Japanese careers roughly overlapped in the early and mid-1960’s.  Stanka was a marginal major leaguer of the type typical among players from the Americas who try to make a go of it in NPB.  He pitched in two games for the Chicago White Sox in 1959 at the age of 27, and apparently realized he had little chance of future major league success, and somehow got a job with the Nankai Hawks (now the Softbank Hawks) in 1960.

Gene Bacque was a mediocre minor league pitcher who got cut by the Hawaii Islanders of the AAA Pacific Coast League after only two relief appearances early in the 1962 season.  What he had going for him was the fact that he was still only 24 years old and apparently the physical proximity to Japan when his minor league career ended.  Japanese Hall of Famer and Hanshin Tigers teammate Masaaki Koyama taught Bacque how to throw a slider, and he also improved his knuckleball and became a star.

Bacque and Stanka both had their best NPB seasons in 1964.  Bacque went 29-9 with a 1.88 ERA and 200 Ks in 353.1 innings pitched, while Stanka went 26-7 with a 2.40 ERA and 172 Ks in 277.2 IP.  Bacque was awarded the Eiji Sawamura Award, NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award, becoming the only foreign player ever to win that honor.

Bacque and Stanka faced off against each other in the sixth game of the Japan Series that season, which Stanka won, throwing a complete game shutout.  Stanka’s team, the Hawks, won the series in seven games, and Stanka was named the Series MVP.

Randy Messenger, who is now age 36, was having the best season of his NPB career in 2017 until a line drive of the bat of Yomiuri Giants Shinnosuke Abe broke his shin bone. He made it back for the Hanshin Tigers’ final game of the regular season, and he’ll be back in 2018, he’s not a spring chicken anymore.

Jason Standridge is also still active.  He wants to return for his age 39 season and may well do so according to YakyuDB, but he doesn’t appear to have a whole lot left.

ERA (800+ IP)

1. Tadashi Wakabayashi 1.99

2. Victor Starrfin 2.09  (ERAs were ridiculously low in Wakabayashi’s and Starrfin’s era)

3.  Gene Bacque 2.34

4.  Glenn Mickens 2.55

5.  Randy Messenger 2.98

6. Joe Stanka 3.03

7. Seth Greisigner 3.16

8.  Taigen Kaku 3.16

9.  Genji Kaku  3.22

10.  Jason Standridge 3.31

STRIKE OUTS

1.  Victor Starrfin  1960

2.  Genji Kaku 1,415

3.  Randy Messenger 1,271

4.  Taigen Kaku 1,069

5.  Tadashi Wakabayashi 1,000

6.  Joe Stanka 887

7.  Jeremy Powell 858

8. Jason Standridge 844

9.  Gene Bacque 825

SAVES

1. Dennis Sarfate  229

2.  Marc Kroon 177

3.  Chang-yong Lim 128

4.  Eddie Gaillard 120

5.  Rod Pedroza 117

6.  Genji Kaku 116

7.  Micheal Nakamura* 104

8.  Dong-yeol Sun 98

9. Tony Barnette 97

Foreign relief pitchers have had quite a bit of success in Japan, going back to the late 1980’s, starting with Genji Kaku who both started and closed at different times in his NPB career.  Marc Kroon was an American with a high 90’s fastball, who didn’t throw enough strikes in the U.S. to have MLB success, but was dominating in NPB.

Dennis Sarfate broke Marc Kroon’s career saves record and NPB’s single-season save record (among everyone) in 2017.  His 54 saves broke the old record by seven.

Dong-yeol Sun and Chang-yong Lim, like Seung-hwan Oh who saved 80 games in NPB in 2014-2015 before jumping to MLB, are products of South Korea’s KBO.  Sun and Lim were probably good enough to be successful MLB pitchers, but ended up starring in NPB instead.

The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of South Korea’s KBO, Post-2017 Season Update

Posted October 5, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO, NPB

We are in what now amounts to the Golden Age of foreign starters in South Korea’s KBO with almost all of the leaders listed below currently active.

The KBO has decided that what it needs in terms of foreign players is starting pitchers.  Two of every KBO team’s current three roster spots for foreign players are held by starting pitchers, with the third spot typically going to a power hitter, only because under current KBO rules provide that third foreign player cannot be a pitcher.  As a result, the all-time leader boards for foreign pitchers is changing on an annual basis.

Wins

Dustin Nippert   94-43

Danny Rios   90-59

Andy VanHekken   73-42

Henry Sosa      59-51

Eric Hacker      56-34

Dustin Nippert came back down to earth after a 2016 campaign in which he went  22-3, tying Danny Rios’ 2007 record for wins by a foreign pitcher in a KBO season.  This year, however, Nippert won 14 games, making him the winningest foreign pitcher in KBO history.  He should return to the KBO for his age 37 season in 2018, although his team, the Doosan Bears, may well expect him to take a pay cut from the record-setting (for a foreign player) $2.2 million he made this season after going “only” 14-8 and posting “only” the ten-team circuit’s 11th best ERA (4.06).

Andy VanHekken, like Danny Rios in 2008, tried jumping to Japan’s NPB in 2016 immediately following his strongest KBO season.  As with Rios in 2008, it did not work out for VanHekken.  He pitched extremely well in five NPB minor league appearances but got roughed up to the tune of a 6.31 ERA in 10 NPB major league games, and was quickly released.

Unlike Rios in 2008, VanHekken was able to re-sign with his old KBO team, the Nexen Heroes, in late 2016.  This year, VanHekken, who turned 38 in late July, had some injuries that limited him to 24 starts.  However, he remained effective enough to expect his return in 2018.

Henry Sosa and Eric Hacker both broke the 50 win threshold in 2017 and are expected to return to the KBO in 2018 following strong seasons.

ERA (800 Career Innings Pitched)

Danny Rios    3.01

Dustin Nippert    3.48

Eric Hacker    3.52

Andy VanHekken  3.56

Chris Oxspring    3.90

Henry Sosa 4.58

As far as I am aware, these six are the only foreign pitchers to reach my 800 career innings pitched cut-off in the KBO’s history.  There should be more in the next few seasons.

Stikeouts

Dustin Nippert   917

Andy VanHekken   860

Danny Rios   807

Henry Sosa   782

Eric Hacker 619

Dustin Nippert also became the KBO’s all-time strikeout leader among foreign pitchers this season. Andy VanHekken also passed former leader Danny Rios this year, and Henry Sosa should do so in 2018.

Saves

Jose Cabrera   53

With a limited number of roster spots for foreign pitchers, KBO teams want starting pitchers, not relievers.  Of the 23 foreigners to pitch in the KBO in 2017, Henry Sosa was the only one to record even one save, the first and only one of his KBO career.

The best season by a foreign reliever was Scott Proctor‘s 2012, when he had a 1.79 ERA and saved 35 games.  However, he returned to the U.S. in 2013 to play at AAA.  The KBO has yet to have a foreign closer last more than a couple of seasons and none in the last few seasons.

Hector Noesi, Merrill Kelly, Brooks Raley, Ryan Feierabend and Josh Lindblom are the foreign pitchers most likely to be added to my lists a year or two from now.  All pitched well enough in 2017 to be invited back by their respective teams.  Noesi and Kelly had the strongest seasons, but I see Kelly as the KBO pitcher most likely to join Japan’s NPB in 2018.

Kelly finished 7th in the KBO this year with a 3.60 ERA (Noesi was 6th at 3.48), and Kelly led the KBO in strikeouts (189 in 190 IP) and K Rate (8.95) among qualifiers.  Kelly, who will be 29 next season, is two years younger than Noesi and much less well paid.  Noesi made $1.7 million in 2017, similar to what he made in 2016.  After winning 20 games and helping the Kia Tigers finish the 2017 season in first place, guaranteeing the team a spot in Korea Series and helping the team draw more than a million fans, Noesi could well receive a one-year offer for 2018 matching the $2.2 million Dustin Nippert made this year, particularly if he pitches well in the Korea Series.

Kelly, on the other hand, made only $950,000 this season, meaning that a two-year $3.5M-$4M offer from an NPB team would be a whole lot more enticing to him than it would be to Noesi.  Finally, Noesi’s KBO strikeout rates haven’t been particularly impressive; and Noesi has had a good thing going in his two years of KBO play at the top of the KBO salary scale that should make him think long and hard if an NPB team comes calling.

Even Baseball Can’t Escape the Real World

Posted October 4, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, NPB

Former MLBer and current star for the Nippon Ham Fighters Brandon Laird ended his 2017 season several games early in order to return to the United States.  He reportedly lost a cousin in the recent massacre in Las Vegas.  I hope he and his family are able to find some consolation together for what can only be described as an utterly senseless loss.

I follow and write about baseball in part as an escape from the real world. Pro Sports serve no real purpose other than as entertaining diversion from the pressures of modern life: it’s fun to watch really great athletes play a game many of us enjoyed playing as children.  That’s one of the reasons why I generally try to keep politics out of my blog posts, unless, of course, it bears in some legitimate way on what is happening inside the world of baseball.

Sometimes, though, there is no way to keep reality at bay.  Sometimes, life is full of pointless violent acts for which there will likely be no solution or resolution.  At least we can still retreat into baseball once in a while.

What Did Kenta Maeda Make in 2017?

Posted October 3, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, Los Angeles Dodgers

By my calculation, Kenta Maeda made a total of $8,025,000 in 2017 on his incentive-heavy contract with the Dodgers.  This amount includes a pro-rated portion of his $1 million signing bonus.  The total is $4 million less than Maeda made in 2016.

This is a contract that couldn’t be much better for the Dodgers.  Fangraphs says Maeda’s 2017 performance was actually worth $15.9 million.  By the same token, it would have taken five years playing in Japan’s NPB for Maeda to make as much money as he has in the last two seasons in MLB.

I also strongly suspect that the Dodgers made sure Maeda got to make his final and 25th start of the season on September 21st (he allowed two runs in only three innings of work, to make sure that Maeda got the $1.5 million bonus that came with making that 25th start.  Maeda picked up his 13th and final win, against six losses, of the season in relief on October 1st, and I expect he will pitch out of the bullpen during the playoffs.

Maeda’s contract is unlike any other that I am aware of in MLB history (correct me if I’m wrong), in terms of the amount and percentage of the incentives relative to the length of the contract.  However, I don’t think it’s the last such contract we’ll see.

There is another small right-hander pitching in Japan named Takahiro Norimoto, who will surely be an MLBer one day if his pitching arm holds up.  He’s got better strikeout stuff in NPB than Maeda had, but he’s no bigger than Maeda and has been worked just as hard in Japan as Maeda was.  I foresee an MLB contract very similar to Maeda’s for Norimoto when the time comes about three years from now.

South Korea’s KBO Sets New Attendance Record

Posted October 3, 2017 by Burly
Categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO

With only a couple of regular season games left on the schedule, the KBO has set a new attendance record of just over 8.4 million fans drawn.  That’s an average of approximately 840,000 fans per team, and at least four of the circuit’s ten teams have drawn better than 1 million.

This record is only slightly better than last year’s total.  The KBO would certainly have drawn better this year, but for South Korea’s poor showing in this spring’s World Baseball Classic.  Even so, a record is a record, so that’s something.

KBO teams issued some record-setting free agent and foreign player contracts last off-season.  Whether those kind of contracts are sustainable with attendance up only slightly this year, we will see this coming off-season.

An Ugly One Ends

Posted October 2, 2017 by Burly
Categories: San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers

The 2017 San Francisco Giants couldn’t even do losing right.  After coming back from an early 4-1 deficit to win yesterday, the Giants finished 64-98, the second worst record in San Francisco Giants history.  They tied the Tigers for the worst record in baseball, but the Tigers will get the first pick of the 2018 Draft, because the Tigers were half a game worse than the Giants in the final 2016 standings.

The silver lining is that the No. 2 overall pick is still pretty good.  Also, the Giants typically draft the player whom they think is the best available, regardless of cost, and have yet to sign a first round draftee for less than slot in order to have extra money to sign high school prospects drafted much later in the draft.  I feel certain the Giants will select the player they believe is the best available when they choose, and that may well be someone different from whom the Tigers select at No. 1.  As far as I’ve heard, 2018 won’t be a draft class in which one player is a prohibitive favorite to be drafted No. 1, regardless who does the choosing, although that could change sometime next spring.

The Giants still have a host of problems and a very thin farm system, but next year’s No. 2 pick and the second pick in each subsequent round of the draft should net at least a couple of players who produce for the Giants down the line.