WBC ’13

Thanks to Chris in a WBC ’09 thread for reminding me that we need a place to talk about this year’s World Baseball Classic!

The Taiwan-Korea game on 6 March featured the most boring 8th inning comeback you could ever see.

It seems the WBC could use some good institutional engineers to correct such situations.

WBC ’09 almost down to final four

My interest in the WBC teams is roughly inversely correlated with the presence of major-league regulars on the roster. For that reason, I am sorry that one of the still-contending teams in the pool now nearing its conclusion in San Diego will be eliminated. Korea, with hardly anyone I have heard of on the roster, but many players who are a joy to watch play the game (and play it really well), is already in the final four. I suppose my first sentence gives away my rooting interest for tonight, but it will be really hard not to root for the team I am not rooting for. (This international baseball fan stuff is hard!)

Naturally, given the interest mentioned in that first sentence, I have not paid close attention to the pool of teams playing in Miami (especially since the expected early exit of the surprising Netherlands team). But last night’s USA comeback in the bottom of the 9th against Puerto Rico was, well, a classic. And the advance of Team USA to the final four is great news for increasing interest in the tournament; it should certainly help ticket sales and TV ratings for this weekend’s games in Los Angeles. And if they were to play Korea in either the semi-final (seeding to be determined by USA-Venezuela game tonight) or the final (or both), the presence of a very large Korean community in Los Angeles would make for an intense and exciting atmosphere. But really, any of the still-possible match-ups would be interesting.

WBC ’09

For various reasons, I have not been able to write about the World Baseball Classic 2009 the way I did in 2006.

But, with the first round over but for one slot in the next round to be determined tonight (and a couple of games only about Round-2 seeding), this has been a thriller so far.

Who knew that The Netherlands1 would have the best pitching and just enough offense to beat twice–and thus eliminate–a Dominican team loaded with all-star talent? They even held a Puerto Rican team, also loaded with top talent, scoreless till late in a game eventually won by also-advancing Puerto Rico. (Maybe the Dutch pitching coach can add this to a Hall of Fame resume that continues, for unfathomable reasons, to fail to impress the Hall electorate.)

And Australia? We don’t usually think of our friends down under when we think of baseball powerhouses (though the number of Australian players signed by MLB organizations in recent years seems to be sharply up). Yet tonight they have a chance to advance if they can beat Mexico a second time. That seems like a tall order, but given that they not only beat, but dismantled, the Mexican team earlier in the week, who can rule it out? Their team looks good, if not exactly deep. They even gave the Cubans a hard time last night (though Cuba got a clutch 3-run homer and thus assured itself of moving on to the next round).

Even Italy2 pulled off an upset, beating Canada (though not advancing). And Chinese Beijing won its first WBC game, and has some players who look like they might have a shot on this side of the Pacific.

The world of baseball is looking good. And the final Netherlands-DR game and last night’s Cuba-Australia game were as tense and exciting as anything I could hope for over the coming regular MLB season. Too bad that, after this tournament ends, we have to wait four years for the next one.

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1. Many of the Dutch players are from the Netherlands Antilles (Aruba and Curacao–don’t they play baseball on Bonaire?), and a few are Americans with perhaps somewhat tenuous connections to their family’s European roots. Yet several are directly from the European country whose name the team bears. Regarding that pitching, remember these names: Tom Stuifbergen, Alexander Smit, Rob Cordemas, Dennis Neuman, Diegomar Markwell and Leon Boyd. (And not to be forgotten: Sidney Ponson.)

2. While still featuring several Italian-Americans (e.g. Nick Punto) and even a Venezuelan (the country name means Little Venice, after all!), there seem to be more Italian-born players who actually play in Italy’s professional leagues than at WBC ’06.

Major leaguers in the WBC

Who would have guessed that the number of major league regulars on a roster would be such a poor predictor of how well a team would do in the World Baseball Classic?

WBC-MLB.jpg

The graph (click the image for a larger version) shows the number of major leagers plotted against the winning percentage of each team, through the semifinals. The two teams that will play in the finals, Japan and Cuba, are clearly at the far low end in major league talent. The two teams with the most major leaguers, USA and Venezuela, were just .500 in the tournament. The Dominican Republic, the team with the next highest number of major leaguers, was in the final four, but lost to Cuba, which has no major leaguers, in the semifinal.

For all sixteen teams, the number of major league regulars (MLR) is positively related to winning percentage, at just over 90% confidence. Each additional MLR contributes .012 to the winning percentage (W-pct), with a standard error of .007, and a t-score of 1.84.

However, the positive relationship is thanks only to such hapless teams as South Africa, Australia and the two Chinas.

When only the eight teams that escaped the first round (those whose names are underlined in the graph) are included in the analysis, the sign on MLR actually turns negative: Each additional MLR reduces W-pct by -.0058. This result, however, would be significant only at 80% confidence (which ought to be good enough for WBC blogging: standard error is .0039, t=-1.49).

How is a “major-league regular” defined? Simply. I looked at the rosters and identified the players I knew were in a starting lineup or rotation, were regular relievers, or back-up players who spent most of 2005 on a major-league roster, and players expected to be major-league regulars in 2006. It is unlikely that others with identical or better knowledge of major-league rosters would come up with materially different numbers, although the interest reader is invited to try.

Cuba to the final!

I just returned from the Cuba-DR semifinal game. And what a game! Another close one. Cuba won, 3-1, to secure a place in the final Monday, against either Japan or South Korea. The game was 0-0 till the Dominicans scored an unearned run in the 6th. After a dominating start by Bartolo Colon of the Angels, Cuba broke through off Odalis Perez (of the other LA team), Solomon Torres, and Julian Tavarez with a three-run seventh.

Cuba got terrific pitching from Yadel Marti (4 1/3) and Pedro Luis Lazo (4 2/3). Both have very distinctive windups. Marti’s style is something I have never seen before. He kicks the leg up (not very high, but abruptly), then holds it there for a moment (a bit like Akinori Otsuka), and then sort of corkscrews back a bit before turning forward to deliver the pitch. However, he got into considerable trouble with some wildness in a first inning that he looked like he might not escape. The rest of his time in the game he pitched only from the stretch. Lazo has a nice assortment of pitches, including a very hard fastball, whereas Marti seems to be much more of a finesse pitcher. Lazo pitched out of a first-and-third, no out, jam in the 6th, allowing just the one unearned run, depite facing the “muderers row” of Miguel Tejada, Albert Pujols (who grounded into a fielder’s choice in which the runner at third was out in a rundown), David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre (who was safe on a bobble and overthrow by second baseman Yuliesky Gouriel), and Moises Alou.

Cuba’s rally began on consecutive infield singles by Gouriel and Elier Sanchez, an RBI ground out, two singles (which actually made it to the outfield grass), and a sacrifice fly.

I could watch this kind of baseball all the time. Dominant pitching, great infield defense (Cuba made three errors, but also some excellent plays). Lots of aggressive (but not reckless) baserunning, hit-and-run plays, and only two balls hit to even medium depth in the outfield the entire game by either side.

It was a great atmosphere, with a crowd about evenly divided in its rooting interest, and including many Cuban- and Dominican-Americans. Most of the crowd stayed long enough to watch the Cuban players celebrate on the field and to salute them as they headed back to their dugout.

The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by Juan Marichal. And, yes, he delivered it with his trademark high leg kick (though perhaps not quite as high as when he was younger).

WBC run differentials

Corrected (nothing major, except that my previous errors understated Korea’s success)

Just some interesting quick calculations here. Three games in a round, or six overall, are not a lot to go by in terms of judging who is “better.” Run differentials can give us a little more leverage (though only a little more).

For the four teams in the semi-finals, runs by and runs against, in the second round:

Cuba, 14-12
DR, 10-11
Korea, 11-5
Japan, 10-7

For the round 2 losers:
PR, 10-11
Ven, 9-9
USA, 8-12
Mex, 5-8

So, the “right” teams won, by run differential (although the DR and PR can’t be distinguished this way, as both were a run over even).

Over the whole tournament–slightly less useful, as teams play different set of opponents, depending on their first-run pool:

Cuba, 35-32
DR, 35-23
PR, 32-17
Ven, 22-20

Note that Puerto Rico, which was in the same pool with Cuba, was a good deal better in the first round, but could not sustain that edge in round 2. Cuba and the DR, who meet in a semifinal, were not in the same first-round pool.

Korea, 26-8
Japan, 44-15
USA, 33-20
Mex, 23-16

Wow, the Korea and, especially, Japan differentials are huge! It helped that they had the two Chinas as opponents, of course, but it could be a small warning sign for Korea–undefeated so far–that they managed only 26 runs over the six games. You can’t argue with that pitching, however! The USA total is increased by the 17-0 drubbing of South Africa.

It looks like Japan should be favored against Korea, based on performance against the same set of opponents through the first two rounds. Of course, it’s decided in one game, so don’t place any wagers based on this information. Cuba vs. DR is harder to handicap. Of course, DR is loaded with major-leaguers, and has the better tournament differential, and for these reasons should be the favorite. On the other hand, they played different opponents in the first round, so the data are less meaningful. Moreover, all four teams in the San Juan pool in round 2 were virtually even. It should be a fun (albeit rather wet and cool) weekend in San Diego!

WBC: Yet another tight game to close out pool play

How incredible that every game that decided a slot in the semifinals of the WBC was a low-scoring one-run game! It doesn’t get any better than this!

The “slugfest” in the group was the Cubans’ 4-3 win over Puerto Rico in San Juan. All the others were by the score of 2-1: Dominican Republic over Venezuela in San Juan, Korea over Japan in Anaheim, and Mexico over USA in Anaheim. The Mexico-USA game put Japan in the semifinal on the tiebreaker rules, deservedly.

The semifinals will be Korea vs. Japan and Cuba vs. Dominican Republic.