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|
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:
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.