Can you believe it!? Friday night, tonight!, the World Baseball Classic commences with an 11:30 p.m. ET game between Chinese Taipei and Australia!
For those of us who spent the snowy preceding months watching grainy online feeds of Australian and Latin American winter ball, this day — this meaningful day — is precious. But precious also describes the amount, the scarcity, of WBC enthusiasts in America. Tragic, but true: America and Canada do not share foreign fervor for the WBC.
Well, in an effort to correct that, I have offered studies of some Taiwanese sluggers, and today I will conclude that cultural and statistical foray. For the previous pieces, see:
|2009||周 思 齊||96||399||5||.381||.429||.779||.346||111|
|2010||周 思 齊||120||502||4||.353||.406||.699||.324||133|
|2011||周 思 齊||120||515||7||.368||.459||.817||.345||130|
|2012||周 思 齊||118||519||21||.462||.587||1.178||.434||137|
OF/DH Szu-Chi Chou (Zhou Siqi)
Chou, 32, has been Taiwan’s best hitter over the past four seasons, according to non-park adjust wOBA+:
Top wOBA+ Numbers, 2009-2012
|周 思 齊||Zhou Siqi (this is Chou)||111||133||130||137||128||Yes!|
|張 泰 山||Zhang Taishan||117||145||128||117||127||No.|
|張 正 偉||Zhang Zhengwei||111||145||116||124||No.|
|林 益 全||Lin Yiquan (this is Lin)||145||108||107||130||123||Yes!|
|林 智 勝||Lin Zhisheng (this is Ake)||128||128||105||128||122||Yes!|
And in terms of being consistently good over the last three years, we can see above that no other hitter compares to the lefty Chou. His 128 wOBA+ is tops banana.
I want to start with a video of Chou blasting a grand slam off a lefty from the Sinon Bulls. This is a particularly impressive video, in my humble estimation. Against a lefty specialist, he waits out a few high-80s pitches, some placed temptingly up in the zone (but too high to do anything with), and then sits back on a 67.7 mph fosh ball of some sort and wallops it deep into right field:
Chou is the oldest of the three players thus far profiled. He is entering his age 32 season, and he plays a non-premium position (outfield and DH). His chances for a possible jump to America are slim, but if he can do enough damage in the WBC, he might get a chance to play a year or two in Japan. Most people suggest, and I agree with the assessment, that the CPBL ranks somewhere around the low minor leagues (no higher than Double-A, yet not really close to Double-A), whereas Japan falls into the nexus between Triple-A and the MLB (thus many players come from Japan and land directly on an MLB roster).
That does not mean a talented, next-level-ready or MLB-ready player is not in the other foreign leagues. In the months leading up to Yoenis Cespedes‘s signing with the Oakland A’s, I pondered whether Cespedes — who abused pitchers for a 136 wRC+ his MLB rookie season — could be an MLB-ready talent despite coming from a High-A league like Cuba’s:
It has been said that the [Cuban league] is around the level of competition of High-A ball, which is great and fine, except we have no idea what an elite player would look like if the Dictator of High-A ball forced said player to stay in High-A.
If Evan Longoria or Albert Pujols were trapped in High-A until they were both 28, what kind of stats would they have? We do not know. Perhaps the chief determinate of them becoming elite is that they have moved up levels and matured along the way? Or perhaps their talent would have continued to grow despite their weak competition? Maybe their ability, even if at it’s peak of awesomeness, would only be able to foil BABIP for so long? If they hit 70% line drives, they would still be making outs, so what would their slash look like? Who knows, it would be purely thought experiment to guess.
Cespedes — at least on the merit of his first season — was indeed a premium talent trapped in a low minor league. So it is more important to evaluate the player on the merit of their talent. Keep the league context in mind, but do not let it cloud the basic, necessary analysis.
That being said, Chou — despite his late-career Jose Bautista‘ing — is probably not MLB material. He could maybe work in the high minors for a few years, but the WBC is likely going to be the biggest stage of his career.
Chou has a solid knack for the strikezone, mustering an 11% K-rate and 14% BB-rate in the 2012 campaign. As we can see in the first table, the home run total spiked to 21 dingers in 2012, which is impressive because he had only 28 career homers entering the season. He was averaging 3 to 7 homers per year, until his age 31 season.
The impressive display pushed him a good distance up the active home run leaders board:
That of course, is not to suggest he can maintain the new home run rate. For every Jose Bautista, there are ten Brady Andersons, and Chou is only one year into his apparent breakout. Also, the comparison to Bautista tumbles on the “Bautista was uninspired for five years” hurdle. Chou was one of the best CPBL hitters in the league prior to his 2012 boomfest. So, whatever.
Regard this video, also from 2012, of Chou knocking two bombs to right field in one game:
TURN YOUR SPEAKERS DOWN and watch this incredible, unusual, 9-3 double play in 2009:
It’s not a particularly impressive play for Chou, but perhaps a lesson on the value of cut-offs. (There are dozens of us!)
In the Asia Series a few months ago, facing Japan, Chou blasted a triple deep to right-center (around 0:34) on an 88 mph 0-2 pitch:
Other assorted Chou notes:
- • Chou earned 2012 MVP honors after his 21-homer season.
• Chou attended Taiwanese baseball powerhouse Fu Jen Catholic University. I don’t know if he’s Catholic or not, but Catholics looking for empathetic east Asian players in the WBC might have Chou as their only option.
• Chou strikes out swinging on a crawling 70 mph pitch to end Game 3 of the Asia Series against Japan. He has a low strikeout rate, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep that going against better pitching.
Other general notes:
- • Did you know the Chinese Professional Baseball League (Taiwan’s pro league, the league about which we have been talking this whole time) has been rich with scandal, game-fixing scandal? It is trying to move beyond its rough past, but it provides a potent reminder of how dangerous game-fixing is. As much as I love Joe Jackson and dislike Kenesaw Mountain Landis, game fixing can literally destroy a league.
• Want proof other nations take the WBC seriously? Read this article about the Taiwanese spies caught impersonating umpires to scout Japan.
• Dave Cameron yesterday suggested the WBC should switch to a March Madness bracket style. If you don’t agree with this suggestion, then you are probably not familiar with March Madness.
• Carson Citsulli gave a complete run down of all the WBC participates in his Morning Notes today.
Join me in wishing these three Taiwanese hitters a final good luck! Hey, Taiwan, good luck! We’ll be watching.