Stats from Baseball Reference and WorldBaseballClassic.com accurate as of 8/15
Much is made about whether the World Baseball Classic is actually good for baseball and often the discussion leads back to whether the players are able to prepare for the regular season properly. This is the perfect time to look back and see if it negatively affected the players involved during the regular season. The 2013 Classic is the best example so far as the winning team, the Dominican Republic, decided to go all out, maxing out their pitchers allowed innings and playing their starters every single day, while most other teams tried to keep things more Spring Training like.
The primary focus and worry about the Classic has been based around the pitching staffs. The worry has been that because they are being thrown into real games when they would normally be working slowly to increase pitch counts and work on individual pitches. In the 2013 Classic, 39 pitches participated that have already played in the 2013 regular season. Of these pitchers, Samuel Deduno (DR) pitched the most innings with 13, with Chien-Ming Wang and Edinson Volquez the only others to throw at least 10 innings. In order to judge these players on an equal level, we will simply compare their WAR from 2012 with their WAR to this point in 2013. Remember that we are only through about 85% of the season, so the numbers from 2013 should be slightly lower anyway.
Overall, the 39 pitchers from the 2013 WBC averaged a WAR of 1.19 in the 2012 regular season (four players did not play that season). In 2013 that same group has averaged just 0.73 WAR (considering the decrease in playing time, they would need 1.02 WAR to equal the 2013 numbers). This would seem like on the surface, there may be something to the negative stigma facing the WBC, but we need to delve a little deeper to see the true story.
The biggest difference in WAR between the two seasons belongs to team USA ace, R.A. Dickey. For the first seven years of Dickey's career, he was a below average pitcher, finally turning things around with the Mets in 2010. He was the surprise Cy Young winner in the NL in 2012 and the Mets thought so little of him, they immediately dumped him and his knuckleball on the Blue Jays. Knuckle-ballers are generally the most unpredictable of pitchers and it should be no surprise that Dickey did not repeat his 2012 campaign this year with Toronto. Similarly, the second biggest fall of was Dominican Republic (and Tampa Bay) closer, Fernando Rodney. Rodney struggled through nine seasons with a career ERA of more than 4.00 before his record setting season last year. His surprise in 2013 should be that his ERA is only 4.15, still lower than his average for his first seven years in Detroit.
On the other side of the coin, the most used pitcher in the WBC, Deduno, has excelled this year in his second season. He has increased his WAR by a full win, becoming a solid starter for the Twins at the age of 30. There have also been a few pitchers having statistical oddity seasons to oppose the Dickey and Rodney outliers. Derek Holland and Anibal Sanchez have both been decent pitchers over the years, but are currently both having career seasons.
Removing these four pitchers (as well as the four 2013 rookies), the remaining pitchers have averaged 0.94 WAR in 2012 and 0.55 WAR in 2013. This is still below the expected production (0.81), until you realize who was playing in the tournament. Out of fear, the greatest pitchers in the league (players like Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and even Yu Darvish) decided to refrain from playing. Instead of a bullpen full of Major League closers (like Jim Johnson, Joe Nathan and Chris Perez), team USA was forced to go with lesser options like Luke Gregerson, Ross Detwiler and Tim Collins.
If there is any merit to a negative outcome from the World Baseball Classic, it is to be found in the relief pitchers. Thirteen of the nineteen players to see a decrease in WAR between 2012 and 2013 were relievers. Some of these pitchers are old (like Jeremy Affeldt, Fransisco Rodriguez and Octavio Dotel are a few) and some had unrealistic goals from last season (like Rodney and Craig Kimbrell), but there were still a few pitchers who are in their prime that have seen significant drop offs after their participation. The Indians own Vinnie Pestano was one of these. While it may make people feel better to blame the Classic for his and others (like the Royals' Collins and Herrera) failures, none of these players were abused in the tournament and most were used exactly as they would have been during the Spring. Pestano for an example was only used for two innings and never in consecutive games. Glen Perkins was also on team USA and had an almost identical stat line to Pestano during the tournament, but has had a very good season for the Twins, almost identical to last year. The fact is that relief pitchers are the most inconsistent players from one year to the next and these particular players falling off has little to nothing to do with the World Baseball Classic.
Because there were some injuries coming out of the WBC this year and some players have had sub-par seasons (like Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz who will miss half of 2013 after being suspended), the World Baseball Classic will likely continue to have a poor reputation among players, fans and management. No one will really look at things objectively to see that the players that are truly great that participated (like Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto) are still great and the injuries that occurred during and after are no worse than those that happen during normal Spring Training activities. If there is a problem with the WBC, it will be solved by more great players participating, not less.
Derek Holland used his WBC appearance to launch a career year.