CPBL Betting Guide and Opening Day Picks: How to Bet Chinatrust Brothers vs. Rakuten Monkeys (April 11)
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Baseball fans and bettors will see a brief return to normalcy on Saturday morning as the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) becomes the first professional baseball league to conduct regular season play in 2020, following a three-week delay.
They’ll play the games behind closed doors, in front of league and stadium staff, cheerleaders, journalists, and even some robot fans.
It will look exactly like the baseball you have become accustomed to – 60 feet, six inches from the rectangular rubber of the mound to the pentagonal slab of home plate; and as sportswriter Red Smith once said, “ninety feet between bases is perhaps as close as man has ever come to perfection.”
Game one features a rematch from the 2019 Taiwan Series between the Chinatrust Brothers and reigning champion Rakuten Monkeys.
But first, you should know a little bit about this bite-sized candy bar of a four-team league that you’ll be betting on for the foreseeable future.
Go blow up your cheer sticks and grab a bubble tea, we’ve got some teams to learn about and an early morning (5:05 a.m. ET) baseball game to handicap.
CPBL Rules and Information
You might have some questions about the CPBL. Hopefully, this section provides those answers:
How long is the season? 120 Games, with two 60 game half seasons for playoff formatting.
How many teams are there? Four currently, with a fifth team (Wei-Chuan Dragons) moving from the Future League to the CPBL following the 2020 season.
Who are the active clubs?
- Chinatrust Brothers
- Fubon Guardians
- Rakuten Monkeys
- Uni-President 7-11 Lions
How large are game rosters? 26 players are active on game day – but team rosters are more than double that in size to fill out Future League rosters (you’ll see these games listed as, for example, Fubon Guardians II vs. Rakuten Monkeys II)
Do pitchers hit? No, the CPBL uses a Designated Hitter
Are there any weird rules? Games are declared a draw after 12 innings
Are there foreign player limits? Yes, teams are limited to four foreign players per roster, three on the active roster, and only two on the field at the same time – so most foreigners are pitchers
Would I know of any former MLB talent that plays in this league? Perhaps. Some familiar names include Ariel Miranda, Esmil Rogers, Josh Roenicke, C.C. Lee, Henry Sosa, Fu-Te Ni, Ryan Carpenter, Elih Villanueva, Justin Nicolino, and Ryan Feierabend
Where can I watch the games? https://www.cpbltv.com/ – Though individual teams might stream the games for free on their team website.
Comparing CPBL to MLB
Though there are a few dominant starting pitchers in the CPBL, the level of fielding and overall bullpen quality is particularly weak, and the league is very offense-friendly as a result – leading to a lot of head-scratching, late-inning lead changes.
If you want to see an amplified version of the things that frustrated you about betting on Major League Baseball, you’ve come to the right place.
There are a higher number of balls in play in the CPBL, with lesser defenders attempting to make those plays – resulting in a significantly higher league BABIP, batting average, and percentage of unearned runs (+4.2%) as compared to MLB.
Run scoring in the CPBL was 13% higher last season than in MLB, while walks and strikeouts, combined, occurred 6.4% less frequently.
An average CPBL hitter, over 500 at-bats, would generate roughly 15 home runs with a batting line comparable to 2019 Adam Eaton (.279/.365/.428). While less efficient, an average MLB hitter would accumulate 20 home runs in the same number of chances.
On the pitching side, an average CPBL hurler would rank near the bottom of MLB’s qualifying leaderboards for FIP. For example, Mike Fiers (4.97 FIP in 2019) ranked 58th of 61 qualifying starting pitchers.
The consensus opinion on the level of play in the CPBL varies – but it is generally considered to be somewhere between our High-A and Double-A in the United States.
Some experts believe that the best players in the CPBL are MLB caliber, but I’m personally more skeptical. Top-flight Taiwanese talents typically get snatched up by American or Japanese clubs at a young age.
A few active examples include Yu Chang (Cleveland Indians), Tzu-Wei Lin (Boston Red Sox), and Wei-Yin Chen (signed with the Baltimore Orioles, via the (Chunichi Dragons in Japan). Some former players include Chien-Ming Wang (New York Yankees) and Hong-Chih Kuo (Los Angeles Dodgers) – all of whom went directly to foreign professional leagues.
But only a handful of players have made their way to more prestigious leagues after beginning in the CPBL, and there have not been many success stories.
Before last season, two-time MVP (2017, 2018) Wang Po-Jung became the first player to be posted in CPBL history and signed with the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan. Po-Jung hit just .255/.321/.327 in his first NPB season, following a ridiculous .407/.491/.700 batting line with 31 homers in his 2018 CPBL campaign.
Comparing The Clubs
The Rakuten Monkeys bullied the CPBL over the past decade, winning the Taiwan Series six times in the past eight seasons, including five of the last six and each of the previous three.
Yet compared to their Pythagorean record, the Monkeys underachieved by six wins in 2019, and could improve after adding some new foreign talent to the mix:
The Fubon Guardians made a nine-win improvement over 2018, which was validated by eight additional wins in their Pythagorean record, and their league-best pitching staff.
But the real storyline over 2018 is the complete flip-flop between the Chinatrust Brothers (+18) and the Uni-President 7-11 Lions (-23) in terms of bottom-feeder status.
The Brothers have lost five of the past six Taiwan Series, including four to the Monkeys, and 2018 looks to be the outlier.
How do these four clubs stack up heading into 2020, and which team might you want to adopt for rooting interests?
If aesthetics are your thing, Chinatrust could be your squad.
In 2016, Brothers signed infielder Lin Chih-Sheng (123 wRC+ and .386 wOBA in 2019) to the richest contract in the CPBL, persuading the star to leave Rakuten after winning an MVP and recording the first 30-30 season in league history.
They also spent a ton of money this offseason on former MLB pitchers Ariel Miranda and Esmil Rogers, and have one of better and likely the most entertaining starter in the league in former Giants and Rockies farmhand Mitch Lively (3.85 FIP in 2019):
Lively will miss the start of the season with a leg injury, however.
Brothers’ best hitter is outfielder Chan Tzu-Hsien (162 wRC+ and .445 wOBA in 2019), aka the “Taiwanese Godzilla,” one of just four players (the other three play for Rakuten) to record an OPS higher than 1.000 last season.
And former Cleveland Indians reliever C.C. Lee, who posted a league-leading 1.97 FIP (1.26 ERA, 0.92 WHIP), is one of the most feared arms in the league, with a sharp slider that led to a 33.5% strikeout rate in 2019 – and an insane 65:4 strikeout to walk ratio over 50 innings pitched.
The Chinatrust Brothers are a balanced team that will only stand to improve if their imported arms succeed in 2020.
If you’re a fan of good starting pitching, the Guardians might be your team.
The youngest CPBL club has steadily improved since finishing dead last in 2017, but has spent generously to fill out their roster and now features four foreign starting pitchers in Mike Loree (3.43 FIP in 2019), Henry Sosa (2.95 FIP), Ryan Bollinger (3.65 FIP), and Bryan Woodall (5.61 FIP).
Loree and Sosa, who Fubon re-acquired from the KBO after he left in the middle of last season, are arguably the top two starters in the league, and Loree may be the most consistently great CPBL pitcher of all-time.
Some of their teammates include former Detroit Tigers pitcher Fu-Te Ni (5.7 FIP in 2019), former Dodgers and Mets outfielder Chin-Lung Hu (.379 wOBA in 2019), and Red Sox outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (.373 wOBA).
Their bullpen has a couple of useful arms in Chen Hung-Wen (3.36 FIP), and Lin Yi-Hao (3.73 FIP), and their lineup is led by three-time CPBL MVP Lin-Yi Chuan (138 wRC+, .409 wOBA in 2019).
The Guardians also signed former Rakuten manager Hong I-Chung, who could help this club over the hump to its maiden Taiwan Series appearance.
Like Brothers, Guardians have a very balanced club – but they do appear to be a bit top-heavy with slightly less depth.
But that pitching rotation, which also includes 22-year-old Cheng Shin-Peng (4.52 FIP in 23 starts in 2019), would be very dangerous come playoff time.
If you prefer offense and enjoy jumping on bandwagons, the Monkeys might be your choice.
They have a murderers row lineup with Lin Li (172 wRC+, .460 wOBA), Chen Chun-Hsiu (176 wRC+, .465 wOBA), Lin Hung-Yu (159 wRC+, .440 wOBA), and Chu-Yu Hsien (153 wRC+, .432 wOBA) who each ranked amongst the top five hitters by OPS, wRC+, and wOBA last season.
Catcher Liao Chien-Fu (.366 wOBA) is also a young star, and second baseman Kuo Yen-Wen (.385 wOBA) is yet another above-average regular.
Rakuten’s returning pitching is a concern after the departure of Radhames Liz (16 wins, 161 IP in 2019). Still, they also brought in four new foreign pitchers: former MLB hurlers Justin Nicolino (Marlins), Elih Villanueva (Marlins, via Chinatrust), Ryan Carpenter (Tigers) and Lisalverto Bonilla (Rangers / Reds).
The bullpen has a couple of trusted arms, including closer Chen Yu-Hsun (3.72 FIP), but is not an overly dominant group otherwise.
That said, this is easily the best offense in the four-team CPBL, and it should be enough to carry the Monkeys to yet another Taiwan Series appearance.
Uni-President 7-11 Lions
If you like to watch developing young talent, before bragging like a hipster when that talent eventually comes together, the Lions are the only choice.
Aside from their ace Josh Roenicke (3.85 FIP in 2019) – whose 190 MLB appearances make him the most experienced former MLB player in the CPBL – and reliever Chen Yun-Wen (4.32 FIP), every returning pitcher on the Lions staff posted a below-average FIP in 2019.
The organization brought in Donn Roach, a minor-league-journeymen who had previous experience in the NPB and KBO, and southpaw knuckleballer Ryan Feierabend from the Blue Jays (and also previously of the KBO) to round out their rotation,
But the bullpen remains a complete mess – likely the single worst positional unit for any team in the CPBL.
The lineup has some pop in the form of Su Chih-Chieh (.388 wOBA), who recorded 60 extra-base hits in 120 games, and there is a substantial amount of young talent on this team – including outfielder Chang Wei-Sheng.
Injuries and poor performances in 2019 beset the Lions’ infield. Chen Chieh-Hsien and Wu Chieh-Jui missed significant time while Kuo Fu-Lin, who posted a .888 OPS in 2017 and .845 mark in 2018, struggled to a .184/.252/.332 triple-slash line.
Thanks to those injuries and poor performances, the Lions bottomed out, but I would expect a reasonable bounceback in 2020 – especially from their offense.
But the pitching staff should continue to struggle – especially late in games – and Roenicke will not be ready for the start of the season as he remains in self-quarantine.
Chinatrust Brothers at Rakuten Monkeys Betting Picks
- Probable Pitchers: Esmil Rogers (Chinatrust) vs. Ryan Carpenter (Rakuten)
- Listed Odds: Chinatrust (+100) / Rakuten (-120)
- Listed Total: 12.5
- Time: 5:05 a.m. ET
We’ll see a couple of fresh imports take the mound on opening day in Taiwan, with former MLB pitchers Esmil Rogers and Ryan Carpenter squaring off.
It remains to be seen how all of the pitchers settle in after an abbreviated preseason, but with every bullpen arm fresh and ready for the first game of the year it only helps to make the case for betting the under on a high total.
I projected this game for just over 11 runs – slightly more than your average CPBL game – but the listed total is quite high at 12.5 (compared to a more typical 11.5 in this league) thanks to the presence of Rakuten’s potent offense.
By my estimation, to justify a total that high, you would first need to assume that Carpenter and Rogers would rank amongst the worst qualified starters in the CPBL throughout this season – finishing with a combined ERA of about 6.50.
At present, I’m rating both pitchers right around league average – but I think either one has the upside to finish as a top-eight starting pitcher by the end of the season. And at that level (~4.25 ERA), I would project this game total at 10.5 instead of 11.
At odds of -110, I’m playing a 3.75% edge, compared to my projection at 11.05, by betting Under 12.5.
And at odds of -120 (implied 54.5%), I’m playing a 1.4% edge compared to my win projection (55.9%) by betting on Rakuten’s moneyline.
It’s scary to think that I’ll be backing Ryan Carpenter, who I loved betting against during his time with the Detroit Tigers.
The southpaw averaged a strikeout per inning with a 3.41 K/BB ratio over four seasons in Triple-A while displaying similarly solid command in the low minors.
He was shelled over 15 appearances at the big league level (63 IP, 8.57 ERA), but did show that he has a diverse, five-pitch arsenal where he doesn’t lean on any-one offering:
- Slider (28.3%)
- Four-Seam (22.8%)
- Sinker (22.3%)
- Changeup (14.6%)
- Curve (12%)
And that slider returned a positive pitch value in 2019 – so he has at least one weapon to offer:
Esmil Rogers – who last pitched in the MLB for the Yankees in 2015 – struggled with his command in the Mexican League (5.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9) early in 2019, but rebounded to post solid numbers in the Dominican Winter League (3.23 K/BB) for Licey.
He was also pretty useful in the KBO for a few seasons, posting a 3.58 ERA and 3.10 K/BB ratio over 29 starts and 196.1 IP.
During his MLB days, Rogers focused on a fastball-curveball-slider combination, with his slider also grading out as his only above-average pitch.
These guys were both effective minor league pitchers, but Quadruple-A type MLB arms who will fit better against lesser competition.
Rogers has already proven that to be the case in Korea. Carpenter now has the opportunity to see if his skills will also translate better on foreign soil.
Bets for April 11
- Under 12.5 (-110, 1 unit)
- Rakuten Monkeys (-120, 0.5 units)