The Dominican Republic became the first team in WBC history to go undefeated (8-0) after defeating Puerto Rico.
After 18 straight days of games, shocking upsets and one dominating team performance, it is time to put a final bow on the 2013 World Baseball Classic by handing out individual awards for the players who shined during the event.
The Dominican Republic proved itself to be the best team very early on after sleepwalking its way to a 3-0 mark in Pool C. The group, led by New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, never let up and finished its impressive run with a 3-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the championship game.
At 8-0, the Dominican squad became the first in the brief history of the WBC to go undefeated en route to capturing its first title in this event.
Japan had won the World Baseball Classic the first two times it was played (2006, 2009). It was in contention to win for a third time, but Puerto Rico's surprise 3-1 win in the semifinals meant we would have a new champion.
Unlike the long Major League Baseball season, where more often than not it becomes clear who will win the major awards (MVP, Manager of the Year, Cy Young, etc.), there is a much smaller sample size by which to judge things, leaving things wide open.
So, as a final wrap for the World Baseball Classic this year, here are our picks for the very best of the best.
All WBC stats courtesy of WorldBaseballClassic.com
Puerto Rico's Edwin Rodriguez pushed all the right buttons for his team in this event.
|1. Edwin Rodriguez, Puerto Rico|
|2. Hensley Meulens, Netherlands|
|3. Tony Pena, Dominican Republic|
Why Rodriguez deserved to win
Highlighting the difference a manager can make for a team, especially in a sample size of just nine games, is very hard to do. Even over the course of 162 games, the best managers are worth an extra win or two.
But it became clear as the event went on that Rodriguez had a terrific handle on his team, especially given the restrictions—mainly in the pitching department—that everyone is faced with during The Classic.
Rodriguez managed his bullpen in spectacular fashion, even finding a way to use Fernando Cabrera late in games where so many big-league managers have been unable to do so for nearly a decade.
Even some of Rodriguez's decisions with pinch hitters turned out better than he could have imagined. Having Luis Figueroa pinch hit for Andy Gonzalez in the eighth inning of a 4-2 game against Venezuela with two men on worked beautifully, as Figueroa hit a two-run double to make it 6-2.
The Netherlands was the surprise team of the event, making it to the semifinals before getting upended by the Dominican Republic. Meulens certainly has a good argument to be made, especially since his team didn't have as much talent as Puerto Rico.
Ultimately, the choice came down to which skipper made the better tactical decisions throughout this event. No one was better at that in The Classic than Rodriguez.
In his first WBC appearance, Ibata hit .556 in six games.
Award given to player making first appearance in World Baseball Classic
|1. Kenta Maeda, SP, Japan|
|2. Hirokazu Ibata, 1B/DH, Japan|
|3. Michael Saunders, OF, Canada|
World Baseball Classic Stats
Maeda: 3 GS, 2-1, 15.0 IP, 0.60 ERA, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 18 K
Ibata: 6 G, 10-for-18 (.556/.652/.611), 1 2B, 4 RBI, 6 Runs, 5 BB, 3 K
Saunders: 3 G, 8-for-11 (.727/.769/1.273), 3 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 4 Runs, 2 BB, 1 K
Why Maeda deserved to win
The race for the top rookie in the World Baseball Classic was incredibly close, with very little separating the three candidates.
Saunders wound up coming in third just because he had the smallest sample size to judge. That is a function of the team that was around him, not his performance, but if you can add value over six games, as Ibata did, that holds more weight.
Having two teammates at the top of the ballot might seem like overkill, as there were plenty of other candidates to choose from, but when you look at what Ibata was able to do in six games, especially for a Japan team that was inconsistent on offense this whole tournament, he deserves some recognition.
Maeda gets the nod over Saunders and Ibata for two reasons. First, he was clearly the best starting pitcher from the beginning of The Classic all the way through to the end. Chien-Ming Wang was close, but Maeda started one more game, allowed four fewer hits and had 15 more strikeouts.
Plus, Maeda performed well against strong competition. He struck out nine hitters from the Netherlands in just five innings of work on March 10. It was a stellar debut performance for the 24-year-old right-hander.
Samuel Deduno has been wallowing in the Twins' farm system, but he was sensational for the Dominican Republic.
|BREAKOUT STARS OF 2013 WBC|
|1. Samuel Deduno, SP, Dominican Republic|
|2. Jose Abreu, 1B/DH, Cuba|
|3. Hiram Burgos, SP/RP, Puerto Rico|
What Deduno did
3 GS, 2-0, 13.0 IP, 0.69 ERA, 11 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 17 K, 1.23 WHIP
Minnesota Twins pitcher Samuel Deduno has spent the bulk of his career battling control problems that kept his electric arm in the minor leagues for the better part of six years from 2005-11. He finally got a real shot with the team last season, posting a 4.44 ERA in 79 innings. He also walked 53 hitters and gave up 10 home runs.
Even though Deduno hasn't suddenly figured it out, he was able to showcase why the Twins are reluctant to entirely give up on the 29-year-old. He was incredible for the Dominican Republic throughout the WBC, even winning the championship game against Puerto Rico.
What Abreu did
6 G, 9-for-25 (.360/.385/.760), 1 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 5 K, 19 Total Bases
Even though some people have been trying foolishly to draw comparisons between Abreu and fellow Cuban export Yoenis Cespedes, the slugging first baseman showcased his power in this event.
The big blast of the event came off Abreu's bat, when he hit a grand slam against China to invoke the mercy rule.
What Burgos did
3 G, 1-0, 13.0 IP, 0.69 ERA, 12 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 12 K, 1.23 WHIP
Burgos was a breakout star in the Milwaukee Brewers' system last year, posting a 1.95 ERA and striking out 153 with just 128 hits, eight home runs and 49 walks allowed in 171 innings pitched across three levels.
Despite not making the Brewers rotation out of spring training (h/t Brewers director of media relations Mike Vassallo), the 25-year-old continued his upward trajectory with a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic as a long reliever.
If you had the Netherlands making it to the WBC semifinals in your bracket pool, you probably won a big prize.
Prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic, the Netherlands had won three games total in this tournament. Its biggest win was a 2-1 victory over the Dominican Republic in 2009.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Netherlands put everything together for one of the most impressive runs in this year's Classic. With no expectations in Pool B, this team used strong pitching against Korea and Australia to make it to the second round.
Being put in Pool 1, with powerhouse teams like Cuba, Japan and Chinese Taipei, everything pointed to Netherlands running out of magic. Instead, thanks to an impressive offensive showing, the Dutch made it to the championship round thanks to a thrilling comeback-win against Cuba.
Some would say that the Netherlands' victory over Cuba in Pool 2 was the best game of this whole tournament. It was a great back-and-forth showdown between two teams fighting for their WBC lives.
Netherlands took a 2-0 lead over Cuba in the bottom of the third inning; Cuba responded with two runs in the top of the fourth, only to see Netherlands get the lead back with two in the bottom half of the inning. Cuba rallied to tie the game 4-4 in the top of the fifth.
Cuba took its first lead of the game in the top of the eighth thanks to an RBI single by Yasmany Tomas and sacrifice fly by Eriel Sanchez. Andrelton Simmons tied things up with a two-run homer in the bottom half of the eighth and got a walk-off sacrifice fly by Kalian Sams.
Netherlands secured a spot in the championship round thanks to that win, but Japan won Pool 2 thanks to a head-to-head victory over the Dutch. Going against the Dominican Republic in the semifinal game was the final nail in the coffin for the Dutch.
But considering the lack of depth this team had, especially on its pitching staff, no one expected Netherlands to do anything. It wound up being just one win away from playing in the championship game.
He might be an icon for his work with the New York Yankees, but Joe Torre had a bad WBC.
The arrogance of the United States when it comes to sports is unmatched by any other country in the world. If something goes wrong for America, the media have to devour it by talking about how it failed instead of someone else succeeding.
That being said, looking at the expectations for the U.S. at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, you can't consider its second-round exit to be anything but a failure.
However, instead of blaming the entire team for falling short, the finger of disapproval should be pointed directly at manager Joe Torre. He has four championships for his work with the Yankees, but he horribly mismanaged a roster that seemed like it was impossible to screw up.
Before we dive too deep, there was some talk about how the United States lost because its best players weren't taking part in the WBC.
That's garbage. The Dominican Republic just went 8-0 without players like Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Starlin Castro or David Ortiz in the lineup.The Netherlands only had Jurickson Profar for one game. Yu Darvish didn't pitch for Japan this year.
Where the United States failed was in team strategy. Going over the original starting lineup for the first game against Mexico, Team USA had nine big leaguers who hit 214 home runs combined last season.
Boasting that kind of power in the lineup, which no other country could match, why was Adam Jones sacrifice bunting with nobody out and runners on first and second in the second inning of a scoreless game against Canada?
Torre let the worldwide style of play dictate the way he managed, rather than taking advantage of what his team did better than anyone else.
Lineup construction was also an issue. Jimmy Rollins, who had a .316 on-base percentage last season, was leading off. Joe Mauer, who would have been much better suited to leading off since he gets on base, was hitting in the middle of the lineup. Giancarlo Stanton, the best pure power hitter in baseball right now, was hitting seventh.
It was a bad event for the United States made even worse by Torre's horribly misguided tactical decisions.
Kenta Maeda proved himself to be the best pitcher in the WBC this year with a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings.
|1. Kenta Maeda, SP, Japan|
|2. Hiram Burgos, RP, Puerto Rico|
|3. Danny Betancourt, SP, Cuba|
Maeda: 3 GS, 2-1, 15.0 IP, 0.60 ERA, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 18 K, 0.60 WHIP
Burgos: 3 G, 1-0, 13.0 IP, 0.69 ERA, 12 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 12 K, 1.23 WHIP
Betancourt: 2 GS, 2-0, 10.2 IP. 0.00 ERA, 4 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 0.66 WHIP
Why Maeda deserves to win
Maeda and Betancourt came out of Pool A, so there was no variance in competition for the two pitchers right out of the gate. Even though Betancourt didn't allow a run in The Classic, he also had one less start and didn't face an offense as good as Puerto Rico's.
Burgos had a great event coming out of the bullpen as a long reliever for the surprising Puerto Rican team. There is a real argument to be made in his favor, especially since he started out pitching against powerhouse lineups in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic in Pool C.
Where Maeda separated himself from the rest of the pack was in his last game against Puerto Rico in the semifinals. He was the hard-luck loser in that game, giving up his only run of the WBC on four hits while striking out three in five innings of work.
Factoring that in with the level of dominance he showed in his first two starts—14 strikeouts, two hits, zero runs in 10 innings—Maeda was the best pitcher in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He also led all pitchers in innings pitched (15.0).
Robinson Cano, always a leading candidate for AL MVP, proved himself to be the best player in the 2013 WBC.
|1. Robinson Cano, 2B, Dominican Republic|
|2. David Wright, 3B, United States|
|3. Carlos Santana, C, Dominican Republic|
Cano: 8 G, 15-for-32 (.469/.514/.781), 4 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6 Runs, 3 BB, 7 K, 25 Total Bases
Wright: 4 G, 7-for-16 (.438/.526/.750), 2 2B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 4 Runs, 3 BB, 0 K, 12 Total Bases
Santana: 8 G, 6-for-22 (.273/.484/.591), 1 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 5 Runs, 9 BB, 6 K, 13 Total Bases
Why Cano deserved award
Unlike last year's never-ending American League MVP debate, there was no question about who the best player in this year's World Baseball Classic was.
Robinson Cano used that gorgeous left-handed swing to finish ninth in batting average, 18th in on-base percentage and eighth in slugging percentage. No one ahead of him in the last two categories played in more than six games. He also led all players with 25 total bases.
The Dominican lineup was stacked around Cano, with Santana, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez also having big-time performances. But the Yankees second baseman was clearly the standout player in the bunch.
Wright would have had a great case for the MVP of the 2013 World Baseball Classic if he had played more. He played in half the games that Cano did, so he was knocked down a couple of pegs.
Santana's average dropped a bit in the last two games, but when you are a catcher getting on base and slugging at the rate he did, you deserve to be mentioned in the MVP category.
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