For the next two weeks, baseball will turn its eyes from meaningless exhibition games to...well, whatever the World Baseball Classic is to you. At the very least, it’s a chance to watch a lot of accumulated baseball talent, much of it from leagues that you might not get to see much, from the American minors to Cuba’s Serie Nacional and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. With the start of play on this side of the Pacific finally upon us, I’m going to take a look at three interesting prospects (or young not-fully-established players), a key storyline (or two or three), and one interesting non-prospect to watch for in each of the four pools.
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Did rooting against Team USA in the WBC make sense?
One of the most stunning parts about following the World Baseball Classic as a social- and other-media-connected human being was seeing how many other Americans paying attention were rooting—strongly or mostly more casually—against the United States. Part of that is probably my own state of watching sports after five years as a writer, so let me explain briefly.
It didn’t take long to stop rooting for sports teams once I started covering professional baseball. Sure, I rooted for good stories, and on plenty of occasions when there were day games looming or beers to be drunk, rooted for short games. And I occasionally found myself rooting for people, though I tried my hardest not to let that interfere with my work and believe I succeeded at that while on the beat.
I’ve become slightly obsessed with the World Baseball Classic. When I learned the semifinals and finals of the 2013 Classic would be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, I made sure to purchase our regular-season seats for all three games. I’m regretting that decision a little now that they’re flogging $5 bleacher seats for the second semifinal game, but the buyer’s remorse is minimal; after all, it’s not every day that an international baseball event is held in one’s own backyard.
The first semifinal game took place on Sunday night and pitted Japan, the two-time defending WBC champ, against a plucky Puerto Rico team that really had no business making it out of pool play. They faced elimination twice and beat Italy and the United States to guarantee a semifinal berth, ultimately losing to the Dominican Republic in what amounted to a seeding game. Had they won, they would have had an additional day off in which to travel to San Francisco from Miami, and they’d face the Netherlands. But they lost to the D.R., meaning they had to fly west immediately after their Saturday game in order to face Japan on Sunday on a short turnaround and as a heavy underdog.
The pitch before the pitch that sent the Dominican Republic to the WBC semifinals.
If you weren’t watching the World Baseball Classic on Thursday night, you missed a memorable moment with one out in the top of the ninth, when Dominican Republic pinch-hitter Erick Aybarbroke a 1-1 tie with a single off US closer Craig Kimbrel, driving in Nelson Cruz from third. The go-ahead run proved to be the winning run, sending the 5-0 Dominicans to the semifinals and the 3-2 Americans to an elimination game against Puerto Rico on Friday.
A simple proposal to increase the quality of WBC competition.
Doug Thorburn’s baseball obsession runs much deeper than the pitching mound, so he’ll be expressing his compulsive thoughts on other baseball topics in this new semi-weekly column. His regular column, Raising Aces, can still be found at the usual time and channel.
I sit in my baseball cocoon (a.k.a. “the office”), watching a live game of playoff-caliber baseball at three o'clock in the morning (PST), with two teams representing their home nations in front of a packed stadium. The home-field advantage leans toward team Japan, and the two-time defending champs are looking to punch their ticket to San Francisco with the top seed and a victory over the surprising team from the Netherlands. Every few years there is a small window of opportunity to watch important baseball games on a night owl's schedule, and I realize that it's a good day to see the sunrise.
Ben and Sam discuss Ben's trip to Phoenix for the SABR Analytics Conference, covering the sabermetrics of marketing, clubhouse chemistry, knuckleballers, bullpen usage, the WBC, Kyle Lohse, and other topics along the way.
A day of games at the inaugural World Baseball Classic was enough to convert one skeptic.
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Shortly before the first World Baseball Classic began, Joe Sheehanexplained why he was against it. Ten days later, after watching some WBC action in person, he changed his tune in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published on March 9, 2006.
Is it possible that honkbal is even better than baseball?
The third World Baseball Classic kicked off pool play this week, with six games taking place in Taichung, Taiwan and Fukuoka, Japan. I watched most of the games this weekend (all games are being aired on the MLB Network), and seeing the Netherlands blank Korea, then lose a tough one to Taiwan cemented the Dutch as my team in the WBC. Here are just a few reasons why.
1. They call it “honkbal.” That should be enough right there, frankly, but I doubt my editors would be happy if I submitted a 75-word article. They typically like to have some content after the green “paywall” box.
Which Asian stars will shine in the WBC'and maybe one day in MLB?
In the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), Asian teams have consistently outperformed their foreign counterparts. Japan won both the 2006 and 2009 tournaments, and Korea’s 12-4 record is the best of any country. Korea won a bronze in 2006 and a silver medal in 2009’s extra-inning, all-Asian final against Japan. There are several reasons for this apparent dominance, mainly arising from how much more seriously the Asian teams view the tournament than their Western counterparts.
Major-league players and managers see the tournament as an extended spring training, or an exhibition akin to an All-Star Game. Players are substituted not for strategic purposes but to ensure that everyone “gets their work in.” Instead of using an active manager, the U.S. team has been coached by two managers—Buck Martinez and Davey Johnson—who hadn’t worked in several seasons, making rapport with players more difficult. Additionally, many major-league players declined to participate, leaving the best players off the rosters of Western teams.
Despite what you might have read, the past two WBC tournaments didn't damage pitchers.
Baseball players are often described—or describe themselves—as creatures of habit. And at no time is their adherence to routine more evident than during their methodical preparation for the season, when they shake off a winter’s worth of rust and ramp up for the coming campaign. Pitchers, especially, are dependent on spring training to build up arm strength, incorporate new offerings into their arsenals, and learn to work with their batterymates. But every three (or, starting in 2009, four) springs, including this coming one, an event takes place that threatens to disrupt that routine: the World Baseball Classic. The timing of the tournament has caused concerns that pitchers who choose to participate in it could be adversely affected, which likely explains why the United States squad that was announced on Thursday, while stocked with star position players, is relatively short on impact pitching talent.
There’s some basis for this fear. In May of 2006, not long after the first World Baseball Classic concluded,Nate Silverobserved that the pitchers who’d taken part in the tournament had performed far worse to that point in the regular season than PECOTA had predicted, prior to Opening Day, that they would. The pitchers had posted a collective 5.08 ERA in over 1,000 innings compared to a projected mark of 4.10. Some of the difference was attributable to a higher-octane league-wide offensive environment than PECOTA had anticipated, but even after accounting for that discrepancy, the WBC pitchers’ performance still stood out as particularly poor. Starting pitchers with WBC experience began the regular season with especially disappointing results.