I believe one of the key impediments preventing American and Canadian baseball fans from true excitement about the WBC has to do with limited knowledge of foreign players. We are, as some economists might say, rationally uninformed. To learn the necessary statistics and fun bits about the teams and players would take too much time and effort, considering the difficulty language barriers present.
Lo and behold! I happen to speak and, to a lesser extent, read Chinese! Allow me to act as your conduit; your semi-skilled cultural guide for, if nothing else, the Chinese-speaking teams. Allow me to not only translate some of their more useful statistics, but also present some slices of their personalities.
Top wOBA+ Numbers*, 2009-2012
|周 思 齊||Zhou Siqi (this is Chou)||111||133||130||137||128||Yes!|
|張 泰 山||Zhang Taishan||117||145||128||117||127||No.|
|張 正 偉||Zhang Zhengwei||111||145||116||124||No.|
|林 益 全||Lin Yiquan (this is Lin)||145||108||107||130||123||Yes!|
|林 智 勝||Lin Zhisheng (this is Ake)||128||128||105||128||122||Yes!|
*Not park adjusted.
Of the five best hitters in Taiwain — and these guys are pretty much on their own tier in terms of production and consistency — three of the best will be in the WBC. They all three appear on the leaderboard for career home runs by active players, despite their relative youth:
That is 36-year-old Zhang Taishan on the far left there, but 31-year-old Ngayaw Ake (Ling on the WBC roster), a utility infielder for the Lamingo Monkeys (literally: Peach Apes), has crushed homers with a ferocity of late that could very well lead to his reaching 300 homers. Today, let’s start with Mr. Ake.
SIDE NOTE: The Chinese term for OPS? The Attack Index. Pretty awesome.
UT Ngayaw Ake (Chih-Sheng Ling; Lin Zhisheng)
The official WBC roster names Ake as “Chih-Sheng Ling,” but his family name (Lin, in Pinyin) is the exact same as Che-Hsuan Lin, so that extra “g” could be a typo (I’m, in fact, 95% sure this is a typo). Ake is also a native of the island Taiwan, a native in the sense that he is what Jim Thorpe was to America. HISTORY LESSON: When Mao Zedong came to power in China, the capitalists fled to Taiwan. But people already lived there. The Amis people, in particular. Ake/Ling is a descendant of those same aborigine people. (Thus the third name: Ngayaw Ake.)
His home run hitting talent is pure. He has led the league in dongers three of the last four seasons, and he holds the league record for hits in a single season and strikeouts in a single season. On the merit of a down campaign in 2011, he ranks No. 5 in the above list of top 5 sluggers in Taiwan, but know the power is legit, the contact skills appear sufficient, and the dance moves have a high ceiling.
Because of his home-run-asmashin’ talents, Ake has no shortage of fan support. His plate appearances come ensconced with fan-assisted musical accompaniment: An adaptation of the Shaolin Soccer theme:
- “Lin Zhisheng! Clap clap! Lin Zhisheng! Clap clap! Lin Zhisheng! Clap clap! Lin Zhisheng! Clap clap! LIN! ZHI! SHENG! OHHHHHHH-OHHHHHHHH-OHHHHHHHHHHHH (etc.)!!!!”
Not seen there? Lin is standing in the batter’s box, actually beginning his PA, through much of that song.
And here is Ake straight clobbering a pitch during an exhibition game against Japan’s answer to the New York Yankees, the Yomiuri Giants. Note how he flips the s*** out of his bat:
(Fast forward to 0:35 and you will be gravy.)
Wikipedia and a few other sketchy sources say the Cleveland Indians gave Ake a tryout in early 2010, but clearly nothing came of the supposed trial. He has since had three straight seasons with a top level wOBA (twice in the top five) and OBPs north of .380 (league average is ~.350) and SLGs above .500 (league average is ~.390). He is about as hot as an infielder can get, coming off a 2012 Taiwan Series MVP showing in last year’s playoffs, so if he hopes to jump across the Pacific, the 2013 WBC might be his best audition.
Concerning that Taiwan Series: Here is Ake (wearing a Ngayaw Ake jersey) fisting a homer to left field off a 90.7 mph pitch from former Cubs reliever Jon Leicester.
According to Baseball de World, Lin — who has played 1B, 2B, and SS — will likely be the Chinese Tapei starting shortstop. “Big Brother” Ake is listed on the WBC roster as being 6’0″, 210 lbs, which makes him the biggest position player on the WBC Chinese Taipei roster.
Other assorted videos:
• Ake has to remember song lyrics and do a little sangin’ for the show “Million Singer.”
• Ake joins the video blog “Let’s Speak Taiwanese” and converses in his mother tongue with an over-hyper, much smaller man.
• Ake chases a 74 mph “odd butterfly” — I’m thinking that’s a curve? Knuckle curve maybe? — to strike out. Ling has one of the higher K-rates in the league at around 20%.
• Ake scorches a line drive homer to the opposite field for No. 27 on the year (2009).
• Ake crushes a down-and-in 88 mph pitch into left field, then delivers a plush monkey to a fan.
Up next: Yi-Chuan Lin.
Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.