What We're Looking Forward To In The 2023 World Baseball Classic
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- 2023 World Baseball Classic Top 10 Prospects
- Ranking Every Team In The 2023 World Baseball Classic
1. Enjoy different ways to play the game
If you watch the Dominican Republic face Venezuela, you will see a little more exuberance than you see in your Team USA-Canada game, but the style of play will be pretty similar.
Watch South Korea, Japan or Taiwan play, and you'll be watching a very different game. The pitchers attack batters differently (pretty much every Korean starting pitcher has five pitches), and the lineups are constructed differently as well.
Expect to see more splitters in a normal Japanese game than you will see in a month in the U.S. You can also watch a lot of pitchers pull a Zack Greinke, mixing mid-60s slow curves with low-to-mid-90s fastballs. Hiromi Ito sits 90-92 mph with his fastball, but he’s thrown curveballs in the 50s in games.
The way the teams approach each inning offensively is also different. Expect to see a lot more attempts to move runners and sacrifice.
In the NPB last year, teams averaged .7 sacrifice bunts per game. In the U.S. major leagues, teams averaged .08 sacrifice bunts per game. The D-backs led the majors with 31 sac bunts in 162 games. Yomiuri had the fewest sac bunts in Japan with 73 in 143 games.
Taiwan and South Korea don’t bunt as much, but the CPBL averages .54 sac bunts per game while KBO still averages .42 sac bunts per game.
2. Win or go home
If you don’t enjoy the one-game wild card format, it may not be for you, but if you enjoy the stress and pressure of must-win baseball, the World Baseball Classic will provide seven consecutive win-or-be-eliminated contests.
Once teams get out of pool play, they’ll be playing for their tournament lives in every game. The second round games this year are all one-game series (as opposed to the old format that was in effect for 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2017), and the semifinals and finals are also one-game series.
There will be plenty of chances for countries to go from the brink of elimination to a massive celebration, or vice versa, in the blink of an eye.
3. Strategy plays a big role
Most of the time, baseball strategy is focused on in-game decisions, but in the World Baseball Classic, deciding how to line up a pitching staff may play a massive role in who has a great tournament and who disappoints.
A team like Japan has the luxury of fielding arguably four of the top eight starters in the entire WBC tournament. Choosing if Yu Darvish, Shohei Ohtani, Roki Sasaki or Yoshinobu Yamamoto gets the call in any particular game is a choice with maybe no wrong answer.
Team Canada is a different story. With Cal Quantrill and Matt Brash, the Canadians can give someone a very tough matchup. But Canada also has six pitchers on its staff who didn’t pitch anywhere in 2022. There are going to be other days when Canada cannot match up nearly as well when it comes to its pitching. Picking when to deploy those top pitchers is a game within the game.
Two teams advance out of each pool. Canada is in a pool with Great Britain, Columbia, Mexico and the United States.
If you assume that Team USA is the favorite to win the pool, Canada is probably best off not sending its best against Team USA, but instead going all-in to beat Mexico, the favorite to earn the other spot coming out of the pool. A loss to Team USA is survivable if you assume Team USA is going to beat everyone else, but a loss to Mexico and Team USA makes it much harder to advance.
4. Pool Of Death
There are plenty of teams who could come out of Pool A—no team in the pool has ever made it to the semifinals. Japan seems ticketed to advance out of Pool B and Team USA is a near lock to advance out of Pool C.
But in Pool D, we can confidently state that a very talented team will be eliminated as that pool has a previous World Baseball Classic champion (Dominican Republic), a two-time runner-up (Puerto Rico) and a team that has made it to the semifinals (Venezuela).
Whoever makes it out of Pool D will be considered two of the favorites to win the WBC crown, but simply getting out of the pool will be a truly trying test, and one that makes Israel and Nicaragua’s tasks seem even more daunting.
5. Fun batting stances
How can you not look forward to seeing some of the best batting stances from Japan. Munetaka Murakami is the best power hitter in Japan, and he does it with a stance that has him setting up with the bat hanging out over the plate.
Japanese hitters are much more comfortable with high hand-sets to start their swings. A number of Japanese hitters also have significant leg kicks where they hang on their back leg for quite a while before getting that front foot down.
6. Crazier pitching deliveries
As cool as the batting stances are, the deliveries are also wonderfully different. Japan’s team alone gives us a wonderful selection of the truly different.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto manages to generate low-to-mid-90s velocity with an explosive lower-half. His motion can barely be described as a delivery, as he explodes to the plate.
Taisei Ota’s delivery has a hiccup. He starts to the plate, hops and then comes home.
Hiromi Ito throws a dust ball, as rosin powder visibly leaves his hand with the ball on most of his pitches.
Korea’s Woo Young Jung doesn’t have a particularly freaky delivery, but you don’t often see sidearmers who can get to 94-95 mph with their fastball.
But none of them can compare to Keiji Takahashi. His delivery is an excellent imitation of a stork.
7. Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamamoto
The Japanese team has a pair of exceptional young starting pitchers who would be household names to U.S. fans if they played over here.
Yamamoto has been a starter in the Japanese Pacific League since 2017, as he broke into the majors as an 18-year-old. He posted a 5.32 ERA in five starts with Orix that year, but since then he’s been one of the best pitchers in Japan for five years in a row. Yamamoto spent two years in Orix’s bullpen, but he moved into the rotation in 2020. He went 18-5, 1.39 in 2021 and 15-5, 1.68 in 2022. He’s won back-to-back Sawamura awards as Japan’s best pitcher. That’s more impressive than it may even sound, as there are years where the selection committee decides that no one has lived up to the lofty expectations of the Sawamura awards, something that last happened in 2019.
Yamamoto has an extremely efficient lower half in his delivery as he explodes to the plate. With runners on, he almost entirely eliminates his delivery. He simply pulls the ball out of his glove and fires it to the plate. He sits 93-95 mph with his fastball, and mixes in a splitter, curveball, cutter and slider.
But as good as the 24-year-old Yamamoto is, Sasaki is even more exciting. Sasaki is the best 21-year-old pitcher in the world. He sits at 98-99 mph with his fastball and has touched 102 this spring. His 87-92 mph splitter is his nastiest weapon. As Kyle Glaser wrote for us, it’s a top-of-the-scale, 80-grade pitch. But he also has a quality slider he doesn’t have a lot of need to use. Sasaki is a strike thrower (70% strike percentage in 2022) and has an array of bat-missing pitches.
8. Who Will Be The Upstart?
Every WBC so far, there’s been one team that has announced its arrival on the world stage with a surprisingly impressive tournament. And in the best situations, a team like the Netherlands announces its arrival with an impressive tournament that hints at even bigger and better success in the future.
In 2006, the first-ever World Baseball Classic, you could argue that Japan was the breakout, mainly because Japan won the first-ever baseball tournament that brought together all of the world’s best. But Japan has long been a baseball power. So let’s go with South Korea. South Korea’s run to the semifinals, where it beat Mexico, Team USA and Japan, was a clear marker that the South Koreans could play on the international stage. Two years later, South Korea won the Olympic gold medal.
In 2009, the Netherlands beat the Dominican Republic twice in pool play on its way to eliminating the D.R. and advancing to the second round. Fueled by that run, the Netherlands made it to the semifinals in 2013.
In 2013, Italy beat Mexico and Canada in its first two pool games. That allowed Team Italy to advance to the second round, where it was knocked out with a pair of one-run losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
In 2017, Israel knocked off South Korea and Taiwan to advance out of Pool A and then beat Cuba in the second round of pool play. It was an amazing run for a team with no real international baseball success before the WBC.
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9. Who Will Disappoint?
If someone is going to surprise, someone has to lay an egg as well, and the tournament has also had its share of disappointments.
In 2006, Team USA came in as one of the favorites, but after winning its second round pool play opener against Japan, the U.S. was beaten by both South Korea and Mexico. The 7-3 loss to South Korea meant that the U.S. failed to advance because of a negative run differential.
In 2009, the Dominican Republic was easily the most talented team to fail to make it out of the first round of pool play. The Dominicans were beaten twice by the Netherlands, and they watched Puerto Rico and the Netherlands advance to round two.
In 2013, Team USA went just 3-3 and was beaten by both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to fail to make it out of the second round. Maybe it’s unfair to pick on the U.S. twice, but it comes into every WBC as one of the favorites. Anything short of a semifinal appearance is a disappointment.
In 2017, South Korea went 1-2 and was eliminated in pool play as the team scored just one run in two games in losses to Israel and the Netherlands. For a team that made it to the semifinals in the first WBC and won the Olympic gold in 2008, it was a shockingly poor effort.
10. Roki Sasaki
Seriously. It’s going to be worth staying up until all hours of the night or getting up hours before dawn to watch him pitch. He throws 102 mph. Opponents hit .106/.160/.165 against his splitter. He threw it 533 times and picked up strike three on it 95 times. He threw it for strikes 69% of the time and 51% of the time batters swung at it, they missed it.