The World Baseball Classic is scheduled to begin early next month. This will represent the fourth such tournament, Japan having won the first two, followed by a victory by the Dominican Republic the last time around. While the United States has yet to win, they bring more talent than the rest of the countries represented.
The 16 participating countries officially named their rosters last week, accounting for a total of 226 position players and 321 pitchers from 16 countries. Not all the players will necessarily play, of course. With a view to limiting workload, teams have been permitted to name pitchers who might appear in later rounds of the tournament, even if they’re absent from the first — the idea being to protect players who haven’t benefited from spring training before the start of their respective professional league. There are four Asian countries participating in the tournament, for example — China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — and a number of their players play at a fairly high professional level. Other teams like Australia, Israel, and Italy feature fewer MLB-type players on their rosters, naturally. Even so, there’s still a great deal of talent in the tournament — something which we can identify in the projections.
Of the 226 position players in the tournament, a Steamer projection is available for 133. Of those 133 players, 86 earn a forecast for replacement-level production or better in 2017. Nor does that account for the talent in the various Asian leagues. In other words: despite the presence of countries in which baseball is less popular, it’s still probably fair to estimate that close to half of the position players participating in the WBC will be of MLB caliber. In terms of the talent level for which we have available projections, the U.S. has a decent advantage.
The U.S. has a 50% advantage over the second-place Dominican Republic, with Venezuela and Puerto Rico placing not too far behind. The Netherlands — thanks to a combination of Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Jonathan Schoop, and Andrelton Simmons — also figure to bring up a decent amount of MLB value. When we account for the number of players, and factor in the likelihood that starters will receive the bulk of the playing time, the gap between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. shrinks.
Here, as an illustration of that, is the average projected WAR per player on each roster:
|Team||Players||2017 Projected WAR||AVG WAR|
The United States, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico are all bringing full rosters of MLB players, while the Netherlands (as noted) is bringing some and Canada, Colombia, Israel, Italy, and Mexico all feature a handful each. The top players are presented in the chart below.
|Manny Machado||Dominican Republic||6.0|
|Francisco Lindor||Puerto Rico||5.0|
|Carlos Correa||Puerto Rico||4.6|
|Adrian Beltre||Dominican Republic||4.1|
|Robinson Cano||Dominican Republic||3.6|
Manny Machado leads the way with Mike Trout not participating. Machado’s 6-WAR projection is behind only Trout among position players, and the top-14 players in the chart above all place among the top-30 projections. On the pitching side, the gap between the U.S. and Dominican Republic is even smaller, while Mexico’s rotation looks pretty strong, as well.
On the individual level, projection darling Jose De Leon takes the top spot when his stats are projected across 200 innings. After De Leon, we see many of the best starting pitchers in baseball.
|Jose De Leon||Puerto Rico||4.2|
|Johnny Cueto||Dominican Republic||3.9|
|Carlos Martinez||Dominican Republic||3.7|
|Luis Severino||Dominican Republic||3.2|
|Ivan Nova||Dominican Republic||3.0|
If this were a true playoff, we might wonder if Jose Quintana could power Colombia to a few surprising wins or consider whether Julio Urias and Jaime Garcia might put together some back to back gems to put Mexico in the medal hunt. Starting pitching is likely to be the element that least resembles the MLB regular season or playoffs. In 2013, pitchers were limited to 65 pitches in a first-round outing, 80 pitches in a second-round outing, and 95 pitches in the semifinals and finals. Presuming the same limits are intact, it would be more difficult for a surprise dominant outing by a starter to impact the entire series. That could serve to make the bullpens pretty important. Here is how they stack up.
And here are the top relievers overall by projection:
|Dellin Betances||Dominican Republic||1.7|
|Edwin Diaz||Puerto Rico||1.2|
|Jeurys Familia||Dominican Republic||0.9|
|Seung Hwan Oh||S Korea||0.9|
Last year, I looked at the talent level in the All-Star Game and found that the average second-half projection for the roughly 60 All-Stars was right around 1.5 — or, pretty close to 3 WAR over the course of a full season. If we look at the roughly 60 players on the U.S. and Dominican Republic teams, we see full-season projections right around 2.2 WAR. The numbers for both the All-Star Game and the WBC are dragged down a bit by the number of relievers. So while the U.S. and Dominican Republic rosters seem to fall a bit shy of the sort one might find in the All-Star Game, those figures are still solid. The Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela add another 60 players with average projections around 1.5. If we leave out the bullpen, the U.S. and Dominican Republic feature full teams averaging around 3 WAR per player, with Puerto Rico and Venezuela fielding full teams of average players at every position, something most MLB teams find very difficult to do.
While we can’t say for sure how the WBC will play out and while the timing of the event means players might be a little less than their best, in terms of talent, the collection is fantastic. This post is not meant to slight the Asian or Cuban teams, whose top professionals most often play outside of MLB, but trying to fit a translation into the projection would have unduly muddied any gains to be had by that analysis. Before we go, here’s one last chart showing the best projections for each team.
|Best Position Player||Best Starter||Best Reliever|
|US||Giancarlo Stanton||Chris Archer||Andrew Miller|
|DR||Manny Machado||Johnny Cueto||Dellin Betances|
|VEN||Miguel Cabrera||Felix Hernandez||Edubray Ramos|
|PR||Francisco Lindor||Jose De Leon||Edwin Diaz|
|MEX||Khris Davis||Julio Urias||Roberto Osuna|
|COL||Dilson Herrera||Jose Quintana||Greg Nappo|
|NED||Andrelton Simmons||Jair Jurjjens||Kenley Jansen|
|ISR||Ty Kelly||Scott Feldman||Dylan Axelrod|
|CAN||Freddie Freeman||Andrew Albers||John Axford|
|AUS||Allan de San Miguel||Tim Atherton||Liam Hendriks|
|S KOR||Shin-Soo Choo||NA||Seung-Hwan Oh|
|ITA||Francisco Cervelli||NA||Tiago da Silva|
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.