Word came out that Nats under-rated star Tanner Roark has committed to pitch for the US in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) coming up this spring. He was invited earlier but had yet to commit, and his participation comes on the heels of word that Max Scherzer would be bowing out of the WBC thanks to a stress fracture in one of his fingers. (Which, as a side note/tangent, is pretty distressing news that may be under reported; our $200M ace has a fractured knuckle?? Should we be worried? anyway, back to the post).
Four years ago, I wrote a post titled “Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats” and I’m recycling that post (and title) here, because the message is the same: This is not good news for the Nats and t heir 2017 season.
Simply put: Every Nationals pitcher who has *ever* participated in the WBC has regressed from previous performance in the season following.
Here’s a quick table showing every Nats WBC pitcher with their ERA and ERA+ the season before their WBC participation and subsequent to it:
|WBC Yr||Pitcher Name||ERA Season before||ERA season After||ERA+ season before||ERA+ season after|
As you can see; every single one of our pitchers was either injured or regressed (mostly significantly) after playing in the WBC. The worst case was Luis Ayala, who pitched against the wishes of the team and blew out his elbow on the field during the WBC. That injury cost him the entire 2006 season.
But this is just our team’s experiences. How about Baseball wide? MLB has endeavored itself to argue that participation in the WBC does not lead to an increase in injuries amongst its players and especially pitchers. But we’re not talking about injuries here; we’re talking about performance. Here are two very well done studies that show the negative impact of pitching in the WBC:
- This July 2010 study on Fangraphs
- This Feb 2013 study from BaseballPress.com
- A 2014 study at BeyondtheBoxScore that does really in-depth studies of all three WBCs that uses better numbers than I do.
The BaseballPress study shows some of the same numbers I’ve shown above, but conducts the analysis across every pitcher who participated in both WBCs prior to the 2013. And the results are pretty evident; across the board on average pitchers regressed both in the year of the WBC and in the year after. The BeyondtheBoxScore tries to do a much more scientific approach using control groups and finds less significant/trivial regression, but depends on projection systems and not year over year performance, which is kind of the point; we live in the real world, not projection systems.
It isn’t hard to figure out why these guys regress; playing in the WBC interupts the decades-old Spring Training plans for getting a starting pitcher ready for a season by slowly bringing him along in terms of innings and pitch counts. And, suddenly exposing both starters and relievers to high-leverage situations in February/March that they aren’t ready for either physically or mentally puts undue stress on these guys that (as we have seen) manifests itself later on down the road.
Nonetheless, as much as I like the WBC as a concept I think its “bad” that one of our key pitchers will be participating. At least we now know that Roark’s time may be limited thanks to new rules that allow roster augmentations. If Roark throws one 5 inning stint maybe it won’t be so bad.
I just wish the WBC would be played AFTER the season (you know, like the World Cup does it; AFTER the pro seasons have ended) instead of before it.