By pretty much any objective measure, USA Baseball right now stands at the top of international baseball.
The U.S. just finished a year where it won every major international competition on the schedule. The year began with the U.S. winning the World Baseball Classic, which pitted the top professional players from around the world. Team USA also won the 12U and 18U Baseball World Cups, tournaments that brought together the world's best in the 12- and 18-year-old age groups. It also won the 15U Pan-Am Championship/World Cup Qualifier, and the U.S. college national team won its “friendly” series against Japan, Taiwan and Cuba.
But the American dominance is not reflected in the international rankings. The new World Baseball Softball Confederation's rankings for men's baseball have been released and there, the U.S. remains No. 2. Japan is No. 1. Those rankings have drawn some scorn from some U.S. coaches who have been involved in international play.
Seriously?????? @USABaseball had a complete sweep this year!!! This poll is a joke! Embarrassing to pretend otherwise!
-- Rob Cooper (@16RobCooper) September 19, 2017
Japan was also first when new rankings were released after the World Baseball Classic this spring. This has actually been somewhat of a trend. The U.S. has topped Japan in seven of the last eight international tournaments where the two teams have met. But it has remained stuck in second place in the WBSC rankings.
The reason why comes down to participation. The U.S. did not send teams to the 2016 23U World Cup or the 2014 21U World Cup. Both those events were held in November, when the U.S. traditionally has difficulty lining up players, because it is both the offseason in the U.S. for professionals and because collegiate players are in school. Japan won the 2016 23U World Cup and finished second at the 2014 21U World Cup.
The rankings are set up where participation matters more in many ways than where a team finishes, so by missing those two events, which Japan participated in, the U.S. remains in second place in the rankings. A listing of the 10 top international events sanctioned by the WBSC in the past four years shows that the U.S. has dominated, finishing in the top three in the eight world tournaments it participated in, with five first-place finishes. Japan has one first-place finish, seven top-three finishes and three events where it finished fourth or worse. But Japan was represented in all 10 events, compared to the U.S.’s eight.
2017 18U World Cup: U.S. (1st), Japan (3rd).
2017 12U World Cup: U.S. (1st) Japan (4th).
2017 World Baseball Classic: U.S. (1st), Japan (3rd).
2016 23U World Cup: Japan (1st), U.S. did not participate.
2015 15U World Cup: Japan (2nd). U.S. (3rd).
2015 Premier 12: U.S. (2nd), Japan (3rd).
2015 12U World Cup: U.S. (1st), Japan (6th).
2015 18U: U.S. (1st), Japan (2nd).
2014 21U World Cup: Japan (2nd). U.S. did not participate.
2014 15U World Cup: U.S. (2nd), Japan (7th).
There was very little movement overall at the top of the rankings. The top six spots remained unchanged from the spring rankings. Australia moved up one spot to seventh and the Netherlands moved up one spot to eighth while Venezuela dropped two spots to ninth.
The complete rankings can be seen at the WBSC’s Website.
The current rankings ensure that Japan should remain No. 1 through the end of 2017. The only other events this year that will add to the rankings are events that the U.S. is not eligible to participate in, while Japan has two more chances to add points with the Asia Championships and the 15U Asia Championship.
It is possible that the rankings could see the U.S. ascend to No. 1 in 2018 because the 2014 21U World Cup, where the U.S. didn't participate, will no longer count. The rankings look at events of the past four years.