Category: World Baseball Classic

“Closer Mentality” dooms Team Italia in the 8th inning of final WBC game

The situation: Bottom of the 8th inning, Italy leads 3-1.

Due up for the team from Puerto Rico: Carlos BeltranYadier MolinaMike Aviles, with Alex Rios next in line. These hitters represent the so-called “heart” of the lineup.

Popular thinking: Bring in the set up man and let him take care of the business. The “closer” will take care of the “weaker” 6-7-8-9 hitters in the bottom of the lineup in the 9th inning when the set up man takes care of what he’s supposed to in the 8th.

The problem with this thinking: you are letting their best hitters, who are pretty good, go up against an inferior pitcher to Team Italia closer Jason Grilli. If you get out of this alive, yes, that’s great, but what if you don’t? John Smoltz said on the broadcast that, “You have to make sure you get [Grilli] in the game,” but he meant that the set-up men had to do their job, not that the highest leverage situations late in the game deserve the highest quality pitcher to combat these batters. If he falters, you know their best have beat your best; isn’t that the way you’d want to lose if you had a choice?

What happened: Chris Cooper walked Beltran. New pitcher Nick Pugliese saw Molina hit a single off of him, and Beltran moved to 3rd. Brian Sweeney comes in to get Aviles to ground into a fielder’s choice, a run scores, and Aviles is on 1st. Rios singles, and Aviles would go to 3rd on the play. Pat Venditte would be ordered to come into the game and would get Luis Figeroua to fly out to Chris Denorfia in what I’ll call “standard depth” LCF. Denorfia’s throw was horribly off line, a run scores, Rios moves to 2nd, game tied. Andy Gonzalez would hit a ball to the right of new shortstop Jack Santora, but would make a throw that would bring first baseman Anthony Rizzo off line, and Rios would come in to score. Try as they could, Puerto Rico was unable to further the damage, and would leave the inning up 4-3. No other pitching changes for Italy were made that inning, or for the rest of the game.

The end result: Four pitchers used in the 8th inning, none of them named Jason Grilli. They will never know what could have been had Grilli, their best option in the bullpen, tried to put a stop to the Puerto Rico rally. Now, the players from Italy will go back to their respective camps off an impressive and unlikely run in the World Baseball Classic, wondering what could have been, and hopefully, questioning the way the strategy of baseball is executed in regards to the way the bullpen is utilized.

Team USA posts lineup, I use The Book to help make another one

Being a fan of material based off of research, it should not be surprising that I had read some of The Book by Tom Tango. Why not all of it? 1) I have a hard time reading research, and 2) Reading is not my primary leisure activity. So while I have not done all my reading, I’ve gone through about 7/8 of it, which is a pretty good majority of it! For those that are unfamiliar with The Book, it’s research led by Mr. Tango, where extensive research and thousands upon thousands of simulations were done to establish the suggestions made within the book. As you might imagine, this research is not all met with open arms, especially by baseball traditionalists who have grown up only on phrases like “grit,” “he can hit,” “gamer,” “lazy,” without being able to use meaningful statistics to help back them up. While The Book may not have the absolute perfect way to analyze a hitter, fielder, or pitcher, it has some logical suggestions for how to optimize a team’s baseball experience. This post will concern a batting order, and with Team USA scheduled to rock in less than a half hour after this post hits the tubes, I thought this would be as good of a time as any to have Tango and team’s research to create another lineup. Here is the lineup for Team USA today, with their batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and weighted on base average (wOBA) from 2011-2012:

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This lineup has caused for plenty of online discussion on social media, and even if you’re not familiar with these players, you might be able to see why. The Book loves wOBA, so consider that as you imagine what a more “The Book”-friendly lineup would look like. Tango also says:

“Your three best hitters should bat somewhere in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. Your fourth- and fifth-best hitters should occupy the #3 and #5 slots. The #1 and #2 slots will have players with more walks than those in the #4 and #5 slots. From slot #6 through #9, put the players in descending order of quality” —The Book, pg. 132

You will see that theory reflected here, taken from Table 60, titled “Optimal Batting Order, For A Sample Team:”

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Curious, I compared this ideal lineup to what manager Joe Torre put out tonight:

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To be fair, if there is little difference, even in the red for the lineup, it shouldn’t be seen as something “bad,” or “stupid,” or whatever your favorite adjective to describe something undesirable is. I’m not sure the “Sum” is so important here, I was just wondering how many points in all categories the difference between the “optimal lineup” and Torre’s lineup was. We see that Jimmy Rollins and Brandon Phillips are below what the optimal lineup is looking for, but guys like Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, and Ben Zobrist, in their lineup spots, are suggested by these numbers to not be in the best position for the team. It is also  good to consider that most athletes that would deserve to be in this lineup would be well-above the optimal lineup for the bottom third of the order, looking at what Table 60 notes. So, instead of what the USA skipper has put out, I quickly made my own, but I’m going to start with the differences:

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There are still some negatives in the chart, and it would also be fair to note that it’s pretty difficult to have three hitters with an over-.400 wOBA, considering only five players had that in 2012, and only two of them playing in the WBC, one of them on the USA roster. Should you feel better about this lineup? No difference in wOBA any greater either way than .046, and in the original lineup it happens six times. So, it might be closer, maybe the closest we get to the optimal lineup, what is that lineup I made that represents these differences? Here it is:

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Ryan Braun starting it off, Giancarlo Stanton as the two hitter, Adam Jones in the three spot, David Wright cleaning up, Joe Mauer and Ben Zobrist could be your fifth hitter, but I let OBP be my guide. Phillips, Rollins, and Hosmer are a little less than the first six hitters, so that’s why they are where they are. I understand why you might not like this roster, that’s OK. You don’t have to accept this, and you can reject research, especially if you don’t want it to control the decisions you make in a game. The big question in all of this really should be though, and it was proposed by Bill Baer regarding Stanton batting so low in the order went something like this:

Even if Stanton bats third, in a tournament like this, how much does it change things?

It’s a good question, and not one I can answer. In a one game format, there’s a lot of things that can happen, and I’ve said this before with this roster, but it has enough talent on paper to beat any team out there, no matter what order they’re in.

Joe Torre can’t stop USA from advancing

Endless sacrifice bunts? Check.

Having your hands tied because of promises you made to other coaches? Check.

Pushing those playing time promises to an unreasonable level? Check.

Adam Jones was the anointed star of the game, as his offensive contributions, including a 2-RBI double in the 8th gave the USA life when Derek Holland wasn’t sure that he was going to be on the hook for the USA going back home to Arizona and Miami while Canada would move on to Miami. Glen Perkins from the Twins didn’t have his best day, and neither did Arizona reliever David Hernandez, but Heath Bell (D-Backs) and Craig Kimbrel did very well on the mound for the US. In fact, many people are calling their doctors because of conditions they’ve developed from watching the Atlanta All-Star close out the 9th. Eric Hosmer also had an excellent bases clearing double after Canada closer John Axford had trouble with the curve and came back with a fastball at the letters that Hosmer demolished to the 413′ mark in LCF. Steve Cishek should also get some love for closing the door on an 8th inning Team Canada rally and making sure maple syrup didn’t get all over the place (canada joke).

Despite numerous complaints from the internets, Shane Victorino was left in for the entire game, and did have a looping RBI single in the 8th, and currently has one more hit than fan favorite Giancarlo Stanton, whom the people wanted in instead of the Flyin’ Hawaiian. With the USA advancing to Miami for the next round — where they will be considered the Pool D winner — maybe Stanton will be playing every game, especially since it will be in his home park and in a double elimination format. The schedule for the next round will be what’s below, with Italy being the Pool D Runner-Up. The Pool C teams are Puerto Rico and the Domincan Republic, but the order is being decided in their game happening at 3:38PM PST.

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Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez was a big name that never saw playing time this weekend, so we will see how he and the rest of the squad will be used by manager Joe Torre, who maddened us all with his managerial moves today. We hope things will be different with the bunting and the stubborn pitcher use, but only because it’s nice to dream.

If the relegation rules end up staying consistent (especially with Team USA winning today, that seems probable), Team China would be happy because they won in their Pool to avoid such a scenario, but Team Mexico would have to go through that process in 2016 to qualify for 2017, as they were the last place finisher in Pool D (they and Canada share a 1-2 record, but Canada beat them head-to-head).

I can’t defend the WBC

Just before gametime of the winner-take-all Canada-USA matchup, and I thought I would only have one thing to be livid about, except I now have three: the announcement of the disciplinary action to be taken after the Mexico-Canada brawl, the issues of relegation being unsettled, and the lineup put out by Joe Torre and Team USA.

Starting with the Mexico-Canada brawl, if you haven’t seen any of it, I have you covered here, and if this were to happen in any regular season game, you know there would be fines and suspensions abound. However, as JJ Coop from Baseball America wrote, there will be no suspensions beyond the ejections that happened last night. Luis Cruz gets off free, Team Mexico pitcher Arnold Leon, who took the orders, gets to continue on not understanding the tiebreakers, and Cale Iorg, who threw a water bottle into the stands after it hit his pitching coach, will see the field. This is just a snapshot of whom should be punished, yet here we are. I believe guys like Cruz and Team Mexico outfielder Eduardo Arredondo, who plays exclusively in the Mexican professional league and not in MLB, should at least have been suspended for one round of WBC play, whether they had plans on playing again or not. Same for Cale Iorg, who should have just focused on finding out who threw the water bottle, instead of potentially hitting an innocent bystander. The WBC had a chance to levy some suspensions, and in reading Coop’s article, I understand how tough it’d be to replace some of those players, but giving everybody a free pass doesn’t set it up well for brawls in the future, because what’s going to stop anybody from holding back the fists?

More Coop articles, because the World Baseball Classic has no idea how 2017 is going to work in terms of relegation. What that “relegation” means, is that in 2009, teams with the worst record from their pools would have to qualify for the round of 16 by playing other teams in a separate Pool of four teams. Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Chinese Taipei all had to go through it for this tournament, and with China beating Brazil, and Australia finishing 0-3 in their Pools, you’d think those two teams would have to go through that again, but hold that thought, because the WBC might want to change the rules if that means teams like Venezuela and the USA have to go through that round facing much weaker competition. While sometimes change is good, making a change because your players are going to have to do extra work is ridiculous. If the US or Venezuela has to play extra games to qualify, I don’t care, although I’m sure their ticket sales department cares, especially if those teams don’t make it.

Lastly, today’s lineup that got rolled out is plus one Shane Victorino, but minus one big bat in Giancarlo Stanton because Joe Torre has made promises to MLB managers to make sure players get their playing time. I can understand his predicament, and you do want to honor a promise made to other friends and baseball partners, but it just makes this game look like what @TrippingOlney called “a glorified Spring Training game.” In an elimination game, you should be able to put your best on the field, but it’s a shame that the USA can’t do that.

I’m very much into the WBC, I watch a lot of the games, I want it to be a bigger thing, but when these things happen, how can I defend it to people trying to get into it? I can’t. The people running the show are not realizing the full potential of the product they have in front of them, and it’s making the event suffer, holding it back from moving forward and further globalizing the game it’s trying to market.

The Mexico-Canada brawl with so many animated shorts

MLB.tv is being horrible in allowing me to re-watch today’s Mexico-Canada broadcast, so I have to rely on articles from Deadspin and MLBAM embedded video clips, which is fine, but the original broadcast on MLB Network had the best views, in my opinion. To give you some background on this game, this matchup was getting a little chippy early, more through actions than in words until the 9th inning. Team Canada catcher Chris Robinson had a couple of aggressive slides into 2nd base to break up a double play, the second of which he had his right spike pretty high up in the air. Karim Garcia from Team Mexico had a collision with Craig Robinson at the plate, but to be fair to Mr. Garcia, Robinson was very much in his running lane. Fast forward to the 9th inning, and Craig Robinson, who was clearly on Mexico’s good side, laid down a bunt hit.

UPDATE: HERE’S THE EMBEDDED VIDEO OF THE FIGHT:

What you’ll notice is Mexico 3B Luis Cruz takes exception to this move, and makes what appears to be an order to the pitcher to hit the next batter in the ribs.

The full video of the bunt + ordering is below.

Then it begins to go down with the pitch

then the benches clear

then we find someone to dance with

then Larry Walker calms down Alfredo Aceves, whom he said he thought he could “see Satan in his eyes”

which makes me wonder what’s in Sergio Romo‘s eyes

That’s scarier than any look my wife has ever given me, I’ll tell you that much. Credit Larry Walker with trying to keep some peace, as apparently he told Adrian Gonzalez to stay back because “you’re too important to this game to get hurt in this.”

You’ll notice that someone threw a water bottle that hit the Canadian pitching coach

…and Cale Iorg threw it back in the direction he thought it came from, which might not have been where it actually came from

Probably not going to help his cause going forward.

The Canadian coach commented on what he thought was the reason for the brawl was:

My take:

Yes, I was too lazy to repeat what I put in a tweet. Really though, is it so hard to be grown ups? I know I’m probably in the minority on at least this part, but just because one thing happened to you doesn’t mean you have to sink to their level and possibly make things worse. No suspensions have been announced yet, and there is a possibility it could affect the regular season playing time of some major leaguers that were involved in this incident.

With loss to Mexico, Team USA will have to pour it on this weekend

Italy 2-0, Mexico 1-1, USA 0-1, Canada 0-1. Tomorrow, it’ll be Italia and the US while Mexico and Canada will square off. As of right now, the run differential is Italy +11, Mexico +2, USA -3, and Canada -10. That’s only important if there’s the three-way tie for first I think there will be — yes, I think the US will beat Italy tomorrow behind an excellent Ryan Vogelsong and the US will take care of a weaker Canada squad.

Mexico came at R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball was spinning more than he probably wanted it do, thus making it not dance as much as it has in the past regular seasons, resulting in Mexico mashing. Yovani Gallardo was fooling the USA batters, and saw themselves just going out 1-2-3 for the first third of the game. The bullpen of Mexico barely budged, giving up a couple of dead ducks, and Sergio Romo goes 13 pitches and Mexico pretty much avoided elimination.

Adrian Gonzalez this WBC has been nothing short of amazing, posting a near 90% OBP, including a monster 2-R HR to RCF to put Mexico on top 4-0. The Los Angeles Dodgers with Gonzalez and Luis Cruz played a part in all five runs for Mexico tonight, which should make Dodger fans very pleased. Mexico will play Canada tomorrow at 11:30AM PST.

While Joe Torre‘s lineup construction was a talking point amongst twitter folk tonight, there is still enough power and contact within the lineup to do damage in a nine-inning game. If the US can mercy Canada like Italy did, and can IF they can punish Italy, which I’m not positive they can, this loss tonight will just be a learning moment for this team. Ultimately, I think the USA will still pull it out because of the talent they have on that roster, though they should consider tomorrow a “must-win” as they go in to face Pool D leader Italy at 6PM PST.

In case the first game you watch of the WBC is tonight

You may not have an interest in a competition unless only your team is playing, and that’s OK, everybody’s interest in something varies from person to person. With the US squaring off against Mexico tonight at 6pm PST, some people are likely going to be watching televised baseball for the first time since either the MLB playoffs or the last regular season. Let’s start with the bracket.

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You’ll notice the top half of the bracket has completed their first round already while the bottom half hasn’t. This is to give the two teams that advance in the second round time to adjust to the time/environment differences when they fly from Tokyo to the United States. Two teams from each pool advance after they go through a round robin (everyone plays each other) within their own pool. In case of a three-way tie, the simple way to put it is that it goes by a run-differential, and they already had to do it in Pool B. It’s why Korea isn’t in the tournament anymore.

As you can see in the graphic, the US plays against Mexico (tonight), Italy (tomorrow @ 6), and Canada (Sunday @ 1). The games in Pool D are being played where the Arizona Diamondbacks play their home games.

Who can play?

This is a little bit of a complicated question, but if you have some sort of ancestry tie to the country, you are eligible. For Team Spain, whom you’ll notice that only one player was born there, they allowed players that were married to women from Spain to be eligible. The teams all work their hardest to get the most talented players they can to play in the tourney, but players have the right to decline.

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Lineup rules and instant replay

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 4.00.50 PMAmerican League rules, so the pitchers don’t bat, and like in the MLB, only home runs are reviewable. They are reported to be researching other methods of replay in the second round in Miami.

Who’s on Team USA

Here’s the link to the page that lists everybody on the roster, and while you may not be super blown away with who’s there, it is a good one. Their lineup for today has also been posted:

Games aren’t played on paper, but the roster is the best of anybody in the Pool. We’ll see how the names translate to tournament play. Anything can happen in these short series, as evidenced by the Pool D standings right now:

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