Friday, January 2, 2009

World Baseball Classic--Do We Even Want Our Guys to Play?

Rosters for March's World Baseball Classic are starting to shape up, and it's hard not to root for our guys to sit out the whole thing, especially pitchers. In 2006, Luis Ayala pitched for Mexico, blew out his elbow, had Tommy John surgery and really hasn't been the same since.

So far, none of our best players look like they'll be playing. Early on had a post speculating that Ryan Zimmerman might play for the U.S. team, but David Wright and Chipper Jones have both said they'll play, so it looks like he won't make the cut, even if he wanted to play.

The current Nationals who played in 2006 include Pete Orr (Canada), Daniel Cabrera (DR), Jorge Sosa (DR), Wily Mo Pena (DR), Ronnie Belliard (DR), and Gustavo Chacin (Venezuela). Sosa, Cabrera, and Pena probably aren't good enough to make the Dominican team anymore. I assume Roger Bernadina will play for the Netherlands, since he's played for them in internationals competitions in the past. Alberto Gonzalez could find his way onto the Venezuelan team. Regardless, I wouldn't have any problem with any of those guys play.

The guys I would prefer not to see who might play include Shairon Martis (Netherlands), Saul Rivera (PR), and Jesus Flores (Venezuela). And it goes without saying that Shawn Hill shouldn't be pitching for Canada. For these four the injury risk is just too great, and they are too important for the Nationals. Rivera in particular worries me given the innings load he's had the last few years and what we'll be counting on from him this year.


Hendo said...

How do pitchers prepare for the WBC anyhow, in light of the innings that they've thrown in the previous season and that will be expected in the coming season? I'm serious; I just don't know. (Another indication either that I am seriously behind the curve, or that baseball training methods and health maintenance are.)

Steven said...

I don't know the answer either. And we also know really very little about pitching injuries--what causes them, what increases risk, etc.

Sean Hogan said...

I agree 100% with you...we especially don't need Rivera or Flores playing, but I agree on both lists.

Anonymous said...

Hockey, basketball and soccer all manage to have international competitions with the best pro players participating. The WBC has potential to be a showcase event, but the fear of injury ruins it. I would think the risk of injury in Hockey and basketball would be equal to or greater than baseball. But there is a mind set in MLB thatinternational competition is not a competition but an exhibition, thus not worth any risk.

They should just make it an amateur event and be done with it.

Steven said...

I don't have stats handy to back it up, but I bet the injury rate among PITCHERS is higher than soccer, hockey or certainly basketball. The NFL probably has more injuries, but they don't have international competitions.

For position players, you're right, but because pitchers get hurt so much, and because USAGE is such a big factor, it makes it harder to do these kinds of exhibitions.

I kind of think the WBC is just a doomed idea from the start.

An Briosca Mor said...

Saul Rivera is pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter Leagues right now. How is that any different than him pitching in the WBC, save for the caliber of hitters he's facing? Are the Winter Leagues a doomed idea from the start?

James Bjork said...

Good point by ABM with respect to pitchers. Position players I don't think are an issue. I think of all the un-natural uses of the human body that we did not evolve for, I suspect that in baseball, pitching-- especially sliders, is by far the worst.

I suppose that sports medicine at this point in its development as a field does not know the average rate at which:

1) tendons etc and support structures suffer microstructural damage from the "normal" (unnatural) pitching motion, and

2) these structures regenerate and are repaired from the stress

At this time, the guide seems to be what a player chooses to reveal about his discomfort.

For example, does a whole month off get the structures back to normal after even regular use of the arm, assuming they did not get overstressed or partially torn? If so, then winter ball would be a non-issue too.

However, if this architecture recovers slowly, where the arm is not completely whole unless after extended rest with no restressing, then I can see where fall league and winter ball are no better than the WBC, and teams ought to discourage pitchers from participating.

Until science knows more, I'd err on the side of encouraging pitchers to sling fishing poles over the offseason, not even more pitches.

Steven said...


The only other variable here would be the level of control the team (eg the nationals) has over the player's usage in the WBC vs. the winter leagues. So for instance the AZ Fall League is run by the minor league affiliates. So all the Nationals were on the Peoria Sagauros, and Rick Eckstein was one of the three coaches. So presumably he was there with instructions from the team on how the pitchers should be handled as well as what the hitters and pitchers all should be working on. I don't know how it all works exactly since Ron Warner from the Cardinals was the manager and the pitching coach was the Padres' Wally Whitehurst, but from what little bit I've paid attention it seems like the team has as much control over how those guys are handled as they do during the regular minor league season, and that the whole reason they're in AZ is because the team wants them to get more reps. Someone should correct me if I'm misunderstanding how the AFL works.

The Puerto Rican leagues I know less about. I know they folded in 07 in large part because MLB players weren't participating (probably for the exact reason we're discussing) and then came back for this winter, and I *think* that the new league has some relationship with MLB, so that perhaps teams have more say over usage, pitch counts, days rest, etc. Take all this with a grain of salt cuz I'm pulling it mostly out of the air. Maybe NFA Brian will log in and clarify.

But the WBC seems really different from the AFL--the teams have no say over usage. Ayala for instance was overworked, and that wouldn't have happened if Randy St. Claire had been in the dugout with authority to pull the plug.