SweetSpot: World Baseball Classic

WBC to blame for Soria's injury?

May, 13, 2009
Joakim Soria's on the DL, and as the Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger reports, Royals GM Dayton Moore thinks it might be the World Baseball Classic's fault.
    "I don't think it helps,” Moore said. "We couldn't control his work. If you can't control a pitcher's workload and you can't script their preparation during spring training, it's a problem.”

    Soria pitched only two innings for Mexico in the WBC, missing 17 days of spring training. Moore makes the point that the primary reason spring training lasts as long as it does -- close to seven weeks this year -- is to ensure teams can best prepare their pitchers for opening day.

    Pitchers who participate in the WBC miss out on that, leaving them open to underperformance or injury. The numbers back that up.

    The Star analyzed 45 pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in the big leagues last year, participated in the WBC and have pitched this season.

    As a group, their ERA jumped from 3.79 last year to 4.58 so far this season. Across baseball, ERAs are up from an average of 4.32 to 4.51.

    Seven WBC pitchers are currently or have been on the disabled list already this season -- including five for arm or shoulder injuries.

    USA Today did a similar study on the pitchers from the 2006 WBC. It found that more than one in three spent time on the disabled list and that the group's ERA jumped from an average of 3.69 to 4.37. That's an 18.4 percent increase in a year when ERAs rose 5.6 percent.

These studies are interesting, and probably a necessary step toward figuring out how pitching in the WBC affects pitchers. But it seems to me just the first step (and a fairly simplistic step at that).

What sort of pitchers pitch in the WBC? Pitchers who did particularly well in the previous season.

What do pitchers who did particularly well in the previous season tend to do? Regress toward the mean. We would expect WBC pitchers' ERAs to increase from one season to the next.

Would we expect them to increase by 18 percent, as they did three years ago? We probably would not. But that's just one year and a fairly small group of pitchers.

Would we expect WBC pitchers' ERAs to increase by 21 percent, as they have this year? We would not. But that's just five weeks of a six-month season.

I do believe that Dayton Moore's concerns are legitimate, and I suspect that baseball people are conducting rigorous analyses that go a long way toward quantifying the impact of the WBC. I don't think we've seen those analyses yet, and perhaps we never will. But if you start reading about the clubs exerting some real pressure on Major League Baseball to make real changes, you can guess that it's informed by that internal analysis.

Dice-K down, WBC out?

April, 15, 2009
Uh-oh. Looks like another headache for commissioner Bud Selig ...
    It appears that Daisuke Matsuzaka's workload leading up to and during the World Baseball Classic has caught up to him.

    The Red Sox right-hander labored through just one inning before being pulled from Tuesday night's game in Oakland with what the club diagnosed as arm fatigue.

    Matsuzaka threw 43 pitches, only 22 of which were strikes. After being staked with a 3-0 lead before even throwing a pitch, Matsuzaka gave up five hits and five runs in that one inning, walking two and striking out none. He faced 10 batters. Despite 10 shutout innings from the bullpen, the Red Sox lost, 6-5, to the A's in 12 innings.

    "We talked to him the other day," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He expressed a couple of days ago some kind of general soreness or fatigue in the back of his shoulder from the [Classic]. We thought we talked it through pretty good in Anaheim and he came out tonight and didn't really have a whole lot. We'll re-evaluate him in the morning."


    During much of Spring Training, Francona often said that there was concern that Matsuzaka and the Red Sox might eventually pay the price down the road for the righty pitching in the World Baseball Classic.

    Matsuzaka started three games in helping Team Japan defend its title, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the event. Tuesday's game was Matsuzaka's second start of the season. He wasn't particularly impressive in the first one, giving up nine hits and four runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.

    "Again, I know I'm harping on it a little bit, but I think he probably tried to ramp up too quick [for the Classic] and we're feeling the effects of it," Francona said. "We're eight games into the season, we've lost [six] games, it's not a real fun night."

There's probably just one thing that might kill the World Baseball Classic as we know it: Teams losing pennant races because pitchers who pitched in the WBC got hurt. We don't yet know how badly Dice-K is hurt, and we can't know for sure what role the WBC played in his (presumed, at the moment) injury. But the Red Sox have $100 million invested in Matsuzaka, and you can hardly blame them for being a little sensitive about that investment (let alone their chances in the pennant races this year and beyond). So we'll continue to monitor this situation.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, they're better-equipped to handle the loss of a starter than anyone else in the majors. Between Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz and John Smoltz, losing Dice-K for a few weeks or even a few months shouldn't be worse than a minor, New England-rattling disaster.