Import Report Card: The Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions

The Uni Lions are heading into 2018 season with import pitchers David Martinez, Josh Roenicke and Ryan Verdugo. It's the first time the club will begin a season with three starters in over four years. Even though this group has zero experience in Taiwan, it is a very talented group that could post surprising numbers as the front-end of the Lions rotation. So for comparison's sake, let’s look back and see how the organization has performed with their three import roster spots in our third installment of The Import Report Card: The Uni Lions

For all your CPBL stats need, head over to my.cpblstats.com 

With the ever growing importance of foreign-born starting pitching in the CPBL, (63 of the last 70 import players have been starting pitchers and 85 percent of playoff games since 2015 have been started by import pitchers), I’d thought I would try to quantify/grade the performances of each of the three allotted roster spots for foreign-born players for each organization.

The players’ performances are very much affected by how they are handled by the organization. Players seldom have a long leash when it comes to adjusting to many factors; for example RHP Scott McGregor last season. So in saying that, let's look at these score/grades as a representation of everyone involved (the players, ownership, the GM, the scouting and the coaching) as opposed to just the players’ performance. Look what players like Zack Segovia and Darin Downs have done in different organizations if you need further proof that performance is not solely based on the player.

Check out previous Import Report Cards for the Lamigo Monkeys and the Chinatrust Brothers 

Maximum of 5 points per criteria
Criteria explained in depth at the end

Games started or relieved (quantity)
  • 23-25 starts = 0 pts
  • Over 25 starts, each start worth 0.66 pts
  • Between 13-24 starts = -0.33 pts
  • Below 13 starts = 0 pts
  • 1 relief appearance = 0.132 pts

Innings pitched (quantity)
  • 130-140 IP  = 0 pts
  • Over 140 IP = 0.111 pts
  • Under 130 IP = -0.055 pts

Wins and saves
  • 1 win = 0.2 pts
  • 1 save = 0.1 pts

  • 10.00 points above 100 = 1 pt
  • 10.00 points Under 100 = -1 pt

  • 10% better than league average = 1 pt
  • 10% below league average = -1 pt

Grading Key
A+ = over 12
A = 9 - 12
B = 6 - 9
C = 3 - 6
D = 0 - 3
E = less than 0


The Uni-President Lions

2015 (A, C, D)
  • First half: 26-33-1 (last place and 10.5 games back)
  • Second half: 23-36-1 (last place and 13 games back)
  • Import pitchers combined to account for 33% of games started, 28% of innings pitched, and 33% of total wins.

The management and coaching staff proved that having your imports account for only 28% of total innings pitched is not a winning formula as the team finished in last place for both half-seasons.

Closer Warner Madrigal was/is part of the management’s infatuation with using an import spot on a relief pitcher. Madrigal was nothing short of magnificent for the Tainan-based team, though, and also appeared in 40% of the team's 120 games. Nonetheless, for a club that finished with a .415 winning percentage, using the valuable roster spot on a closer seems counterproductive as the Lions were struggling to get wins. Great pitcher; not a great investment on a losing team.

Justin Thomas only made 22 starts for the Lions in 2015, which was not ideal for the club especially as his numbers were great: the league’s third best ERA+, and HR/9 and fourth best H/9. The team brought in Zack Segovia as an insurance plan for Thomas after an injury (shoulder) sidelined the starter for over three weeks. After the injury, Thomas maintained his sub-4.00 ERA and threw nine-straight games of six-plus innings and 100-plus pitches, forcing the Lions to keep him past the deadline and through September. The lefty could have had a much higher grade than a “C” but due to his limited starts (18% of total games or every 5.5 games), his quantity suffered. Quite unfortunate for the Lions because Thomas had upper-quality metrics. Fun fact: Thomas played in the MLB, NPB, KBO and CPBL.

David Purcey made five starts and had a league-average ERA but his control issues (9.3 BB/9) saw him released and replaced in the rotation by RHP Douglas Mathis.

Mathis made his first start two weeks after Purcey’s last game and had similar good-to-great numbers, much like Thomas. Mathis carried a sub-3.00 ERA into June but had two bad starts in the month; coincidentally at the time newly signed Zack Segovia was waiting on the second team for a roster spot to open up. The Lions made the decision to release Mathis following his July 23 start for Segovia who they had originally signed for insurance purposes for an injured Justin Thomas.

Segovia would make his first start on Aug 12, five games and 20 days after Mathis’ last turn. The now-CPBL veteran tossed a pair of games and was coming off a 106-pitch, eight-inning loss before biblical rains halted the schedule for nearly two weeks.  During that down time, the people making the decisions for the team decided to move Segovia to the bullpen in a hopeful, long-relief role that could help bridge them to their closer, Madrigal. Sometimes when you have nothing to do, people tend to think too much. That seems to be the case with whoever thought it would be a good idea to make their starter, not a starter and have not one, but two imports in the bullpen. Well, the plan backfired on the Lions as the team,16-12-1 at the time, would lose eight of their next ten and go 7-24 to finish the year.

With just 111 ⅓ innings of work, this roster spot lacked minimal innings and starts thanks in part to a combination of injuries, lost games due to inefficient releases and promotions and the management of players.

Having two roster spots combine for just 167 innings pitched, not transitioning from a released player to a promoted player efficiently and Justin Thomas’ injury, 2015 seemed like it could have been better than it was. However, losing 24 of the your final 31 games doesn't help, either.


2016 (A, C, D)
  • First half: 29-31 (2nd place and 7 games back)
  • Second half: 26-34 (last place and 8.5 games back)
  • Import pitchers combined to account for 58% of games started, 39% of total innings pitched, and 44% of total wins.

Looking to rebound after a disastrous end to 2015, the Lions added some very recognizable names in 2016 for pitching-coach-now-turned manager, Kuo Tai-Yuan.

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens was a big addition to the rotation. Jurrjens started off his CPBL career impressively with a six-inning, four-hit, blanking of the Chinatrust Brothers, but would suffer two injuries later in the year. He suffered a groin injury that ended his season as the league currently has no disabled list that could help injured import players. Instead teams have basically only one option, which is to release the player. And that's what the Lions were forced to do with Jurrjens.

It would take three-full weeks for Jurrjens’ replacement, LHP Darin Downs, to make his first start; a span of 13 games which the team successfully went 8-5 to help stay in the playoff hunt. Downs would go winless over ten starts as the team started to unravel late in the year. Downs, however would prove detractors wrong as he would sign with the Lamigo Monkeys the following year and go a perfect 7-0 over his first 11 starts for the eventual champion Monkeys, probably much to the chagrin of the Uni Lions.

Another well-known name was DH Felix Pie formerly of the Baltimore Orioles and more recently of the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles. Pie lasted just five games before fracturing his ankle. It was a tough break for the Lions as Pie was looking like an exciting addition to the line-up. Because of the timing of the injury, it would take nearly a month before Pie’s replacement would make his first appearance.

Enter reliever Ryan Kelly. Kelly was a great pitcher in his own right but as the Lions fell out of contention for the first-half title, ownership and/or management smartly decided to start the second half with a less situational pitcher and decided to sign a starter and release Kelly at the end of May.

Dustin Crenshaw was the team's choice to replace Kelly. Crenshaw made zero second-team starts before taking the mound on the last game of the first-half season. The big righty made 13 starts and went 5-6. His 6.39 ERA was just slightly above the league average of 5.95. The team was either content with Crenshaw to finish the season or their scouting department were unable to acquire anyone else before the deadline. Either way, Crenshaw finished the season but would not garner any attention from the Lions or the three other CPBL clubs for the upcoming 2017 season.

A very strange trend for the 2016 import pitchers was their abnormally high batting average in balls in play. Basically, if someone hits the ball, statistically there is a about a .300 chance of it being a hit (home runs excluded). In Taiwan, that average was .350 for the 2016 season, which is relatively high in its own regard. Here are the starting import pitchers' BABIPs: Darin Downs (.400), Dustin Crenshaw (.375), Bruce Billings (.366) and Jair Jurrjens (.341). It could be from giving up hard contact, having a poor defense, or just bad luck, but a .400 BABIP is almost unheard of. The three highest BABIPs for MLB pitchers in 2017 were .352, .351, and .340 (min. 120 IP).

The lesser known of the three, right-handed pitcher Bruce Billings, was the team’s most valuable pitcher. Not only did Billings lead the team in starts (13 more than the next player), wins, innings pitched, ERA (over 50 IP), and strikeouts but he also led the CPBL in starts, strikeouts and was tied for second in wins. The right-hander’s impressive 30 starts equates to 25% of the 120-game schedule, which is a start every four games. That is the highest frequency out of any pitcher in the study. Billings’ insane quantity and good quality metrics earn him a solid “A” and also earned the hurler another contract with the club in 2017.

Injuries derailed a well constructed import roster that began the 2016 season. However, it is management's job to help alleviate the burden of unforeseen consequences and the Lions failed to add pieces to help them capture the second half title. The team finished poorly again, winning just seven of their last 22 games. They also saw their former pitcher Zack Segovia head over to Lamigo and succeed there as well as Darin Downs in 2017. So how can these pitchers have league-average results for the Lions but such positive results in another organization? These are questions that the club must figure out going forward as maybe there are other factors to the outcomes other than just on-field situations.


2017 (B, D, E)
  • First half: 23-35-2 (3rd place 19.5 games back)
  • Second half: 34-26 (2nd place and 1 game back)
  • Earned a playoff series versus Chinatrust Brothers after finishing with second-best league record over 120 games.
  • Lost Playoff Series in four games. 11.7k in attendance over two games (~US$254k in ticket sales)
  • Imports combined to account for 51% of games started, 35% of innings pitched and 39% of total wins.

The 2017 season brought us a new coach for the third-straight year, but GM Su Tai-An still remained (.437 winning % over previous two years if you're keeping track at home). Su was able to bring back Billings and sign former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Alfredo Figaro, as well. The GM, however, did feel it was necessary to use an import spot on a closer once again, confusingly as the Lions’ best local pitcher, Pan Wei-Lun, was with the Taiwanese WBC national team and would need a month and a half to be stretched out; not making his first start until May.

Billings would trade in a bit of workload for better results in his sophomore season in Taiwan. The quantity was slightly affected by Billings change in approach as the pitcher pitched to less contact in 2017 and tried to miss more bats, therefore increasing his pitch count. The 32-year old led the league in K/9 (9.21) and decreased his H/9 substantially from the previous year from 10.94 to 8.27. Perhaps the change in approach had something to do with the Lions leading the league in errors with 140 in 2016, 1.2 per game.

After a rough start to the season, Billings settled in and finished 7-2 in his final 11 starts. Cementing himself as the team's ace. But who needs aces? Apparently not the Lions as the team did not bring back Billings for the 2018 season. Billings scores a solid "B" and was possibly two starts short of an "A".

Alfredo Figaro is a perfect example of how adapting and dealing with a plethora of changes in how baseball is played in Taiwan may affect even the most experienced and talented of pitchers in Taiwan. Figaro, arguably one of the more decorated pitchers (MLB, NPB, KBO) never found a rhythm with his time on the Lions and managed just 128 ⅔ innings, but lasted the full year. It was very surprising that the club never had a plan-B for Figaro who ended up being unavailable for the Playoff Series versus the Chinatrust Brothers and forcing the Lions to go with rookie pitcher Shi Tzu-Chian in the win-or-go-home Game 5 (2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER) which they would lose. Figaro finished with sub-average quality numbers and average quantity numbers. A move really should have been made mid-season as the two parties were just not a great fit, unfortunately for the Lions, nothing was done to address the issue as the roster spot received the only negative-valued grade. 

After pitching for the Italian national team in the World Baseball Classic, closer Mike DeMark joined the Lions in March. Much like former closer Warner Madrigal, DeMark was great in his role but the righty would be a victim of circumstances. The team was 20-27 and decided to add a starting pitcher to begin the second-half season. DeMark made 21 appearances: 16 scoreless and ten hitless.

Releasing DeMark in mid-June allowed the club to bring along right-hander Terance Marin slower than other mid-season imports as the second-half season didn’t begin until July 11. However this approach didn't have the desired effect as Marin made four starts before the Lions signed RHP Michael Nix who eventually replaced Marin after his fifth start.  

The Lions transitioned well between Marin and Nix, needing just one week to bring up the latter to help with a second-half title run. Nix went 2-5 in nine starts with a 5.40 ERA. He also started Game 3 of the Playoff Series taking a no-decision in four innings allowing three runs before getting relieved after just 76 pitches (five walks allowed). This roster spot threw just 97 innings and accumulated combined league-average results. However, the quantity was affected by the Lions' ability to bring along Marin slower between the first- and second-half seasons. 

The team won six of their last seven games, but fell one game short of a trip to the Taiwan Series with a loss to the Lamigo Monkeys on the final game of the year. They would go on to lose to the Brothers, three games to two, in a tie-breaking Playoff Series with the winner advancing to face to the Monkeys for the championship.  

The Lions seemed to have few options in the pipeline as the scouting department was unable to make the right moves that could have aided them in a second-half championship. It really was unfortunate as the team was playing great ball down the stretch.




Final Remarks

GM Su Tai-An has still maintained employment with just one winning half-season in three years. The Lions haven't made a trip to the Finals over that time--the only team to do so--and have been through three different head coaches. The tally of Taiwan Series appearances since 2015: Brothers (3), Monkeys (2), EDA Rhinos/Fubon Guardians (1) and the Uni Lions (0).

The Lions also have a problem of grooming pitchers only to see other teams sign them and then flourish in their new environments. It remains to be seen if Michael Nix will be the third pitcher in as many years to leave the Lions for the Monkeys and put up greater numbers with his new employer. But the fact that the Lions aren't getting the full potential from their imports is a troubling pattern.

The club is really beginning to put a great young team together that already possesses a solid, veteran core. It just needs some help finding complimentary imports who can handle the travels and isolation of Tainan as well as the intricacies of baseball in Taiwan.

Criteria Explained

Games started or relieved (quantity)
  • 23-25 starts = 0 pts
  • Over 25 starts, each start worth 0.66 pts
  • Between 13-24 starts = -0.33 pts
  • Below 13 starts = 0 pts
  • 1 relief appearance = 0.132 pts
Imports should be pitching at least once every five games as the schedule and weather will allow a team’s best starting pitcher(s) to do so, or even more frequently. Therefore, the 23-25 starts (~20% of 120 game schedule) is a baseline for teams to reach. Anything under 13 starts indicates relief pitching and is set to zero to help offset the lack of innings pitched for relievers.

Innings pitched (quantity)
  • 130-140 IP  = 0 pts
  • Over 140 IP = 0.111 pts
  • Under 130 IP = -0.055 pts
The 130-140 IP correlates with the 23-25 games started baseline. Wanting your starter to go a minimum of 5.2 innings per start gets us to 130-140 IP.  Anything above that is rewarded, and below that is deducted.
Wins and saves
  • 1 win = 0.2 pts
  • 1 save = 0.1 pts
Yes, wins and saves are subjective but should be valued since winning is the ultimate goal of the franchise. This criteria is weighted a little lighter than the others as a pitcher would need to reach 25 wins or 50 saves to reach the maximum value of 5.

  • 10.00 points above 100 = 1 pt
  • 10.00 points Under 100 = -1 pt
This one is fairly simple: one point for having an ERA+ 10% better than the league average and minus a point for having an ERA+ below the league average.

  • 10% better than league average = 1 pt
  • 10% below league average = -1 pt
FIP is a greater indicator of individual performance that measures only the things that the pitcher can control: HR allowed, HBP, BB and K.

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