The CPBL offseason has been a lot more eventful than the MLB one. Granted, that’s a low bar, since most things in life are more eventful than MLB offseasons of late. In mid-2019, I wrote that MLB needed to learn from the NHL and the NBA and overhaul their offseason in an opinion piece published here.
To be fair to the version of the sport most commonly referenced in North America, free agency in Taiwan’s CPBL is hardly the same thing as it is in Major League Baseball. From my understanding, players don’t move around a lot in the offseason unless they’re released and sign a deal to tryout with a new team starting in the following spring.
Lai Hung-Cheng’s situation in joining the Rakuten Monkeys this offseason was atypical, and included a transfer fee as well as a player going back the other way. According to Rob from CPBL Stats (and his terrific free agency tracker), Uni-President Lions infielder Mayaw Ciru and reliever Fu Yu-Kang remain Free Agents in the current system. Catcher Lin Yu-Ying just re-signed with the Guardians. Ciru is expected to re-sign with the Uni-Lions, so for this activity we’ll place him on the roster until proven otherwise.
So, what’s the goal here?
Over the last 24 hours or so, I’ve gathered depth chart info for each team (outside of the Dragons) and done some diving into their main strengths and weaknesses to determine what I would do if I was each of their managers and had to put a lineup on the board for Opening Day.
Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions
LAST SEASON: CHAMPIONS
FOREIGN PLAYERS: Tim Melville, Félix Doubront, Brock Dykxhoorn, Teddy Stankiewicz
LET’S GO THROUGH THE LINEUP (NAMES IN THE LINEUP ARE IN BOLD):
1: Chen Chieh-Hsien was one of the best hitters, if not the best hitter in the CPBL last season. He led the team in OBP and the league in AVG, and solidified himself in the outfield too.
2: Kuo Fu-Lin got into trouble with a DUI in the first half of last season and really struggled in 2019, but the second half was really encouraging and he’ll be given a chance to take the everyday third base role and run with it.
3: Su Chih-Chieh would easily be considered one of the top 3 players in the league if he didn’t struggle so much against left-handed arms. He hit only .174 against southpaws and only 2 of his 28 home runs were hit against them. Still only 26, he can cement himself as a top five player this season if that improves.
4: Mayaw Ciru is coming off an age-37 season where he hit for the best batting average of his CPBL career and didn’t show any decline at all, if the Uni-Lions successfully re-sign him he’ll be a mainstay in their order again.
5: Lin An-Ko was a massive success story in the first half, and though he slowed a little in the second half, the 2020 MVP finalist will be a prominent star in this lineup for years to come.
6: Perhaps a little on the underrated side, Wu Chieh-Jui has hit over .320 in every CPBL season he’s played. (This is that annoying “player paragraph that’s just a sentence” I mentioned in the promo Tweet. Sorry!)
7: 20 year old Lin Ching-Kai still has some work to do with the bat, but he’s got potential to be a solid everyday player and the team isn’t afraid to use him at the top of the order. Lin Tzu-Chieh is another player looking for playing time in the middle infield, and Ciru will likely continue to see his name in those positions, so this spot is far from a secure one at the moment. It’s easy to get the sense that the Lions really like him.
8: Lin Dai-An is not the flashiest catcher out there, but he appeared to mesh well with second-half pitching acquisitions Teddy Stankiewicz, Brock Dykxhoorn, and Tim Melville and the team will surely take that with no complaints.
9: Chen Chung-Ting outperformed Lin Tzu-Chieh in most categories last season and started to take a fair amount of the playing time, so unless there’s a surprise in the spring, he would appear to have the inside track to one of the middle infield roles.
LAST SEASON: LOST IN THE TAIWAN SERIES
FOREIGN PLAYERS: José De Paula, Mitch Lively, Onelki García, Gabriel Ynoa
LET’S GO THROUGH THE LINEUP (NAMES IN THE LINEUP ARE IN BOLD):
1: Wang Wei-Chen is a top ten player in CPBL in my mind. Much like Chen Chieh-Hsien of the Uni-Lions, he spent most of the 2020 season in the leadoff spot for his team, and there’s very little reason to expect change.
2: Chen Tzu-Hao provides another lefty bat early in the batting order. It’s likely that the team would want him to focus on regaining some lost points in his batting average, but what he provided last year should keep him in the lineup most days – particularly against left-handed arms.
Though he was most often seen in the batting order’s #3 spot in the Taiwan Series, he’s a better fit in the batting order’s second spot. That’s less because of Chen’s performance itself and more because I don’t think the 3-6 spots should be moving around much.
This is also a name where I think the early season performance will really matter – Yueh Cheng-Hua’s impressive play in the Taiwan Series will keep him guarding his job – and some lineup reshuffling to promote Su Wei-Ta into the order will also likely change the order throughout the opening weeks.
3: Hsu Chi-Hung is a top name in this lineup – finally. After winning the rookie of the year in 2015 and following that up by spending several seasons moving up and down between the first and second teams, he broke out in a big way in 2020, establishing himself as a top middle-of-the-order bat in the CPBL. The Brothers should enjoy having a big power bat in their #3 spot.
4: Chou Szu-Chi did what’s usually seen as impossible – the 39 year old reversed a seemingly obvious decline and had a fantastic season once again. He’s been going in CPBL since 2005 now, and there’s no real reason to expect a decline until he shows visible signs of slowing down. If he does, Su Wei-Ta will likely be the recipient of more playing time. The Brothers have faith he won’t slow down as well – he just signed a three year deal with them.
5: Chan Tzu-Hsien followed up a 2019 season where he hit .351 with 26 homers with a 2020 where he hit .333 with 20 homers. He also led the team in OBP. If Chen Tzu-Hao gets off to a slow start, I’d be looking for Chan to get more opportunities closer to the top of the order.
6: It was a slightly disappointing season for Chang Chih-Hao, all things considered. Battling injuries down the stretch, he mostly stayed consistent with his statistical history overall, but he didn’t look as impressive as his reputation often leads. He was still reportedly met with interest across CPBL during his brief status as a free agent, but he ended up taking a three-year deal with the Brothers. If he’s on his game, this middle of the order is the best in the league.
7: Chiang Kun-Yu is going to be a star in this league before too long. He plays great defense and looks consistently good at the plate already, and 2020 was his first full season in CPBL. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the #2 spot in this batting order sooner rather than later.
8: It was a sign of faith in Yueh Tung-Hua that the Brothers didn’t protect Wu Tung-Jung for the expansion draft. Now that Wu is a member of the Dragons, the everyday position should be Yueh’s to lose, but the heavy presence of left-handed hitters may also have the coaching staff preferring a right-hander (perhaps Wang Sheng-Wei) on some days.
9: Much like Lin Dai-An of the Uni-Lions, Chen Chia-Chu is not immediately a spectacular player on paper. Still though, it sure seemed like the team decided to lean on him rather than Kao Yu-Chieh down into the Taiwan Series. It’s a pairing with a strong reputation and the Brothers will likely be happy to continue with the status quo at the position into 2021.
LAST SEASON: ONE GAME AWAY FROM THE TAIWAN SERIES
FOREIGN PLAYERS: Manny Bañuelos, Henry Sosa, J.C. Ramirez, Mike Loree, Héctor Noesí
LET’S GO THROUGH THE LINEUP (NAMES IN THE LINEUP ARE IN BOLD):
1: Hear me out. Lin Che-Hsuan may have been making international headlines for his no-catch somehow-a-catch play late in the season, but he was hardly massively impressive in the batting average category (.291). How’s this, though – he was second on the entire team in OBP (to only Jhang Jin-De) by season’s end and he was only 20 points south of normal leadoff hitter Lee Tsung-Hsien in around half the at-bats. I believe, in a full season, Lin Che-Hsuan would make a fine leadoff hitter with Jhang right behind him as a strong #1-2.
2: Jhang Jin-De was the most recognizable name for many North American fans in the 2020 CPBL Draft, and the former Pirates/Giants prospect made a big impact in his first year with the Guardians. He fit comfortably in the #2 spot of the batting order (he was briefly demoted to the #7 spot for a brief time late in the season, presumably to help deepen the lineup). This season, the focus will be on keeping him healthy and in the catcher position for a decent portion of the schedule.
When he’s playing DH, the newly re-signed veteran Lin Yu-Ying is likely to be the alternate catcher once again with Dai Pei-Feng behind him on the depth chart. The team said in their post announcing the re-signing of Lin that they’re relying on his experience for the pitching staff, so make of that what you’d like – it sure seems like he’ll make his way into the batting order fairly regularly.
3: Chiang Chih-Hsien was mostly consistent with what he’s done over the last few seasons – he’s a solid middle-of-the-order bat that will bring you an average around .300 as well as around 10 homers. He’s probably not hitting .402 (2016) ever again, but he should be a good fit in this spot.
4: In 2020, Kao Kuo-Hui provided the most power he’s given since the Guardians were still called the EDA Rhinos. Over the last two seasons, his average has climbed from around .250 to around .300. They’ll gladly take that in either the outfield or as their designated hitter, depending on the status of Jhang Jin-De. Given their outfield depth (Lin Che-Hsuan, Kao Kuo-Lin, Malo Ipong, Kao Hsiao-Yi), they’d probably prefer Kao be their DH as much as possible.
5: Kao Hsiao-Yi only played in 35 games throughout 2020, but he was incredibly impressive. In fact, the Guardians must have thought so too – he ended up being in the lineup for many of the team’s most important games of October. That includes the October 23 must-win matchup against the Uni-Lions. He hit .333 with a .368 OBP. Judging by his second half, he should be the one to get the first chance at an everyday OF job alongside Lin Che-Hsuan.
6: First base was split 83/54 between Lin Yi-Chuan and Fan Kuo-Chen last season, and the former was definitely the more impressive of the two. It wasn’t even that Fan was bad, it was just that Lin was really good. His power has stayed up after a better 2019 than 2018 in that regard, and the rest of his numbers have stayed consistent with what he’s shown in his career. If there was one critique against Lin, it’s that he was definitely a better player against right-handers in 2020.
Given that Fan was significantly better against lefties, we should see them continue to split time in 2021. The Guardians also acquired Yang Ruei-Cheng as compensation for losing Lai Hung-Cheng in free agency. Yang played a bit of first base late in the year for Rakuten.
7: Let’s get this out of the way: Malo Ipong and Kao Kuo-Lin split time a lot towards the end of 2020 and it’s mostly easy to see why. Ipong is terrific against righties but struggles against left-handers. Kao is better against lefties than Ipong, but not as good against righties. It makes sense. It’s not broken, so I don’t expect this platoon setup to change much heading into next year. I think Kao Hsiao-Yi has passed both of them on the “if you can only play one” chart, but as long as Kao Kuo-Hui is DHing, there’s two spots. It works.
8: If I’m honest, I’m a fan of Lee Tsung-Hsien‘s style of play – he reminds me of the type of player my grandfather would’ve loved to see. I think he’s entirely earned his spot as an everyday shortstop on the Guardians – I just don’t think he’s a great fit as the leadoff hitter. His OBP ranks 10th on the team, and his batting average is sixth. He’d make for a really strong bottom of the order bat in the CPBL.
9: Chen Kai-Lun is a fun defender who’s not much better than an average hitter relative to the CPBL. He’s a fine ninth hitter, but the one to watch in this position is Wang Cheng-Tang, who hit an exciting .352 in his debut 2018 year. Wang has cooled off significantly since then and lost his handle on the position despite playing there more than Chen in 2020, but if he can regain his batting advantage, there could again be a positional battle here.
LAST SEASON: LAST IN THE SECOND HALF
FOREIGN PLAYERS: Deck McGuire, Ryan Bollinger, Aaron Wilkerson, Dillon Overton, Bradin Hagens
LET’S GO THROUGH THE LINEUP (NAMES IN THE LINEUP ARE IN BOLD):
1: I don’t actually dislike what Rakuten did here in 2020 where they essentially played Chen Chen-Wei and Yang Yao-Hsun here in what felt like a 70-30 split, but Liao Chien-Fu hit .337 with a .406 OBP in his 98 games. He’s a top of the order bat, and I think the Monkeys should throw the traditional lineup construction out the window and go with Liao in the leadoff spot consistently. On days where Liao’s not playing catcher, Chen Chen-Wei or Liang Chia-Jung would also make good leadoff hitters.
2: Lin Li should be a designated hitter. Or, if you want to be generous, he should try first base and see how it goes. Unfortunately, neither of those options are really viable with the rest of the team’s construction, so it’s either third base (around 70% of the time in 2020) or second base (30%). Liang Chia-Jung should be in the order every day, and he doesn’t play second base. Basically: Lin Li’s bat keeps him in the order, and he really shouldn’t be a second baseman, but that’s where I see him fitting best. And hey, Lin Li’s still got one of the best offensive résumé’s in the league, so, uh, they’ll figure it out. We’ll go more into this in the #7 spot in the order, but Kuo Yen-Wen is waiting to take over second base in the event Lin stays/returns to third base.
3: Chu Yu-Hsien‘s season was a bit of an odd one. In April, he looked absolutely incredible with his phenomenal power making headlines in the era where CPBL baseball was truly international. After a while, though, he cooled off a bit. And then, he got back to hitting in a way that was still really productive even if it was less flashy. He’s one of the top ten players in the league and any of the five teams would love to have him in their #3 spot of the batting order.
4: Lin Hung-Yu dealt with some injury issues in 2020, resulting in a slightly down year overall. His strikeouts were up and his walks were down, so he’ll enter his 12th CPBL season hoping that was an outlier rather than a trend. The 34 year old will be a solid middle-of-the-order bat even if he replicates his 2020, but he’ll be a great one if he can return to his 2019 form. Defensively, he’s more of a DH now than an everyday catcher, which could allow Yen Hung-Chun more playing time alongside Liao Chien-Fu.
5: Similar to Lin Hung-Yu, Chen Chun-Hsiu didn’t appear to be at 100% physically in 2020, which could explain the sharp decline in stats throughout the year compared to his previously high standard. If he can return to his previous standard of play, Chen will be one of the top bats in the league and perfect for this spot in the batting order. I’d go into next season expecting a medium-ground between his excellent 2019 and his okay 2020. If both Lin (Hung-Yu) and Chen can go back to their 2019 versions reliably, the lineup becomes a lot scarier. Yang Ruei-Cheng also saw some playing time at first base late in the season, but he’s with the Guardians now as part of the free agent deal that brought Lai Hung-Cheng to Rakuten.
6: The Monkeys seem likely to use both Yang Yao-Hsun and Lan Yin-Lun in right field fairly often in 2021, and both players are pretty similar production-wise. The overall offensive advantage goes to Yang, but he’s also 37 and is more likely to suddenly decline offensively than Lan is. Lan is just a solid player overall, hitting over .300 in every CPBL season he’s played in. In 2020, Yang was better against right-handers but pretty bad against lefties. Lan hit .346 in 83 plate appearances against left-handers. Yu Te-Lung, Chan Chih-Yao, Cheng Chin, and Chiu Tan could also get outfield looks throughout the year.
7: Liang Chia-Jung was having a breakout season for Rakuten until a hit-by-pitch ended his season with a broken hand. If he returns healthy, his massive improvements at the plate in 2020 should give him the chance to take the third base job and run with it as long as the team’s okay with Lin Li at second base. Despite being only 25, he’s now been a member of the Monkeys since 2013. Lin Chih-Ping, Lin Cheng-Fei, and especially Kuo Yen-Wen will be competing for large amounts of playing time, so it would be a good idea for Liang to show that 2020 isn’t an outlier early on in the season.
8: Lin Chih-Ping outperformed Lin Cheng-Fei in 2020 by having his best offensive season since 2016, but as mentioned in the #7 spot, the middle infield will continue to depend on who’s hot in the moment and what’s going on with Lin Li.
9: Chen Chen-Wei is, in my mind, an underrated defender at centre field and a solid hitter who brings excitement and versatility thanks to his incredible speed and his positional flexibility. That said, he’s best suited at the moment to be primarily the ninth hitter of this order in the sense that the ninth spot is most similar to the leadoff spot when the game gets into the middle innings. His average and OBP just aren’t strong enough to warrant a consistent leadoff role yet, though it’s easy to see that the potential is there.
The Wei Chuan Dragons in 2021
I wrote another piece about the Dragons after this preview was published, you can find it here. Inside, we break down what the starting lineup is likely to look like as well as the team’s pitching staff in their first season returning to the league.
- I wrote about the Guardians signing lefty Manny Bañuelos on December 17th for CPBL Stats.
- Another shoutout to Rob’s updates on the CPBL Stats site, as well as the CPBL official site and Baseball-Reference for verifying these stats. Shoutout as well to Daniel, Rob, and Infield Fly Girl for helping with a few questions I had making this piece.
- Coming Soon: A full overview of the depth charts for these four teams, and hopefully some Dragons content, though it’s hard to know what’s going on there until a couple of weeks into the season.
- Also Coming Soon: My Top 50 Players in CPBL. That one’s happening, just need to finalize my ranks.
- Also Coming Soon: Analyzing the 2021 CPBL Foreign Players (This one includes the Dragons!)
- We did a live podcast on the CPBL offseason just over a month ago, and most of it is still current save for a couple of the free agency conversations. It’s still something I’d recommend, and it’s available right here on 641media.com as well as on your favourite podcast app (including Spotify!) by searching “On Base Podcast.”