Let me go on record as saying that I enjoyed the World Baseball Classic. I do wish that the event had been scheduled more carefully around the NCAA hoops tournament, and that Major League Baseball had worked more carefully to ensure that as many games as possible were available on real time on FOX, ESPN, or ESPN2. I enjoyed the event, however, and I’m glad that it has become part of the baseball landscape.

But when everyone from Will Carroll to Peter Gammons had hinted that some of the pitchers involved in the WBC may be less than their usual selves, I paid attention. So I decided to apply a relatively simple study: comparing the ERAs of the pitchers who made WBC rosters against their preseason PECOTA projections. Here, for example, are the major league pitchers from Team Mexico, which had easily the coolest uniforms in the tournament.

Pitcher     Role    Team    IP       PECOTA    Actual   ER +/-
Dessens       RP     MEX    13.7      4.50      2.63      -3
Loaiza        SP     MEX    18.3      4.02      8.35      +9
Lopez         SP     MEX    37        4.51      6.81      +9
Perez, Ol     SP     MEX    28.7      4.64      7.53      +9
Rincon        RP     MEX    3.3       4.04     10.80      +2
Villarreal    RP     MEX    11        4.59      2.45      -3

Esteban Loaiza, for example, had a PECOTA projected ERA of 4.02, but has been absolutely terrible this year, with an actual ERA of 8.35 through games of May 1st. Another way to look at this is that Loaiza has allowed nine more earned runs this season than PECOTA would have expected, based on the number of innings that he’s pitched–this is what the “ER +/-” column represents. Nor is Loaiza the only member of Team Mexico who has struggled–Rodrigo Lopez and Oliver Perez have been nearly as bad.

Let’s try the same thing for the Venezuelans:

Pitcher     Role    Team    IP      PECOTA    Actual    ER +/-
Armas        SP     VEN     29.3     4.48      2.76      -6
Betancourt   RP     VEN     7        3.49      6.43      +2
Chacin       SP     VEN     30.7     4.85      4.70      -1
Escobar      SP     VEN     29       3.82      3.41      -1
Garcia       SP     VEN     27.7     4.32      5.86      +5
Julio        RP     VEN     11.7     3.78      7.71      +5
Rodriguez    RP     VEN     10.7     2.55      3.38      +1
Santana      SP     VEN     32.3     3.01      4.45      +5
Silva        SP     VEN     29.7     4.58     10.31     +19
Zambrano, C  SP     VEN     33.7     3.34      5.35      +8
Zambrano, V  SP     VEN     20       4.33      7.20      +6

More of the same here. Both Zambranos have been out of sorts, Johan Santana hasn’t quite been himself, and Carlos Silva has done his best to sabotage my team in BP Kings. Perhaps this problem is confined to the Latin American teams, who took so much self-evident pride in the event? Well, the results for Team USA aren’t much more impressive.

Pitcher      Role   Team     IP      PECOTA     Actual    ER +/-
Cordero      RP      USA     10       3.28       2.70       -1
Fuentes      RP      USA     11       4.09       1.64       -3
Jones        RP      USA     5        4.20       5.40       +1
Lidge        RP      USA     12.7     2.51       6.91       +6
Majewski     RP      USA     17       3.79       4.76       +2
Nathan       RP      USA     7        2.65       1.29       -1
Peavy        SP      USA     39.3     2.94       4.58       +7
Shields      RP      USA     15.7     3.25       1.15       -3
Street       RP      USA     5.7      3.01       7.94       +3
Timlin       RP      USA     10.3     3.78       1.74       -2
Wheeler      RP      USA     12.7     3.52       3.55       0
Willis       SP      USA     39       3.50       4.38       +4

Dan Wheeler was one of the fifteen best pitchers in the country? In any event, we see several more problem children here, including Huston Street, Dontrelle Willis–whose mechanics have looked awful–and Jake Peavy. Street and Todd Jones have already been hurt.

Rather than beating you over the head with this stuff, let me go ahead and run through the results for the rest of the WBC participants. (This excludes one or two pitchers that we haven’t run PECOTA projections for).

Pitcher     Role    Team      IP     PECOTA    Actual    ER +/-
Bedard       SP      CAN     37.7     4.27      3.69      -2
Cormier      RP      CAN     8.7      4.05      0.00      -4
Crain        RP      CAN     12.3     4.07      7.50      +5
Francis      SP      CAN     28       4.90      4.50      -1
Reitsma      RP      CAN     9.7      3.93      5.59      +2

Batista      SP      DOM     27       5.45      6.33      +3
Cabrera, D   SP      DOM     25.3     4.68      5.68      +3
Colon        SP      DOM     14       3.93      7.07      +5
Liriano      RP      DOM     14.3     3.90      3.77      0
Marte        RP      DOM     7.7      3.71      2.35      -1
Perez, Od    SP      DOM     25.7     3.93      5.61      +5
Rodney       RP      DOM     10       3.56      0.00      -4
Sanchez      RP      DOM     17       3.82      0.00      -7
Sosa         SP      DOM     15.7     5.03      6.89      +3
Tavarez      RP      DOM     8.3      4.28      5.43      +1
Torres       RP      DOM     17.3     4.13      3.12      -2

Dinardo      SP      ITA     18.3     4.04      7.36      +7
Gallo        RP      ITA     6.3      4.55      9.95      +4
Miceli       RP      ITA     10.3     4.23      5.23      +1

Kim, B       RP      KOR     6.7      5.09      1.35      -3
Kim, S       RP      KOR     5        5.40     19.80      +8
Park         SP      KOR     30.3     4.90      5.34      +1
Seo          SP      KOR     23.7     4.28      5.70      +4

Chen         SP      PAN     26       4.52      7.27      +8

Cabrera, F   RP      PUR     6.3      3.75     15.63      +8
Calero       RP      PUR     9.3      3.52      1.93      -2
Pineiro      SP      PUR     38       4.44      4.26      -1
Romero       RP      PUR     10       4.44      3.60      -1
Vazquez      SP      PUR     33       4.04      3.00      -4

The pattern is universal. In fact, not one of the nine WBC teams that had a major league pitcher on their roster has outperformed their PECOTA projections, although the Canadians and Puerto Ricans have exactly matched theirs. Even Lenny DiNardo and the three-man Italian contingent has struggled. The cumulative results are as follows:

Pitcher       IP       PECOTA     Actual     ER +/-
Relievers    323.7       3.82      4.14       +12
Starters     737.3       4.24      5.49       +104
Total        1061.0      4.10      5.08       +115

These are very disturbing numbers. The relievers have emerged relatively unscathed–sixteen of the thirty-two relievers in our study have outperformed their PECOTA, and sixteen have underperformed it. But the starting pitchers have been brutalized. Nineteen of the 26 starters–nearly three-fourths of our sample–have underperformed their PECOTA. In most cases, they haven’t even come close to their projection. The weighted average ERA for the WBC starters is 5.49, a buck and a quarter higher than their PECOTAs. Keep in mind that these are supposed to be, quite literally, the best starting pitchers in the world, and that this performance has come over hundreds and hundreds of collective innings.

Now, it can quite rightly be pointed out that offense is up around the league in general. The league is on pace to have a collective ERA of 4.59 this year, versus 4.28 in 2005. But the increase in ERA from among the WBC pitchers outstrips that jump and then some. More to the point, much of the ERA jump is because of the WBC pitchers. The league as a whole has had an ER +/- of 218–that is, the league has scored 218 more runs on the season then we would have expected if last year’s league averages were sustained. (This is the assumption that PECOTA makes, by the way; we regress park factors to the mean, but simply carry over the league baseline from where it was in the previous season). The WBC pitchers account for less than one-sixth of the innings pitched–but more than half of the increase in run scoring. Put differently, if the WBC pitchers are pulled out from the league averages, the collective ERA jump is reduced to about 15 points, which is much more in the realm of normal, even random fluctuation.

I don’t think this is the result of overwork per se. The WBC pitch count limits were a necessary evil, and were relatively well-designed to prevent any one pitcher from bearing too much of the burden. No major league pitcher threw more than 14 innings in the Classic (Bartolo Colon and Jae Seo were tied at this threshold). Rather, I think the problem is that the pitchers had been taken out of their routines. They didn’t get to see their trainer, pitching coach, or manager for a couple of weeks, they weren’t able to relax in the low-pressure environment of the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues, and so forth. The pitcher may have been throwing in a relief role for his national club, when he hadn’t done that in the major leagues in years. If a certain pitching coach doesn’t like his pitcher to throw breaking stuff early in camp, or his manager wanted to pull him out after a high-effort inning, there wasn’t the opportunity to play it safe. This is why I think that the starting pitchers have been disproportionately affected as compared to the relievers–starting pitchers are creatures of habit and routine.

I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news. But the fact is that teams like the Twins and the Orioles, who are seeing multiple disappointing performances from the WBC participants on their rosters, have surely started to think about these numbers, and are going to be much more reluctant the next time around to send their horses to the race. Unless Major League Baseball is prepared to host the World T-Ball Classic, it ought to think long and hard about rescheduling and restructuring the event.

Thank you for reading

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