Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats


Gonzalez decides rolls the dice with his 2013 performance. Photo via Wikipedia/Flickr from user muohace_dc

Word came out over the weekend that suddenly embattled Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez has accepted an invitation to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, replacing Kris Medlen (who is anticipating having a child right around the same time).

Why is this bad news for the team?

Simply put: there’s a really bad track record for Pitchers who throw in the WBC the subsequent season, both league-wide and especially with the Nats.

Speaking just about the Nats first: Here’s a quick table showing the before and after ERA and ERA+ figures for the five Nationals pitchers who played in the first two iterations of the WBC (the “before” year is the season leading up to the WBC, while the “after” year shows performance in the season following the WBC):

WBC Yr Pitcher Name ERA before ERA After ERA+ before ERA+ after
2006 Luis Ayala 2.66 inj 153 inj
2006 Chad Cordero 1.82 3.19 225 134
2006 Gary Majewski 2.93 4.61 139 96
2009 Joel Hanrahan 3.95 4.78 109 89
2009 Saul Rivera 3.96 6.1 109 70

As you can see; every single one of our pitchers was either injured or regressed (mostly significantly) after playing in the WBC.  Ayala’s injury cost him the entire 2006 season.  I talked about this discovered phenomenon back in November, 2012 when trying to predict who may participate in the WBC (and where I actually predicted that Gonzalez would play, though the rest of my team USA predictions were wrong).

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:

  1. This July 2010 study on Fangraphs
  2. This Feb 2013 study from

The BaseballPress one shows some of the same numbers I’ve shown above, but conducts the analysis across every pitcher who participated in both WBCs.  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.  Plain and simple.

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.

In the comments section of another post, someone asked what would stop the Nats from steamrolling to the World Series this year.  I answered “rotation injuries” and “bad luck in the playoffs.”  Well, now thanks to Gonzalez we can add two more items: PED suspensions and WBC regression.

Written by Todd Boss

February 11th, 2013 at 9:45 am

10 Responses to 'Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats'

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  1. The good news to me is that the invitation to Gio join the WBC (extended by Team USA Manager Joe Torre after Medlen dropped out) tells me that MLB expects that Gio will emerge unscathed from the Biogenesis swamp. Given that Torre’s day job is rules enforcer for MLB, I can’t imagine that MLB would set itself up for a black eye by adding someone they believed was up for a PED suspension to the WBC roster.

    John C.

    11 Feb 13 at 11:36 am

  2. I agree with this comment. Gio not at risk for sanctions, just embarassment. The bigger question is why the WBC even exists, other than to allow lesser countries to strut their talent by beating down the US.


    11 Feb 13 at 1:28 pm

  3. I don’t like the WBC and wished none of our guys played in it. To me, it seems like an exhibition series, not real baseball, and only has downside. Wished they would move it to the end of the season at least, maybe with players not in the post season.


    11 Feb 13 at 1:54 pm

  4. I think I like the concept of the WBC, in as much as I really enjoy what the World Cup has become for the soccer world. But trying to establish a “World Cup” of baseball with firmly established professional leagues (and worse, one incredibly dominant one in MLB) has turned the event into the exhibition that it essentially is. In soccer, the World Cup existed long, long before the rise of professional leagues as we now know them, and thus clubs are more or less resigned to the fact that they pay the wages of players who may (and often do) get hurt while on international duty, and whose performaces on the field absolutely are affected afterwards. The worst example in Soccer is what just finished yesterday; the African Cup of Nations, an every-2 year competition that plays all-January, smack in the middle of the professional seasons. At least the World Cup and European championships are scheduled in the summer, after all the european seasons have ended.

    The NBA has a similar issue now with releasing its foreign players to play in the World Championships. Mark Cuban has been incredibly vocal on this point, correctly stating that he is paying their wages and why should he allow his pros to play elsewhere and possibly return hurt.

    Wally you are exactly right; if this event was staged in November instead of March, and was played solely in climates that were baseball-playable in November (Arizona? Florida? The Carribean?) I absolutely think we’d see fewer injuries, less concern about its affect on players, etc. Hundreds of guys play in the various winter leagues without much affect, why not stage the competition then?

    Todd Boss

    11 Feb 13 at 2:38 pm

  5. Plus, best that I can tell, the World Cup is considered bigger than the professional soccer leagues, so while the owners don’t like it, much of their fan base might react negatively to the team withholding the players services. The opposite is true here, I think. (I should caveat the above by saying that I don’t really follow soccer, so I may be easily mistaken on what the fans want to see).

    The other benefit of the winter timing for WBC is that if someone does get hurt, at least there is something of an offseason to recover, without impacting any real games. It won’t help with a catastrophic pitching injury, but will with 90% of the rest of the injuries.

    Saw that Espy asked out of playing in the WBC due to ‘continued strengthening of his shoulder’. I am happy that he isn’t playing, but I have to echo what has been said many times by everyone else: it sure doesn’t seem like a good call to avoid surgery right after last season. I wonder where the team came out on this. Do you think that they encouraged him to put it off, or whether it was his call alone? While I don’t feel great about the Nats medical staff generally, with my sense of Rizzo and especially coming off almost the exact thing with ALR in 2011, it seems like he would tell Espy to get the surgery.


    11 Feb 13 at 2:48 pm

  6. Espinosa; i’m guessing he didn’t want to lose his spot, so he hid the injury. But we have no idea how much the team knew or didn’t know. If the team knew, why not disclose it earlier? It seemed so random when the injury was announced.

    Todd Boss

    11 Feb 13 at 3:22 pm

  7. More Props to to Todd ‘options guru’ Boss over at Nats Prospects.
    Try not to get too big of a head.

    Mark L

    12 Feb 13 at 7:19 am

  8. The WBC is not an annual event, but are the players, and especially the pitchers, more likely to participate after they’ve had an unusually good year?

    Sec3 My Sofa

    12 Feb 13 at 9:13 am

  9. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a study for this. But it would seem to make sense; nobody would have even thought to invite Mike Trout a year ago; now he’d be the #1 target to play.

    It seems to me that the US team is sort of just trying to get whoever they can to play, while the foreign teams for the most part field their #1 teams (with a couple of exceptions).

    Todd Boss

    12 Feb 13 at 10:33 am

  10. The WBC is not in the interests of any individual MLB team. It is, however, in the best interests of the sport. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and all that. I have no problem with the WBC as a concept, although I do agree that it may work better if it overlapped with the Arizona Fall League instead of taking away from Spring Training.

    John C.

    12 Feb 13 at 11:58 am

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