WBC

My latest at the Diplomat is on the opening of the third World Baseball Classic.

The Dominican Republic, led by Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, and Hanley Ramirez, is the odds on favorite to win the Classic, followed by the United States and Japan. In 2009, however, a strong Dominican team failed to escape pool play, losing twice to the Netherlands. The popularity of the WBC in Korea and Japan may give those teams an edge in morale; U.S. play in the first two tournaments occasionally seemed lackadaisical, as players looked ahead to the Major League season.

Indeed, the major league connection has proven a handicap for many of the American teams.  Major league teams have discouraged many of their players (especially pitchers) from participating in the WBC due to injury and exhaustion risks.  Consequently, some of the most devastating players in baseball, including Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Johnny Cueto, are sitting the WBC out.  On the other hand, the participation of Joey Votto lends no small degree of punch to the Canadian team.

The broader question is the extent to which the WBC helps produce a Pacific rim baseball community. Although major Japanese and Korean stars have played in the United States (and American players are common in Japan), the trans-Pacific relationship remains substantially outside the integrated system that characterizes baseball in the Americas. Of course, whether such integration is desirable is an altogether different question; baseball has a distinct character in each of Korea, Japan, and North America, adding a regional and cultural richness to the sport.

Given that I am now a person who has written about baseball in America, I believe that my invitation to join the Baseball Writers Association of America shall arrive any day.  In anticipation, I am already becoming indignant about steroids, and increasingly impressed by the feats of Jack Morris.  In any case, I will cheer heartily for Canada if Joey Votto is part of the team (unclear at the moment); otherwise, United States.

54 comments on this post.
  1. Jonas:

    Japan and South Korea dominate the WBC due to the gritty clutchness of their rosters. If only the US stocked its roster with players like Dice-K, who, yeah, walks 3 batters an inning, but he certainly knows how to win. How do you think he got to be a 18 game winner by only pitching 5 innings a game with a 1.4 WHIP? He’s a winner. The Sox ruined him by trying to get him to cut down his walks instead of just allowing him to use 30 winning pitches an inning.

    The US needs winners! Maybe we could get Chuck Knoblauch to come out of retirement.

  2. actor212:

    It’s a stupid idea for a stupid tournament. There’s no reason this couldn’t be held in November, after the MLB season and well before the South American and African seasons. FIFA manages to schedule a World Cup around the major football leagues. Why can’t MLB?

    It’s a Mickey Mouse organization

  3. c u n d gulag:

    I’m probably in the minority in this country, but I like the WBC. And I do watch some, but not all, of the games.

    I especially like it that it helps spread what I consider is the greatest of all sports/games.

    But it’s a shame that, while a lot of top-flight foreign-born Major Leaguers go and play for their own countries in the WBC, a lot of the top US-born players decide to stay home. And sure, I can understand why someone coming off an injury may not want to play in the series – but I wish they ones who are healthy, would play.

    And not because I’m some sort of flaming American nationalist, it’s just that, if/when the US team gets beat, I’d like to know that they got beat while fielding the best team possible.

    But I think the reason other countries win, is because their players practice together more often than a team of US All Stars does. Despite being a game of one-on-one confrontations between pitchers and hitters, there is a lot to be said for familiarity amongst teammates, both at bat, and in the field.

    Viva La WBC!!!

  4. actor212:

    See also the IIHF

  5. Brien Jackson:

    Because most Major League players would have a month of down time if you did it in November, and the rest of them would never agree to give up what would amount to the entirety of their actual off time. As it stands, I don’t understand the objection: what difference does it make what uniform the player is wearing while they compete in glorified exhibition games?

  6. c u n d gulag:

    I can see what you’re saying about the series being held in November.
    But I think the issue is, that after 162 game season, and the rounds of Playoffs, and the World Series, the fear is that a lot of Major Leaguers (both American and foreign born) won’t show up to play, leaving the WBC to be viewed as some minor series, instead of pitting the best players from all nations – not that it does in reality, anyway.

    Maybe the alternative is to do what the NHL does every 4 years during the Olympics, and that’s shut the sport down for a couple of weeks so that players can play. The problem is, the WBC doesn’t have the stature of the Olympics.

    Like I said below, I like the WBC. But I haven’t a clue as to how to time the event better.

    Any ideas?

  7. Brien Jackson:

    Alternatively, a tournament in which the U.S. was loaded up with all of the best Americans would likely border on unwatchable, short of a fluke loss here and there.

  8. actor212:

    You can start it in October, then. The IIHF does that with the World Hockey Championships and as teams are eliminated from the Cup, players join their respective national teams.

  9. actor212:

    They’re not showing up now, so…

    Besides, after the season, they’re already in game shape (or slightly off it) as opposed to trying to get into shape to chase a pennant. I think this makes a lot more sense.

  10. JKTHs:

    The US needs more winners like Bryce Harper instead of food stamp parasites players like Jason Heyward.

  11. actor212:

    Not so sure I agree with that, given the ethnic make up of a significant number of MLB teams.

    Last year, 243 of 856 players were born outside the 50 states, roughly 30% of the Opening Day rosters. The DR had 95. Venezuela 66. That’s enough for two squads each, plus reserves.

  12. Brien Jackson:

    Again, the players aren’t going to agree to that.

  13. Brien Jackson:

    That’s because you’re taking the whole thing more seriously than it’s meant to be. As I understand it, the politics of the WBC are basically that MLB is doing a solid for the Asian leagues and Cuba, who take international competition very seriously and were very upset that the Olympics dropped baseball because MLB wouldn’t participate NHL style. So MLB fronts some money to keep their quasi-farm leagues happy so that they don’t make it any more difficult for talent in those countries to come to MLB. Hell, if anything, MLB probably wants Japan, Korea, or Cuba to win every tournament.

  14. rea:

    well before the South American and African seasons

    There’s an African baseball seaso?

  15. elm:

    So, the U.S. has 623 opening day players and the next closest is DR with 95? That’s a huge gap. I might agree that the U.S. is less likely to dominate than they do in basketball, especially since there are lots of players in Japan who could be on a MLB team if Japanese rules allowed them to, but there’s only 2 or 3 teams that would have even a reasonable chance of beating a fully committed U.S. team and they’d be pretty massive underdogs.

  16. actor212:

    http://www.baseballsa.com/

    Also, Thailand, believe it or not, qualified this year.

  17. actor212:

    There’s a distinction to be made tho: my suspicion is, and admittedly I haven’t researched this but, if a major league team is going to go to the trouble and expense of drafting and promoting a foreign player, he’s likely got better skills than a native born player.

    I’m saying that those 95 players probably fill out a proportionately larger percentage of the starting line up and rotation than a random 95 Americans from the pool of 623.

  18. actor212:

    Oh. On the NHL shutting down.

    The NHL (not sure about the NHLPA) made a stink about shutting down for Sochi next year, given the recent lockout and hit to team revenues. Two shortened seasons in a row? I don’t know that’s going to happen.

  19. actor212:

    I think American baseball players are as patriotic as the next sport’s.

  20. Sherm:

    Yeah, Brien’s right here. Players agree to participate because its during spring training rather than the off season.

  21. Brien Jackson:

    Um…you don’t understand how major league teams acquire foreign talent. Latin American players, in particular, are orders of magnitude cheaper to sign than American born players. And Asian players are acquired after a stint as a professional in Japan or South Korea.

  22. mpowell:

    Yeah, but you’re forgetting that baseball is really random. The mismatch isn’t large enough to give the better team a subsantial edge in one or a few games.

  23. actor212:

    That argument cuts both ways, tho. You can’t state that American players are an inherently better pool of players than any other nation.

    Look at Canada in Olympic hockey, for instance. The gold in 2010 was only the second they won since 1952

  24. actor212:

    Oh, I totally understand the economics of signing a foreign player. Take a look at line-ups tho

  25. Brien Jackson:

    Maybe, but we don’t really have much of a test sample for that in a situation where one team is SUBSTANTIALLY more loaded than the rest from top to bottom, and where the rules prohibit you from leaning on your best players to the degree you would in, say, an MLB postseason. So yeah, Venezuela has Felix Hernandez, but they can’t just send him out there to pitch a complete game and carry them to a title, and their bullpen isn’t very good.

  26. Sherm:

    I think the better point might be that when choosing bench players, teams are still more likely to take the white guy over an hispanic player. Also, if an hispanic player doesn’t impress the scouts as a teenager, his opportunity to do so pretty much ends. Whereas the American kids can go to college and improve their play for three or four more years. As such, only the elite and nearly talent makes it off the islands.

  27. Dilan Esper:

    Exactly. Major League Baseball wanted to do something like the WBC for years, it was a huge exercise in cat-herding to get the Players’ Union, the MLB owners, and the rest of the world on board for any sort of a tournament format at all, and the WBC is really the best they can do (and I really think that the first two editions were pretty good, actually).

  28. wengler:

    Mauer and no Jeter. I think I might want the US the win this year.

  29. Timb:

    I LOVE the freakin’ WBC. Seeing the way other cultures interpret baseball is awesome and watching Shin-Choo Soo dominate the last WBC made me lust after his skills as much Walt Jockety finally did.

  30. Timb:

    And, they get their wish, as this American generally roots for the Davids to take on the Goliath

  31. Timb:

    Yah, Brien’s crazy. The majors, in case several Japanese and Dominican and Cubans have not made clear, do not have a monopoly on talent. You take the Giants and take away the foreign born players and, there’s a fine core, but no insurmountable by many other teams.

  32. Timb:

    You forgot to finish the last line: “and are their way down in terms of career arc and even then are considered so valuable team will pay tens of millions just to negotiate with them.”

    The idea the good bat, all glove SS on a Korean National team is worth 140 million is crazy, but he’s most likely every bit as good, pound for pound, as Zack Cozart (who has been known to swing at pick-off attempts to first base)

  33. Timb:

    Where would Jeter “play”? Does the WBC have a statue position?

  34. Timb:

    Farley, good luck joining the WBWA. You’ll know your membership is official when you can listen to Marty Brennaman’s opinion for more than three minutes without wanting to punch that small-minded, hide bound fool in the face

  35. Sherm:

    Hey, he may not have any range, but you know he’s got an edge!

  36. cpinva:

    funny, that’s how i feel about scalia:

    “You’ll know your membership is official when you can listen to Marty Brennaman’s opinion for more than three minutes without wanting to punch that small-minded, hide bound fool in the face”

  37. elm:

    Didn’t look at the lineups and rotations, but I did just look at the All-Star rosters of the last 2 years to get a sense of star players. Here’s the breakdown:
    U.S. 92
    DR 12
    Ven 8
    Jap 2
    Can 2
    PR 2
    Pan 2
    Cuba 1
    Net 1

    The U.S. is the only team with an All star at every position (in fact, they have at least 3.) DR would be missing a catcher and 1b (though Ortiz could theoretically play there) and would only have 2 OFs while Ven. would be missing a 1b and 1 OF.

    The real gap is in the pitching staffs: The US has 42 All-star pitchers; the rest of the world 8 combined with DR having 3 and no other country more than 1.

    If it’s a 1 game series where you could line up your best starter to pitch (and the rest of your Ps are available), DR might give the US a run. Over 3-5 games (or a number of 3-5 game series), U.S. depth in the pitching staff (and the rest of the roster) will tell really quickly.

  38. elm:

    Well, sure, I think the DR could be the Giants without their foreign players. But you’re taking the U.S. players from all 32 teams and creating one team from them.

    No one is saying the U.S. has a monopoly on talent, just the vast majority of players (and even of star players as discussed above) are still from the U.S.

  39. elm:

    “the DR could *beat* the giants” not “be the the giants.”

  40. actor212:

    Sherm, this was pretty much where I was going with this.

  41. actor212:

    Sort of proving my point.

    If 30% of the rosters are foreign born and 40% make it to the All-Star teams…

  42. actor212:

    The WBC has pretty strict rules regarding usage, tho. The MLBPA saw to that.

  43. rea:

    MLB doesn’t draft for foreign players.

  44. rea:

    Ven. would be missing a 1b and 1 OF.

    They play Miguel Cabrera at 1st, while Pablo Sandoval plays 3rd.

  45. rea:

    It’s the Venezuelans who would be the Giants, or the Tigers–Team Venezuela is kind of a Giant-Tiger merger, with a few other players thrown in.

  46. rea:

    He particularly doesn’t have range with his not-yet-healed broken ankle.

  47. elm:

    Well, proving one of your points, I guess. Doesn’t say much for how these other teams will do against the US if US players participated at the same rate as foreign players.

  48. elm:

    Actually, you’re math is wrong: 28.4% of players on opening day rosters are foreign-born while 24.6% of All-stars from the last two years are foreign-born. (23% if you don’t count Puerto Ricans as foreign born. And, yes, I know that they actually aren’t foreign born, but they have their own Olympic team (and I assume WBC team) so I counted them seperately. Don’t know if your roster analysis did, though.)

  49. elm:

    Yeah, obviously. That was dumb on my part. They’re still missing an outfielder and a shit ton of pitchers, though.

  50. Timb:

    You can tell the difference?

  51. Nicholas Beaudrot:

    Right, the thing to do would just be to have a US-versus-the-world exhibition. That would be pretty close to a fair fight.

  52. Darkrose:

    We were re-watching game 1 of the 2012 World Series yet again (Verlander’s “Wow” never gets old) and noted that between the Giants and the Tigers, you could easily put together an entire Venezuelan 9-man team.

  53. Darkrose:

    I kind of wanted Posey to play for Team USA, just because he’s fucking Captain America, but having Vogelsong and Affeldt* in there is a good thing.

    The trash-talking among the Giants during spring training has been pretty funny. I liked Vogey snarking that he knows how to pitch to the Panda: throw something straight down the middle and he won’t know what to do.

    * as long as you keep him away from the frozen burgers

  54. Col Bat Guano:

    The best thing I can think of to say about the WBC is that it is better than the NFL’s Pro Bowl. Barely.

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