World Baseball Classic: Has it Affected the 2009 Season?

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World Baseball Classic: Has it Affected the 2009 Season?
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

It's bad for baseball! It interferes with spring training! There's no good time to do it! No one cares!

Valid or not, these are the arguments we've heard during the last two World Baseball Classics, both won by Japan. 

Some players opted out of the March tournament, while others felt the opportunity to represent their country was too great to pass up.

Many MLB fans, however, didn't want their club's players in it. Many worried about injuries or lack of preparation for the 2009 season.  

But has it had a negative impact on this season thus far? At the unofficial halfway point of the season, let's take a look.

 

 

Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter—Team USA Shortstops

Rollins' struggles have been well-documented this season. 

While he has turned it around the last couple weeks before the All-Star break, Phillies fans had to wonder if he would ever break out of his slump. He's currently hitting .229, which is quite a step up from the .205 clip from only two weeks ago.

But can we attribute this slow start to the Classic? 

Probably not, considering he hit .417 for Team USA with a stellar 1.250 OPS.

Maybe the break from the routine of spring training could be blamed, but it's doubtful that would last as long as it did.

If any of the Team USA shortstops could use the WBC as an excuse, it would be Jeter, who technically was not the starter for the team. But Jeter has been putting up numbers that have earned him the starting spot in for the AL in the All-Star Game.

With 10 home runs, he is on pace to top his totals from each of the past five years.  Although the new ballpark may have a bit to do with this (eight of 10 have been hit at home), the rest of his numbers are on pace with his recent career averages. His strikeouts are also down this year.

Conclusion: Conspiracy theorists can attribute Rollins' struggles to The WBC, but I'm not buying. It hasn't seemed to affect Jeter, either.

 

 

Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, and Ted Lilly—Team USA Starting Pitchers

Peavy struggled mightily in the Classic. In two starts, he pitched five innings and allowed eight earned runs.

He also stumbled out of the gate in April, but brought his ERA down under 4.00 before landing on the DL. And it was an ankle injury, which is doubtful to have had anything to do with the WBC.

Oswalt and Lilly didn't so well for Team USA either. Both had ERA's over 5.00.

With this kind of starting pitching, it's surprising Team USA even made it to the semifinals.

Roy Oswalt has been...well, Roy Oswalt. His 3.85 ERA is up a bit over the last couple years, but his BAA and strikeout numbers are right around his recent averages.

Lilly, however, has been an All-Star pitcher for the Cubs this season. In 119 innings, Lilly has nine wins, 101 K's, and a 3.18 ERA. He's been the ace of the Cubs staff, which was not expected of him.

Conclusion: The Classic may have affected Peavy's start a bit, but it hasn't seemed to made a difference to Oswalt or Lilly.

 

 

Heath Bell and J.J. Putz—Team USA Relief Pitchers

Putz, one the Mets' big-name free-agent signings this past offseason, was effective as Team USA's closer. He saved one game and had an ERA of 3.00 in three appearances.

Putz was up and down the first two months of the season. Then it came crashing down hard in early June. 

Putz gave up 2 or more runs in three straight starts before landing on the DL. He had surgery on his right elbow and is not expected back until August.

Bell had something to prove going into this season. He was taking over for future Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman as closer for San Diego.

One would think he would want to be with his Padres teammates going into such a crucial season in his career, but he elected to represent Team USA. 

He didn't exactly help though. He posted a 7.36 ERA and a 1.91 WHIP in four appearances.

But his poor performance in the Classic hasn't made a difference. Bell has converted 23-of-24 save opportunities to go along with a 1.69 ERA and is representing the National League in the All-Star Game.

Conclusion: Maybe the WBC impacted Putz's elbow, but it hasn't made a difference this season for Bell.

Geovany Soto, Yadier Molina, and Ivan Rodriguez—Team Puerto Rico Catchers

Yes, all three of these catchers were on the same team in March. 

In my opinion, that's a problem. If a team is going to carry three catchers, the third catcher does not need to be at the talent level of these players. If an injury occurs, then a solid replacement could be brought in. 

Until then, let one of these guys play in spring training with their ball club. In fact, this should be the case with all loaded positions in which star players don't get to play and managers have to manage like they are in the All-Star Game, trying to get everyone even playing time.

Regardless, all three of these guys shared time and catcher, with Pudge catching most of the games.

Soto, last year's NL Rookie of the Year, hit only .231 in the WBC and his struggles have continued this season for the Cubs.

Sophomore slump? Maybe. 

Lack of preparation due to sitting the bench for Puerto Rico? Possibly.

Molina also struggled and only played in three games. However, Molina is starting behind the plate for the National League in the All-Star Game and earned it. 

Rodriguez did not have a Major League home in March. His impressive WBC helped him get signed by the Astros. 

Conclusion: The Classic might have had a negative impact on Soto, but he shouldn't have been on the team if he wasn't going to play. Yadier and Pudge have seemingly benefited/not been negatively affected.

 

 

Javier Vazquez—Team Puerto Rico Starting Pitcher

Vazquez, traded to Atlanta prior to this season, dominated in his two starts with Puerto Rico.  In 9.1 innings, he was 2-0, allowed only one run, and walked only one batter.

Vazquez has been impressive for the Braves as well. He has a sick 136/23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an ERA under 3.00. He's done everything the Braves have asked, and more.

Conclusion:  Nothing wrong here.

 

 

Diasuke Matsuzaka—Team Japan Starting Pitcher

Dice-K, the MVP of the Classic, was 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 13 K's in 14 IP.

However, his season with the Red Sox has not been even close to MVP-worthy.

He has pitched only 35 innings due to "shoulder problems" and has a 8.23 ERA.

The WBC didn't seem to affect him three years ago though. I think all of the innings he's pitched over his career might finally have caught up to him this year.

Conclusion: You could make the case for blaming the WBC for Dice-K's problems, but I'm not so sure.

 

 

Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, and Dan Haren

These are just three of the names that elected not to participate in the WBC in the spring. 

Whether it would have had an impact on their seasons, we'll never know. But you can bet that with the numbers they have put up in the first half, they'll think twice about participating next time around as well.

What a rotation that would have been for Team USA though!

 

 

Conclusion

It's impossible to replay the past and see what would have happened if any of these players had not participated in the WBC. But, for the most part, it does not seem to have been a bad thing. Particularly some pitchers, who many worry about with pitch counts, seem to have actually had better seasons than expected thus far.

As a big baseball fan, I would like to see the WBC someday become on the same level as the World Cup with the increased global expansion of the game. 

It's understandable why players and MLB front offices would be wary of participating in such an event, but it will never be fully embraced by fans until it's embraced by all of Major League Baseball.

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