SEE ALSO: World Baseball Classic Schedule
SEE ALSO: WBC Archive
Ahead of the Curve
When it comes to being in midseason form, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Cuba have a little-noticed advantage for the World Baseball Classic. They prepare differently.
In the United States, the training schedule is set up to minimize time away from players’ affiliated clubs. So players headed to their MLB camps for a couple of weeks, then will depart for a few days training with their national club before the games began.
There is no such worry for the teams in Asia or Cuba. The Cuban national team flew to Asia on Feb. 17 so that it could get in plenty of exhibition games in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. The team actually has been together for longer than that, as the majority of the players were part of the Cuban team that went 3-2 in the Caribbean Series that wrapped up in early February. Having played in Cuba's Serie Nacional season before that, Cuba's players are in midseason form.
South Korea gathered its team in Okinawa for training in mid-February. The team returned to South Korea on Feb. 23 to play further exhibition games to prep for the tournament. Japan gathered it's full team (minus major leaguer Nori Aoki) on Feb. 23 to begin intensive training. Taiwan was on a similar schedule.
It may seem like a minor advantage, but Canadian team manager Jeff Hamilton said hitters getting their timing back is one of the toughest challenges of an early March tournament. As he sees it, pitchers are usually ahead of hitters at that point in the spring training schedule. It also doesn't hurt that players who aren't usually teammates get to work together defensively for weeks instead of a few days.
One minor benefit of the World Baseball Classic is the role it plays in labor-management peace for Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association. While the two sides take on adversarial roles when negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, when it comes to the World Baseball Classic, MLB and the MLBPA are partners.
It's not entirely coincidental that since the WBC began, MLB and the MLBPA have had two of the least contentious collective bargaining agreement negotiations since the MLBPA rose to power in the early 1970s.
"Here for this tournament, our goals (MLB and the MLBPA's) are almost always aligned. We respect where they are coming from in what they do well in their job description for the WBC and they respect our job description for the WBC," said Tim Slavin, the MLBPA's chief of business affairs.
"(Commissioner) Rob Manfred's background is as the head of labor relations," said Paul Archey, the former senior vice president of international business operations for MLB. "We had to deal with the union. In international events and the World Baseball Classic it's a joint venture (with the MLBPA). It was a way to bridge that gap. Rob would tell you, international events were incredibly significant way to create a better relationship. It developed trust."
— Murray Cook (@cookmurray) February 27, 2017
The 2017 World Baseball Classic will be a christening of sorts for a pair of relatively new stadiums. This will be the Classic's first trip to South Korea, as Pool A will play its games at the 18,000-seat Gocheok Stadium, which opened in 2015. Gocheok Stadium is the first domed baseball stadium built in South Korea.
Pool C's first round games will be played at the 11,000-seat Estadio Charros de Jalisco, which opened in 2011 for the Pan Am Games. This will first time Guadalajara, Mexico, has hosted a round of the WBC. It's the second time Mexico has hosted WBC games, as Mexico City hosted Pool B in 2009.
Extra Innings Go International
MLB's decision to investigate implementing speed-up rules for the Gulf Coast League and Arizona League complex leagues has created a lot of discussion in the States. But as they have in the past, the World Baseball Classic will use similar extra-inning rules.
If a WBC game goes to the 11th inning, teams will begin the inning with runners on first and second. The batter who was scheduled to lead off the inning will still lead off, with the two batters ahead of him in the lineup serving as the baserunners.
There have only been three WBC games that have made it to the 11th inning in the first three tournaments.
A rule that comes into play more often is the mercy rule. If a team leads by 10 or more after the end of an inning in the seventh or later, or by 15 after the fifth inning or later, the game is ended. This rule only applies to first and second round games.
The mercy rule has been invoked 15 times in the first three WBC tournaments.
Pitching Over Hitting
It only comes into play if tiebreakers are needed in the first two rounds, but the WBC rules favor strong pitching and defense over big offenses.
If three teams are tied for the two spots to advance out of the first or second round and the tie cannot be broken by head-to-head results, the WBC’s tiebreakers are based on runs allowed divided by innings played. Runs scored play no part in the tiebreaker.
In the case of a tie where three teams end up at 2-1 (which means they tied for the top two spots), the team with the best runs allowed per inning will advance while the other two teams will play a one-game tiebreaker to advance. In the case of three teams tied at 1-2 (which means they tied for the second spot), the top two teams in runs allowed will play the tiebreaker while the team with the worst runs allowed average will be eliminated.
What Could Have Been
In the history of international baseball, no team has been better than Cuba.
Cuba won 25 of the 39 Baseball World Cups. Cuba won three golds and two silvers in the five Olympics that included baseball. But Cuban baseball has taken a significant hit in the past decade as many of Cuba's top players have come to the U.S. to play in the majors.
Cuba opted not to let Cubans who play in the big leagues to play in the World Baseball Classic, even if they emigrated to the U.S. with Cuba's official assent. But that didn't keep us from putting together a speculative team. Here's what a possible team of Cubans playing in the U.S. would look like. We limited it to players who were born in Cuba. A team that included players of Cuban descent (allowed under WBC eligibility rules) would be even deeper.
C: Yasmani Grandal
1B: Jose Abreu
2B: Aledmys Diaz
SS: Jose Iglesias
3B: Yulieski Gurriel
OF: Yasiel Puig
OF: Yoenis Cespedes
CF: Leonys Martin
DH: Kendrys Morales
Bench: Brayan Pena, Yoan Moncada; Adonis Garcia; Yonder Alonso; Alexei Ramirez, Jorge Soler; Yunel Escobar; Adeiny Hechevarria
SP: Raisel Igelsias
SP: Yadier Alvarez
SP: Roenis Elias
SP: Ariel Miranda
Bullpen: Aroldis Chapman; Gerardo Concepcion; Dailer Hinojosa; Raudel Lazo; Ordisamer Despaigne; Vladimir Gutierrez