Bill Thompson, contributor
A few weeks back I created quite the stir, or so I’ve been told, by laying out my case for Chiang Chih-Hsien as the best player in the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL). Whether it was the old-school statistics or new-school metrics, the Chinatrust Brothers third/second baseman stood out from the rest of the pack. The reason my claim caused rumblings had little to do with Chih-Hsien and much more to do with another player in the league. No one is denying that Chih-Hsien has become one of the best players in the league, it’s just that he’s not Wang Po-Jung.
Wang Po-Jung. The Oliver Photo
The 23-year-old right fielder for the Lamigo Monkeys is often spoken of as the best that the CPBL has to offer. I’ve never denied his talents; in fact, in the aforementioned Chih-Hsien article, I did state that Po-Jung had raw talent far and away above anyone else in the league. At the time of my article, that talent still didn’t make his numbers better than those of Chih-Hsien. Well, if there’s one thing my busy schedule allows for, it’s for massive changes to take place while I’m trying to find the time to write. In this case, that change involved Po-Jung going on a tear and passing Chih-Hsien in just about every category.
If one is to just look at Po-Jung from a traditional standpoint, he’s the best player in the league. He has a slash line of .398/.468/.639 with an accompanying 11 home runs and 37 RBI. Just let those numbers wash over you for a second because they are as impressive as they come. He’s hitting for average, getting on base, and slugging the leather off the ball. If this were 1982 and one wanted a traditionally sound baseball player, they’d get all that and then some from Po-Jung. However, these are the statistics where Chih-Hsien puts up more of a fight. He’s outpaced Po-Jung in home runs (17) and in RBI (53). Meanwhile, his slash line of .366/.409/.693 is comparable enough to Po-Jung’s that traditional stats alone could still make the case for Chih-Hsien as the top player in all of Taiwan.
Where the youngster really stands out and distances himself from Chih-Hsien are in the peripherals. He has an OPS+ of 179.84, which is eight points higher than his Brothers counterpart. His WRC+, which is one of the easiest ways to measure the total value of a hitter, is an astonishing 179 and also eight points higher than Chih-Hsien. Those are jaw-dropping numbers and they stick out accordingly. However, in order to fully grasp the player that Po-Jung has become and is still blossoming into, scarily enough, we need to dig a little deeper.
Watch 大王 swat career home run No. 50. Wang became the fourth-fastest player to reach the mark, needing just 196 games.
Po-Jung isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his BB% of seven or his K% of nine. But, as is often the case, the complete picture needs to be taken into account. The only real competition for best player in the league, if we exclude pitchers from the discussion, is between Po-Jung and Chih-Hsien. And among those two, Po-Jung has a higher BB% and a lower K%, by a respectable difference. When you take those numbers and add them to the overall picture, Po-Jung distances himself from Chih-Hsien even more.
Another area where Po-Jung is considerably better than Chih-Hsien is speed. Most of this comes easily to Po-Jung—he is just naturally faster. But, when watching Wang, it’s also easier to see that he possesses excellent baserunning acumen. Speed will only get you so far. It’s understanding when to cut corners, how big of a lead to take, or when to make your jump that make someone an elite baserunner, and Po-Jung has those qualities. This has been borne in Po-Jung’s 11 stolen bases, which are better than Chih-Hsien’s three. But, most of all this is seen in the amount of double plays that the Monkeys star has been able to avoid. While Chih-Hsien has been the victim of eight GiDPs, Po-Jung has only has one all season. Sure, natural speed is a factor here, but it’s the way Po-Jung explodes out of the box and the better jump he gets that sets him apart.
That’s not to say that Po-Jung has pushed past Chih-Hsien in every category. He still can’t match the Brothers infielder’s raw power. His ISO of .245 is obliterated by Chih-Hsien’s ISO of .322. The Brothers star manages to hit a home run every 12 at-bats, while it takes Po-Jung 17 at-bats to hit a home run. That may not seem like much on the surface, but in terms of overall power and the accompanying power numbers, Chih-Hsien is still the man to beat in the CPBL.
Another area where Po-Jung doesn’t place as the clear-cut better player is in the field. That’s not to say that Po-Jung isn’t the better fielder, I actually think he is. Rather, Po-Jung lacks the versatility of his rival. Po-Jung mainly patrols right field for Lamigo, and while he has shown a deftness in center as well, he is limited to the outfield. Chinatrust can put Chih-Hsien at either second base, third base and first base and know that it will get, at worst, passable defense from him. That allows the team more versatility when constructing its lineup, even though Po-Jung is the better fielder. For that reason, I’d say fielding is a wash between the two.
When I wrote that Chih-Hsien was the best player in the CPBL, I was very confident in my claim. I don’t feel my claim was bad or erroneous. Po-Jung simply did what elite players do: He took his game to another level. There’s no denying that, as of this writing, Po-Jung is both the most talented and the best player in the CPBL. Chih-Hsien is great, he’s the next best player. But when it comes time to name the Most Valuable Player, the award should go to the outfielder from Lamigo. Hopefully, CPBL fans know what they have in Po-Jung. Because other leagues are going to come calling, or, in the case of Nippon Professional Baseball, already have. In many ways, Po-Jung has the makings of a generational talent and that’s why he’s the best the CPBL has to offer.
The Oliver Photo