Monday, March 23, 2009

The WBC - A Debriefing

It has been often stated in this space about the lack of feeling there is for the WBC. Bud Selig, of course, promotes the tournament as one of his legacies. And to be fair, interest around the world has been high and the games have been popular with the countries that participated. Now that it is nearly over, let's debrief a little bit about the "Classic" and the Fan will attempt to be as fair as possible.

First, a lot can be learned from what is said by players themselves. Carlos Lee complained about the pressure he faced into playing the tournament. Chipper Jones complained about the spacing of games. Yet, players for various countries, including those with major leaguers, called playing in the games an honor. So the reaction is mixed.

Secondly, the Classic is a nightmare of major proportions for MLB managers and team executives. Not only can they not evaluate players that are missing, but they cannot get into any kind of rhythm when half of a double-play combination is missing or a starting catcher. Team coaches such as pitching and batting coaches cannot first hand assess mechanics of players that are away and so errors may creep in that take weeks to overcome. And the worst part for managers, coaches and executives is the lack of oversight they have on how their players are used. The Mets could not have been impressed when early in the tournament, their new closer was used in a pressure-packed four out save.

Then there are insurance issues that kept several players from competing. It would be surprising that ANY teams that have insurance on players they hold would be allowed to use those players for anything other than MLB.

There is research that has shown that pitchers in the tournament suffer problems in the first month of the MLB season. Players such as Kevin Youkilis and David Wright were injured during play and those players are extremely important to the chances of their respective teams.

Then there is the times the games have been played. Who wants to watch pseudo-baseball at 11 P. M. on the East Coast? The pitchers, in deference to MLB teams, can only pitch three or four innings which means an inconsistent game where a team starts great and then gets blown out by the bullpen.

There is also an uneven approach to how countries play the tournament. It was highly obvious that the Japanese contingent had a much better scouting report than the Americans did. Give credit to the Japanese, but unless a team is all in, why compete?

The final straw, as far as the Fan is concerned, is that the manager of a country's team is hamstrung by constraints in how they use their players. They can't just go all out to win a game. They have to start Jeter at shortstop occasionally when Rollins is definitely the better fielder (boy it hurt to type that). They have to give all pitchers regular work when doing so might be detrimental to the team's chances. Davey Johnson will get a lot of flack, but he was somewhat powerless in what he could and couldn't do.

The bottom line is that there is no better time of the year to hold the Classic and the time that it is held is unfair to major league teams and their managers (and to a degree, their players). Its only benefit is allowing prospects and fringe players more time to play in Spring Training to get a good look from their teams.

The golden goose that Selig has pushed so hard does not lay a golden egg. It's just an egg that is poached. We already have a World Baseball Classic. It's called Major League Baseball and the world's best baseball players already compete there.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

"Give credit to the Japanese, but unless a team is all in, why compete?"

Exactly. Japan and Korea gear up for this. The U.S. does not. All you need to do is look at the pitching staff. Ted Lilly is a 3rd or 4th starter on most MLB teams. If the U.S. were serious about winning, they'd have the best of the best. The aces of the aces. The horses. The stoppers. And they'd be in mid-season form. Not still stretching their arms out and trying to locate their fastballs.

If the U.S. is going to half ass it with its roster and its preparation, there's really no sense in even playing. But at the same time, you can't force the Sabathias and the Sizemores to play if they don't want to. There's the rub.

The pressure on the manager about playing time is also a good point. Jeter made a costly error late in yesterday's game that Rollins would not have made.

"We already have a World Baseball Classic. It's called Major League Baseball and the world's best baseball players already compete there."

Well put.