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March 1, 2006

The World Baseball Classic

Davenport Translations, Part Two

by Clay Davenport

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Yesterday, we began our look at the WBC by focusing on Pool A, which consisted of Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan. Today, we forge ahead with the three remaining Pools.

Pool B - United States, Mexico, Canada, South Africa

The US is probably the strongest team in the tournament. The secret to that rating is their depth. There are a lot of countries who may have a .280 EqA third baseman, say…but if for some reason he doesn't play, their next choice is down at .250, and if he can't play, their next choice is at .230. By contrast, if the US loses a .280 player, they've got .275 and .270 guys lined up right behind--minimal dropoffs, even if they don't get their first choice. The upshot of that is a US lineup with someone like Johnny Damon as their worst hitter, which is how they get an overall batter rating of .290--a narrow second place to the Dominican's .292. But it is the pitching, and especially the bullpen, that really sets them apart, where they will line up Chad Cordero, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, Huston Street, and Billy Wagner. Overall, the US gets a 134 rating--tops in the tourney. The US' Batting DT is here and the Pitching DT is here (again, the file can be viewed in your browser, or in a plain text editor).

Mexico and Canada are virtually even, with Mexico getting a 102 rating and Canada earning a 101. Mexico looks a little better offensively, with a fairly balanced lineup that avoids any deep holes. Canada has a better single hitter than anyone Mexico can claim (thank you, Jason Bay), but looks weak up the middle; Pete Orr looks like their best middle infield option, and that's not so good. They look slightly better from the mound, but not by much. If all of the favorites advance, then the loser of the Canada/Mexico is going to be the best team watching the second round from their sofas. Their DTs are here: Mexico's batting DT and Mexico's pitching DT, Canada's batting DT and Canada's pitching DT.

South Africa's team is similar to China, as far as how hard it is to evaluate, except that I don't even have stats from a national league to work with. Most of their WBC players also participated in the 2005 World Cup, but that is not an endorsement. They went 0-8 at that tournament, and they were outscored 76-15. By comparing them to the Cubans, the South Africans score at about a 4 on the scale. I ran the tournament out 100 million times; South Africa still never won. Unless they are a lot better than they showed at the World Cup, they are the weakest team in the tournament. (Their Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

Simulation results (to win and finish second in first round):

Team     Rating   Win   Second   Advance
USA       134   .6131   .2569    .8700
Mexico    102   .1964   .3731    .5695
Canada    101   .1904   .3665    .5569
S. Africa       .0001   .0035    .0036 (won 119 out of one million)
Pool C - Puerto Rico, Cuba, Netherlands, Panama

Pool C is the probably the most even pool in the tourney, combining the weakest best team and the strongest worst team. That also means that it puts the teams here at the highest risk of being knocked out in the first round, limiting their opportunities to win the whole shebang.

Puerto Rico's strength is catcher--if this were a league that didn't rely on national origins, they would trade a catcher for some middle infield help. They get to pick between Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez to catch--with maybe Ben Molina as a backup. The trouble for them comes in the infield--with Jose Vidro dropping out, the combination of players for the skill infield positions goes down from Alex Cintron, which makes it a distinct weakness. The pitching looks roughly average. Overall rating: 103. (Batting DT here, and Pitching DT here.)

Cuba took a long time to get into the tournament--they were held up for awhile by the State Department--and they have been a little coy about how they were going to approach it. Cuba has traditionally dominated the World Cup tournament, winning 24 of the 36 tourneys held, in part because they sent the best team they could while other countries did not--the best player on the last US team, for instance, was probably Josh Phelps. They went 11-0 in Holland and won easily, but they are talking about sending a very young team to the WBC, to break in a new generation. They have some outstanding young players--third baseman Yuliesky Gourriel is 22 and translates as a 30-HR hitter in the majors, and possible right fielder Dayan Viciedo is 16 and translates to a .245 major-league eqa. Pitchers Yuniesky Maya, Danny Betancourt, and Yadier Pedroso are all under 25 and have major-league quality DTs. If they go that route, though, it will cost them some quality, as their best hitters are a little older. I tried to mix it up a little bit, passing on a couple of their best players in favor of a younger guy, and still wound up with a team whose overall rating was 92. Had they been willing or able to use Cuban defectors--primarily Livan Hernandez and Jose Contreras--they might have been able to match Puerto Rico's 103. (Cuba's Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

Panama's best known player, Mariano Rivera, has decided to pass on the WBC. That's bad, not just because Rivera would have been their best pitcher, but because they have no depth of quality players at all. Looking at their roster, I see a bunch of interchangeable corner players, like Julio Zuleta, Fernando Seguignol, Olmedo Saenz, and Sherman Obando, but they are another team with problems up the middle. Besides the desperately poor teams of China and South Africa, there are a bunch of teams with ratings in the 60s who are filling out the 11-14 slots of the tourney. Panama, at 64, is one of those. (Panama's Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

The Netherlands team will get to draw on a few players from the Netherlands Antilles--Dutch islands in the Caribbean--who have given us players like Andruw Jones and Sidney Ponson, as well Dutch-descended players like Mark Mulder. There aren't enough such players, though; I don't see anybody up at catcher, second, or short who can hit for a .230 EqA. Their pitching also doesn't go deep enough, either, which is how they wound up with a rating of 63. (Their Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

Simulation results (to win and finish second in first round):

Team          Rating   Win  Second  Advance
Puerto Rico    103   .4412  .2973   .7385
Cuba            92   .3178  .3141   .6319
Panama          64   .1228  .1973   .3201
Netherlands     63   .1183  .1913   .3095

Pool D - Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Italy, Australia

The oddsmakers are touting the Dominican Republic as the favorite of the tournament, but I can't quite agree. They have an extremely strong team, without a doubt; four of the top six hitters expected to play in the tournament would play for them, and their pitching could be just as good. But their pitching isn't as deep as the American squad, and they do have a couple of roster spots (catcher, center field) that are relatively weak. They rate at 126, which is the second-best rating of all teams in the tournament. (Their Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

The third-best rating, 122, falls to the Venezuelan squad, also in this pool, which makes it the most top-heavy group. Venezuela's lineup is solid, not quite reaching as high as the best hitters on the Dominican squad but not falling as low as the DR's weakest spots, either. Still, it is the pitching--Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Freddy Garcia, and Felix Hernandez as a starting rotation, with Francisco Rodriguez to close--that makes them a frightening team to face. (Venezuela's Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

Italy could field a pretty good team, primarily from Americans whose grandparents were born in Italy; the actual native Italians figure to be backups, if they really want to field the best team possible. Mike Piazza is undoubtedly the most famous player they will have, but he won't be alone. David Dellucci, who dropped out this week, is a pretty big loss. They look like they have a long list of swing relief/starters, but true starters are in short supply. Still, they emerged with a surprisingly strong 78 rating. (Italy's Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

Australia is one of the handful of teams rating in the 60s. They have plenty of players to choose from, but the problem is that there isn't a star among them. Justin Huber is probably their best hitter, and Jeff Williams (who's been pitching in Japan the last three years) is probably their best pitcher. Their 63 rating barely ekes out the Netherlands. (Their Batting DT and Pitching DT.)

Simulation results (to win and finish second in first round):

Team           Rating   Win   Second   Advance
Dominican Rep.  126    .4650  .3417    .8067
Venezuela       122    .4014  .3665    .7679
Italy            79    .0883  .1794    .2676
Australia        63    .0453  .1124    .1578
Second round and beyond:

The four teams that advance from Pools A and B will form one of the second round robins, while the teams from pools C and D form the other. The most likely advancers from round 2 (two from each list) are:

Pools A/B          Pools C/D
-----------------------------------
USA        .7235   DOM        .6150
JPN        .4221   VNZ        .5487
MEX        .2667   PUR        .3593
CAN        .2561   CBA        .2346
KOR        .2557   ITA        .0904
TAI        .0742   PAN        .0591
CHN        .0018   NED        .0562
SAF        .00002  AUS        .0367
As you can see, there is a big dropoff between the 5/6 teams on the left side and between 4 and 5 on the right side. I'd say there are three strong favorites, six solid contenders behind them, five long shots, and two that are seriously outclassed. As it happens, the final odds break down exactly that way.

Finals

On the one hand, the US is the favorite to win, in that they have a higher chance than anyone else, but they do not have a 50% chance. The model says there is about a 1 in 3 chance that the US wins, another 1 in 3 chance that one of the Dominican Republic or Venezuela wins, and the remaining 1 in 3 for the rest of the field. The full list:

1. USA   .3354
2. DOM   .2088
3. VNZ   .1613
4. JPN   .0793
5. PUR   .0571
6. MEX   .0433
7. CAN   .0398
8. KOR   .0313
9. CBA   .0266
10. ITA  .0068
11. TAI  .0037
12. PAN  .0026
13. NED  .0023
14. AUS  .0015
15. CHN  .000008
16. RSA  never happened
Related Content:  Pitching,  Italy,  The Who,  Batting,  Canada,  Best

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