Even without Shohei Otani Japan is still dangerous in WBC

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Updated: February 7, 2017

The most intriguing man in international baseball will not take part in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Shohei Otani, the 22 year old super prospect who was the best pitcher AND the best hitter in Japan in 2016, will not play in the 2016 World Baseball Classic. Otani has an ankle injury which could also keep him out of Opening Day in Japan as well. At first it was thought that he would play as a designated hitter in the games, but his injuries are too much and he will instead not take part. This is a big blow to Japan, but it hasn’t changed their betting odds at this point.

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Japan announced their roster recently and they will also be without Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Kenta Maeda who were all blocked by their major league clubs from playing. In fact, the only MLB player on their roster is Norichika Aoki who doesn’t exactly strike fear into anyone. Aoki may be more of a bench player on this team.

Of course, the Japan roster is still rather formidable. Pitchers Tomoyuki Sugano, Takahiro Norimoto and Ayumu Ishikawa are all very tough and could have MLB futures. Sugano is especially interesting as he’s posted a career 2.34 ERA in the NPB and is highly regarded internationally. He should be the ace of this staff without Otani.

The Japan lineup also looks pretty formidable with 2015 NPB MVP Tetsuto Yamada, Sho Nakata and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo filling out the heart of the order.

Of course, that’s the thing about the World Baseball Classic, isn’t it? Every team is filled with people who are the best of their country. Just because these names don’t jump off the page to you, doesn’t mean that they aren’t great baseball players. Japan will make some noise in this tournament.

That said, the gold medal feels less likely than it did when we thought that Otani would play for them. Maybe this is just something to do with the hype surrounding Otani and how this tournament was being sold as a showcase for him, but it does feel like this is a huge blow for them.

Despite that, the betting odds on them haven’t changed at all. They are still +300 to win this tournament and that is a good spot for them. The Japanese style of baseball with lots of running, sacrifices and solid defense, works in a short tournament like this. If a team like the USA struggles with the bats they are done because they aren’t equipped to “manufacture” runs and cold bats when you are facing some of the best pitchers in the world is a thing that is likely to happen. That is where Japan excels and that always makes them dangerous in the WBC.

Of course, they still have to get past the Dominican Republic who are still the favorite to win this thing. Some of the best players in the world are from the Dominican Republic and they will have the scariest team in this tournament. While there are always doubts about the “desire” to win on the American squad (something I don’t necessarily agree with), that doesn’t exist with the DR or Japan. This is a matter of national pride for them and they will be playing their best.

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