Lets preview the latest (and possibly final) iteration of the World Baseball Classic (WBC). Its set to run March 6th-March 22nd. Official site here, wikipedia site here with schedules, and another wiki site here with rosters.
First, some editorialization. I have a love/hate relationship with this event.
- I love the attempt to create a global tournament for Baseball. It can only help promote the game.
- I love the nationalism displayed by *some* of the teams. The pride that players from the D.R. and other latin countries display, as well as the Far East teams, is fantastic.
- I love the concept; to emulate a World Cup, to have an event where the best of the best play and compete.
However, I have some things about the WBC that I don’t like;
- I hate how USA players in particular don’t rate the tournament; why aren’t the best players for the US playing? I’m talking about you Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as a start.
- I hate the timing; why is this event in the middle of Spring Training? Why wouldn’t you put it at the END of the season as FIFA does with the World Cup?
- As a side effect of the timing … I therefore hate how most pros treat this as another Spring Training game, coming out after a few innings or only pitching a couple of innings. It detracts from the competition.
- I rather dislike the “manufactured” teams; why create a fake team for Italy based mostly on players with Italian sounding names? Same for Israel and to an extent the Netherlands just collecting Caribbean players of Dutch origin.
- I think the decision by the Cuban government to prevent defectors from representing their team kind of defeats the purpose of the event and prevents the creation of what could have been a very talented team.
(Related to the Cuba rant; I’m working on a separate post that i’ve done in the past postulating on just what a combined Cuban team might look like).
Here’s a look at the pools and offer some predictions.
Round 1: Held at four sites between March 6th and March 12th: four 4-team mini tournaments with the top 2 from each group advancing.
- Pool A: hosted in Seoul, South Korea. Teams: South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Israel.
Thoughts: The South Korean team is mostly KBO League players, but its an under-rated squad and will draw energy by playing at home. The Netherlands squad has a ton of really good players, mostly from Curacao. The Israeli team is also filled with MLB players, but they’re mostly role players. The Chinese Taipei team is the most intriguing, being mostly Taiwan based and possibly suffering from some internal political conflict issues. Still, its hard to see the Netherlands team being beat.
Predictions for Advancers: South Korea, Netherlands
- Pool B: hosted in Tokyo, Japan. Teams: Japan, Cuba, China, Australia
Thoughts: There’s little chance the Japanese team doesn’t advance, as the other three teams all have issues. The Australian team draws mostly from its internal weaker league, nobody knows anything about the China league, and the Cuban league (as noted above) has been significantly weakened through hundreds of defections over the last few years. Plus Cuba has had to travel thousands of miles to compete against 3 teams playing in their same time zone. Still, Cuban baseball is Cuban Baseball, and I think they’ll find a way to advance.
Predictions for Advancers: Japan, Cuba
- Pool C: hosted in Miami, FL. Teams: USA, Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia
Thoughts: Its easy to just say USA and DR here; clearly the two best teams on paper. But as noted above the USA isn’t exactly sending a roster of its best available players, and thus an upstart team of talented players like Columbia could easily pull off an upset. The Columbian rotation looks like it could be better than the USA’s (led by Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana) and a hot pitcher can take a team far. Canada looks like a stronger version of Australia; some MLB players but a lot of role players and thinner pitching. The DR sends a strong team as always and is my prediction to win and repeat.
Predictions for Advancers: USA, DR.
- Pool D: hosted in Guadalajara, Mexico Teams: Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Italy
Thoughts: I can’t see the talented and nationalistic Mexican team falling here; they’re going to be a tough out for anyone who plays them. The Italian team will again be a collection of MLB scrubs whose names end in a vowel. So the second spot goes to the winner of a Venezuela-PR battle; both teams look strong but Venezuela seems to have better depth.
Predictions for Advancers: Mexico, Venezuela
We’ll post again once the first rounds are done to revisit these predictions, because the 2nd rounds could feature groups where any of the 4 teams could advance. In fact the 2nd round match-ups look very tough.