Opening Day is right around the corner. March 23, to be exact. Oh, what’s that? Opening Day is actually March 20, featuring the A’s and Mariners in Japan? I see what’s happening here, you’re thinking of Major League Baseball, but I’m here to give you the lowdown on Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. March 23 is their Opening Day and it looks to be a very interesting season.
The CPBL has been around since 1989, but its roots stretch back to 1984. Baseball had been popular in Taiwan for some time, but the country lacked any formal baseball structure beyond a semi-pro industrial league. Hung-Teng Sheng created the Brother Hotel amateur team in 1984 and pushed for the idea of forming a professional league in the late 1980s. He was able to get a few corporations on board, and in 1989 professional baseball came to Taiwan for the first time. The initial 1990 season of the CPBL consisted of four teams: Brother Elephants, Mercuries Tigers, Uni-President Lions, and Wei-Chuan Dragons.
There was a brief period from 1997-2003 when the CPBL was challenged by the Taiwan Major League. The TML came into existence over issues with the broadcasting rights of CPBL games. Specifically the SAMPO Corporation, tired of not being awarded a CPBL franchise, partnered with the CPBL’s recently jilted television rights holder, ERA TV, to form the new league. During its eight-year existence, TML was able to poach away many top CPBL stars, but ultimately TML was absorbed by the CPBL in 2003. Since that day CPBL has reigned supreme as the only professional baseball league in Taiwan.
“What’s the level of play?” is a common question when it comes to foreign and unaffiliated leagues. It’s hard to peg an actual level on an unaffiliated or foreign league. What results is a lot of research into international players and, yes, guesswork. Most people, including myself, seem to be in agreement that the CPBL is a High-A level league featuring players whose individual skill levels range from rooke-ball to MLB level.
What’s far more important than the level of play found in the CPBL is the style of play. CPBL is an offense-first league. It has always been an offense-first league, and most likely always will be an offense-first league. A few years ago there was tinkering by league officials to get the strike zone more under control, with the belief that it would help pitchers. The end result was simply more offense, due largely to homegrown Taiwanese pitchers trailing the skill level of international and homegrown hitters by a fair amount. Expect a lot of offense, while pitching and defense can range from really good to avert-your-eyes bad.
How to Watch
CPBL TV is your one-stop shop for watching the CPBL. For the cost of $35, you get all 120 regular season games from each team and the entirety of the playoffs. Games can be streamed live and they are then archived for later viewing as well. CPBL TV is available on your desktop and it also has an easy-to-navigate app for both iPhone and Android. CPBL Stats has a tremendous guide on how to sign up.
Things get a little complicated when it comes to explaining the playoffs. The CPBL operates under a first-half and second-half regular season format. Each half is 60 games. There can potentially be a best-of-five Wild Card series. The last two teams standing play in a best-of-seven Taiwan Series to determine the league champion.
Here are the various scenarios that can happen in the playoffs:
- One team wins the first half, a second team wins the second half, and they face each other in the Taiwan Series.
- One team wins both halves. They get an automatic bye to the Taiwan Series and are awarded a default 1-0 lead in that series. The next two teams in the standings play in the Wild Card series to see who gets to advance to play in the Taiwan Series.
- A team manages to have the best overall winning percentage, but not win either half. That team will get to play in the Wild Card series against the half-season winner with the lower winning percentage. The half-season winner with the higher winning percentage gets a bye to the Taiwan Series to face the eventual winner of the Wild Card series.
Each team fields a roster of around 60 players. However, some of those players are with each team’s respective minor-league squad. On game day the roster is 26 players deep. The only true difference in roster construction in the CPBL is the way that foreign players are handled. Each team is allowed three foreign players on its main roster, and as many foreign players as they want on their farm team roster. Typically teams will use all three main roster spots on foreign pitchers.
This season will be the first year since 2016 in which a foreign roster spot has been given to a positional player. Additionally, a team can only have two foreign players on the field at any given time, and if a foreign player is released he is barred from signing with another CPBL team until the next season.
Below, taken from CPBL Stats, are the rosters for all four teams translated into English to help better identify who is who.
CPBL teams are run by corporations, and throughout the years corporations have changed and teams have come and gone. There are currently four teams in the CPBL, but a fifth team, the Wei-Chuan Dragons, is slated to join the league in the next few years. At its zenith the league consisted of 11 teams, but I don’t see the CPBL ballooning into double-digit teams ever again.
The New York Yankees of the CPBL. The Brothers (still referred to by their old moniker of Elephants in most places), and their fans, expect no less than being the best. They have also been viewed as the stodgiest of all the clubs, so the Yankees comparison goes beyond their winning ways and their larger-than-life persona within the league. Last year the Elephants were quickly out of the playoff picture, and 2018 doesn’t look like it will be much different. However, a new manager and coaches may bring some life to the squad.
|Bruce Kern (farm team)||SP|
The Guardians are probably the splashiest of all the teams. They make big moves and sign the bigger foreign names. Of course, a lot of that is made possible when one of your foreign roster spots is occupied annually by Mike Loree, possibly the best pitcher in the history of the league, and you have a perennial MVP contender in Chien Chih-Hsien at third base. This offseason, the Guardians again made splashy moves—so splashy in fact that they are boom-or-bust moves. If the Guardians fail to win the Taiwan Series this year don’t be surprised if they take the team in a different direction.
The Monkeys are the team of the 2010s in the CPBL. As the decade nears a close they have won five of the eight possible league titles. They are a strong bet to take home another title in 2019, but there are question marks. Namely, can the team move on without Wang Po-Jung, easily the best player to ever come out of Taiwan. During the offseason he was posted to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. The Monkeys are the Monkeys, though, and their next superstar is Liao Chien-Fu, a 21-year-old catcher ready to build on a tremendous rookie season.
Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions
Lately the Lions have found themselves as the team that comes very close to breaking through. Last season was the team’s first trip to the Taiwan Series since 2013. They have quality players throughout the roster, but unlike every other team in the league, they don’t really have that dynamic player to put them over the top. Chen Yun-Wen comes the closest, but the 23-year-old is a closer, and that limits his overall impact. The Lions are hoping that the addition of Austin Bibens-Dirkx to the starting rotation will be the final piece they need to move closer to winning a title. It’s a good move, and the Lions are a good team, but they’re also a team that I think will end 2019 saying they came close yet again.
|Chinen Kohya (farm team)||SP|
Why You Should Watch
I’ve been watching the CPBL for a few years now. I do often get asked why, even by the most ardent baseball fans. My answer is always simple and to the point: “It’s a lot of fun.” That’s why you should watch, it’s the only reason you actually need. Anyone reading this article or visiting this site already loves baseball and wants to dig deeper into baseball. The CPBL is a fun baseball league that will entertain you. There is a great crowd atmosphere, plenty of action, and compelling stars to watch on every team. Give the CPBL a chance.
Thank you for reading
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