The best teams in the World Baseball Classic

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Updated: March 3, 2017

The World Baseball Classic starts Monday and the WBC rosters are in. This may come as a shock to you, but there is a lot of really good players in this thing. 63 MLB All-Stars is the selling point, but I think that undersells things a bit. There are tons of awesome international players as well and a few top prospects. What I’m trying to say is there is a lot of really good players in this thing.

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The problem for just about every team is finding spots for players in the lineup. Take the Netherlands, they have Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop; all of whom are middle infielders. To combat this, Profar might be playing center. The US team has this problem at every single infield position. The Dominicans have Adrian Beltre and Manny Machado at third base. Every team has issues with this and the difficult thing for managers will be getting the most out of their lineups. It almost makes you envy a team like South Korea or Japan who have a lineup that is mostly set in stone from international play. I think that has a lot to do with the success they’ve seen in these tournaments.

The interesting thing about this tournament is the pitch limits which makes depth more important than anything. The first round will feature a 65 pitch limit for pitchers, the second round will be 80 and the final round will be 95. This rule is in there to protect the pitchers for their day jobs as professionals, but does create an interesting scenario as nearly every game in the first round will be a bullpen game.

The key to figuring out who could be good in this tournament is to figure out not necessarily who has the best pitchers, but who has the most good pitchers. Recently, FanGraphs took a look at the talent in tis tournament in regards to projected WAR. This is a decent look at the teams with MLB players, but doesn’t do much for us with the international teams. That said, here’s what they had for the top five teams in starters and relievers.

2017 WBC Starting Pitcher WAR

Team Players WAR AVG/WAR
US 8 25.6 3.2
DR 7 21.0 3.0
MEX 6 14.0 2.3
PR 5 10.7 2.1
VEN 4 10.1 2.5

 

2017 WBC Top Bullpens

Team Players WAR AVG/WAR
US 11 7.8 0.7
DR 12 7.7 0.6
MEX 11 5.1 0.5
VEN 12 4.3 0.4
PR 8 2.8 0.4

Based on this table, you have to feel pretty sorry for Italy. They share a pool with Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico and that should be the most highly competitive of the pools. All of these countries are stacked with Major League talent and they take this tournament seriously. I might go against Italy in every game. (I should also note that Mexico will be playing in Mexico for this round.)

Of the three, I think Puerto Rico looks the best as they have Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa, two of the best players in this tournament. They also have Jose DeLeon as one of the better starters in this tournament and Edwin Diaz who is a true shutdown reliever as we saw in his time with the Mariners last season. Puerto Rico is +2000 to win this tournament and that is a sneaky play. The issue with them is they play the Pool D winners in the second round which would most likely be the United States and Dominican Republic.

You can also go ahead and feel sorry for Canada and Columbia who share a bracket with the two presumptive favorites in this tournament, the US and the DR. The odds show these two teams as the favorite as the US is +210 and the Dominican is +200 at 5dimes. You won’t be questioned for taking either of these teams, but you should know that they have the toughest way through. They not only have to beat each other, but also two of Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico who are the next best in major league talent.

The real values in this tournament come from the other side of the bracket, Pool A and Pool B.

The only team that is going to challenge Japan in Pool B is probably Cuba, but Cuba has been diminished in recent years thanks to defections. I just don’t think they are that exciting, no matter how individually excited I am to see Yoelkis Cespedes (brother of Yoenis Cespedes). Not only are they diminished, but they had to travel halfway around the world to Japan to play this round. Their team probably had to travel the farthest to the most foreign land for their players. That will have an effect. Diet, rest, travel; all these things matter. Japan is +300 and will play most of the first two rounds in their home country.

Pool A is definitely a two team race. The Netherlands are very interesting with Bogaerts, Simmons and Schoop making up one of the best infield defenses. Don’t sleep on Wladimir Balentien in this tournament as well as he could hit some balls a long way. Starter Diegomar Markwell has an A++++ name and decent talent while Kenley Jansen is one of the best relievers in this tournament. This team probably lacks the depth in staff that other teams have, but they could definitely find themselves in the final four. This team is at +1500 right now which is a pretty good value.

South Korea at +1500 is a team that I will be watching as well. They medaled in the first two tournaments before not making the second round due to the weird tiebreaker rules. They were basically eliminated because they were shutout by the Netherlands and only beat Chinese Tapei by one run. However, they are coming off a win of the 2014 Asian Games over Chinese Tapei and a 2015 WSBC Premier 12 championship.

My picks for the first round:

POOL A: South Korea (winner), Netherlands (runner-up)
POOL B: Japan (winner), Cuba (runner-up)
POOL C: Puerto Rico (winner), Mexico (runner-up)
POOL D: Dominican Republic (winner), United States (runner-up)

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