So let me first say, I think the WBC is a wonderful idea. I think the intensity exhibited by some of the players during the inaugural event was spectacular, and if you are a baseball fan and missed any of the games that involved Puerto Rico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Cuba, or Venezuela, then you truly missed out. It was some of the hardest fought and most passionate baseball I have ever seen. Add the three Japan vs. Korea matchups, and you had some excellent spirited baseball.
Moreover, I am one of those people that could watch countries compete in anything. I am that guy that got wrapped up in U.S.A curling during the last Olympics. Heck, I even looked for the closest curling rink to me home. If you live on the tri-state area, the answer to that question can be found here . How could you not be excited by something called the Nutmeg Curling Club? But I digress. The biggest concern among teams during the last WBC was the health of their players, specifically their pitchers. This year, the list of pitchers who are pulling out of the tournament is growing by the day, and the list of position players who declined is significant as well. Now, knowing this, MLB should be doing everything possible to assuage and ensure teams that the tournament is as player friendly as possible, and as protective as it could possibly be. It would stand to reason that as time on the field increases, so does the chance of being injured. So, MLB should be seeking to limit the number of games required as well as establishing pitch counts, etc.
Instead, MLB has come up with an asinine schedule that can only best be explained by showing the diagram they designed to do so:
Now, to keep things from getting too complicated and avoid probability math, letâ€™s just play out an example. Suppose U.S.A beats Canada, Venezuela beats Italy, then the U.S.A beats Venezuela. The U.S.A has now qualified. Let’s then assume that Venezuela beats the winner of Italy/Canada, clinching qualification for Venezuela as well. Here is where it gets stupid. U.S.A and Venezuela now have to play each other just to determine who wins and who loses, even though both teams move on to the same bracket in Round 2. It is a useless game that means nothing, but will require teams to use players nonetheless. Moreover, teams wonâ€™t want to use any premier pitchers, so they will almost be encouraged to max out the pitch counts on the guys that do pitch.
Now, I know what you are thinking, this is bad enough; but it gets worse. When you look at that schedule, that means that in each bracket, one team that advances is guaranteed to have to play 4 games, while the other team will have played 3. To top it all off, they repeat the same insanity in round two. If you want to protect players, ensure that they play less gamesâ€¦not more.
The way to solve this problem is to utilize a simple round-robin format where each team plays every other team once, for a total of three games each round. This is what they did in 2006, and this is what the World Cup has utilized for decades. Sure, some games would be meaningless, but some of those third games would be very important (as they were last time for the U.S.A in both rounds 1 & 2). More importantly no team would have to play four games to advance. I would have to imagine that they moved to this new format to ensure that tiebreakers arenâ€™t needed and that advancement is settled on the field. I just think it is at the expense of the players and increases the chance of injury (whatever that chance may be). Someone from MLB would have to be awfully persuasive to convince me that this is better.