In a previous post, I looked at three Chinese Professional Baseball League hitters that were interesting statistically from an international point of view, basing "interesting" off hitters that outperformed Manny Ramirez in some capacity. Skeptical of what the league has to offer when it comes to power, I wanted to see if some of the best statistical pitchers in the league were interesting from an international perspective.
Just like in the NPB and the KBO, there have been many foreign pitchers come and pitch in the CPBL, but at least for now, I won't use any kind of statistical translation because those aren't always helpful (though it appears that the official site makes it easy to navigate from year to year, so it may be worth taking a look in a post in the future). Instead, I'll just use the best foreign pitchers in 2013 as benchmarks to find three native players that are statistically interesting.
Andrew Sisco 2.7 ERA lead all qualified starters in the CPBL, and in the big leagues was an above replacement but below average pitcher. Brian Burres (0 rWAR, -3.3 WAA) had a 3.49 ERA , JD Durbin (-.6 WAR, -1.3 WAA) had a 2.89 ERA, and career minor leaguer/independent player Zach Hammes had a 2.72 ERA. Brad Thomas is a closer that had a 1.44 ERA (but 1.26 WHIP), was below replacement level in the Majors.
There were three pitchers in the CPBL (with more than 30 IP or so) with an ERA under 2.7 (Sisco's mark) and WHIP under 1.26 (Thomas' mark). For the purposes of this post, it made sense to focus on those three pitchers (in the future I hope to have some more CPBL scouting reports and pay more attention to the league, a league that seems to be attracting higher profile names, but with almost no English exposure).
Fu Yu Gang is a 25 year old right-handed pitcher that has been an extremely effective reliever. He has actually been a little worse this year with a 1.63 ERA after his 1.20 ERA in 2012, coming with a strikeout an inning. The slight drop in strikeouts and the increase in walks is concerning, as he certainly shouldn't be declining at his age. As perhaps the GIF below shows, he doesn't have imposing height, and he is a little on the heavy side.
He reportedly gets up to 93 MPH (I saw 87-89 MPH when I watched him) with a slider, curve, and change. The curve has tremendous slow loop at 74 MPH, looks like he can throw it for a strike. The slider (78-82 MPH) has good two way movement, though it doesn't have real sweeping action, almost cutting downward.
A former NPB pitcher with both the Yomiuri Giants and Yokohama Baystars, Sanada appeared in 11 different seasons and had a career kwERA of 4.67, almost exclusively in relief. He was never a high strikeout pitcher, but in his last full season in the NPB, 2011, he struck out just 8.4 % of batters. He appeared in just one Ichi-Gun game in 2012. He would not have been a guy that would have been considered a MLB prospect while in Japan statistically (though it does appear he got some kind of tryout), so either the standards listed above are too lenient, he translated to the CPBL better than expected, or something in his game has changed. There is no real way to test the first one, and I don't have enough info or data to speak intelligently about the third one, so instead, let's take a look at what he does and doesn't do well.
According to NPB Tracker data, Sanada's would bring an average of about 91-92 MPH on his best days, and average 88-89 MPH overall. In his final NPB outing, his fastball was way down, averaging around 86 MPH with his slowest fastball tracked ever (84.5 MPH). The data and his Taiwanese scouting report basically agree on what pitches he throws; fastball, 2-seam fastball, slider, curveball, change, and forkball. However, the scouting report claims he has reached 93 MPH with his fastball in the CPBL, meaning it may be back up to where it was a few years ago. From the video I watched of his season in the CPBL, his fastball was 86-89 MPH, with some 91s. He isn't afraid to throw it inside to right-handed batters and then throw away with the slider. The pitch was 80-81 MPH, seems to be mostly designed to just keep away and throw for strike, not a pitch that will get a lot of swings and misses, which explains his low strikeout rates. He used it about a quarter of the time in the NPB, very heavy usage in video I watched, occasionally hanging it.
The change/forkball was inconsistent, sometimes having good command or drop, sometimes having neither (and about 82-83 MPH), so it seemed like he would go back back to the slider against LHP. I did see him break out what looked like a curve at 74 MPH.
He was not impressive in 2012 with a 4.72 ERA, but the reliever has been one of the best pitches in the CPBL so far this year. Has actually become a
flyball pitcher this year after being a groundball pitcher in the two
previous seasons, but he's increased his strikeout rate and decreased his walk rate.
A small guy, at under 5 feet 10 and listed at a 150 pounds. He tilts back in his delivery slightly, getting his front shoulder up further in the air before coming forward. It is very slight, but it seems like this may, if he can repeat it, help him get on top of the ball a little bit better than his size would suggest.
Seems to have a full array of pitches: A fastball that gets up to 91 MPH (against New Zealand in the WBC and other short outings I watched, I saw 88 MPH, but he wasn't pitching off his fastball much, going with a lot of off-speed and breaking balls), cutter, fork, change, curve, and slider.
I saw more of a split than a change or a fork. The pitch is usually in the high 70s and had impressive, though perhaps a little slow, drop. He also seemed to have a 2-seamer that he would throw at 84-85 MPH. It seemed like he could sink his fastball. His slider is about 79-80 MPH with some good glove side movement, though it doesn't really sweep the way you would expect, more of just a downward slider. He uses the pitch very heavily against right-handed batters. I think I like Kuan's collection of pitches better than the two pitchers that preceded him in this post. None of them have the lights out stuff that international scouts are going to be looking for in "older" (by which I mean players that aren't 16-18 year olds) pitchers, so from an MLB perspective, they may not get a lot of recognition.