The World Baseball Classic is a flawed tournament (ridiculous pitch counts, missing stars, too much risk to MLB franchises for the players who do participate, and a cockamamie run differential rule that led to the horrendous brawl in Saturday’s Canada-Mexico showdown). That being said, it is still enjoyable to see baseball on your TV screen that means (a little) more than the typical, yawn-inducing spring training games you’d otherwise be watching this time of year. It’s also fun to watch from a fantasy perspective, as it can serve as sort of crystal ball for what we should expect in the coming season from some of the biggest stars in the game.
Let’s have a look at five players who followed their turns in the WBC with monster seasons and five who probably should have done what Russell Martin did this season: stayed home.
Five Who Starred:
(stats in bold were for the MLB season immediately following that year’s WBC tournament)
19-6 (1st in league); 2.77 ERA (1st); 245 K (1st); 233.2 IP; .997 WHIP; Cy Young Award
Santana had already won a Cy Young award in 2004 and was widely regarded as baseball’s best pitcher at the time he laced ‘em up for his native Venezuela in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Although the Venezuela squad didn’t advance past the second round and Santana tied for the tourney lead with two losses, it certainly was by no fault of his own. Santana averaged 8.2 innings in his two starts and maintained a tidy 2.16 ERA. He went on to win the pitching equivalent of the Triple Crown and collect his second Cy Young Award in three years.
.343 BA; 118 R; 14 HR; 97 RBI; 34 SB; .900 OPS; Silver Slugger; Golden Glove
Derek Jeter did the Captain and then some in both the 2006 WBC and MLB season. Jeter made the All-Tournament team for his role on the U.S. squad that bowed out in the second round. As with Santana above, it certainly wasn’t for Jeter’s lack of production, as he batted .450 with an OPS of 1.072 and playing some surprisingly stellar defense at short. He followed that up with his best all-around season in the Majors with career highs (to this day) in stolen bases, RBI, and OPS. He finishing second in the MVP vote, one many feel he should have won.
.287; 115 R; 54 HR (1st); 137 RBI (1st); 119 BB (1st); 1.066 OPS; Silver Slugger
Casual observers would look at Papi’s .150 average for the 4th Place D.R. team and call him a bust in his first taste of the tourney. Casual observers would be wrong. Thanks to a tourney-high (by far) walk total of 8, Ortiz racked an impressive .993 OPS and finished tied for second in home runs. For an encore, he went on to lead the Red Sox to World Series victory with a monster season at the plate where he led the league in homers and RBI while setting career highs in many other categories.
.267 (career high); 81 R; 38 HR; 105 RBI; 116 BB; .928 OPS
The Big Donkey is the ultimate “three true outcome player” (HR/BB/K) and this was on full display in the 2009 WBC where he paced a 4th place U.S. squad and led the tournament in- you guessed it- HR, BB, and K, while slugging a monster .739. His 2009 season for the Nats was equally as solid, if not spectacular. He set career highs in average and RBI, leading the league in home runs, and took an impressive amount of free bases.
.322; 110 R; 9 HR; 49 RBI; 45 SB; 224 Hits (led league); Gold Glove
Ichiro was a known quantity on all levels by 2006, having proven himself internationally by dominating the Japanese league before going Neil Diamond on us and coming to America, where he became on the of the league’s biggest and brightest stars. He was as sure a thing as there was in 2006 and made Japan the champions of the first Classic, making all-tourney by playing his usual spectacular defense and finishing second in the tournament in hits, stolen bases, and total bases. He went on to lead the league in hits, set a career high in SB, and finished with the third highest run total of his career.
Five That Flopped:
1-5; 5.11 ERA (career worst); 56.1 IP; 39 Runs Allowed; 31 K; 1.456 WHIP (career worst)
Bartolo turned in a stellar 2005 campaign, winning the Cy Young award and turning in the best season of his career. He picked up where he left off in the 2006 Classic, leading the 4th place Dominican squad with a microscopic 0.64 ERA and proving to be the bulldog on the mound he was expected to be. If the story ended there, we’d be good. Unfortunately, there was an MLB season in 2006 too, one that Colon would rather forget, as he went on to post a career worst ERA of 5.11 in just 10 games as he was lost for most of the season with shoulder injury and inflammation (sure could’ve used some HGH THAT season, eh?).
4-6; 5.76 ERA (career high); 59.1 IP; 54 K; 1.87 WHIP (career worst)
Dice-K made himself a millionare nearly 100 times over as a result of his work in the first two WBC tournaments. In 2009, he brought Japan a championship and was named MVP of the tournament, posting 3 wins (tourney high) and striking out 13 in his 3 starts. That year’s Major League season with the Red Sox wasn’t nearly as impressive, as Matsuzaka won only 4 games in 12 starts with a career worst 5.76 ERA and an unsightly 1.871 WHIP. Needles to say, Red Sox higher ups weren’t thrilled that the WBC wore him out and cost him all but 11 days of working out with the team during Spring Training.
11-14 (career high losses); 4.09 ERA; 202.1 IP; 215 K
By 2006, Peavy was regarded as one of the best young pitchers in the game, having already led the league in ERA and predicted by many to take his place as a viable Cy Young candidate. Peavy gave a decent showing in his two WBC starts, striking out nearly a batter per inning and posting a 3.38 ERA against some very imposing lineups. Although he didn’t miss any starts in the ‘06 season for the Padres, his velocity was down and his command slipped as he went on to post his second worst ERA (4.09) while losing more games than he won and sporting a career worst WHIP. Padre fans everywhere were pissed (but at least his strikeout numbers were still up there).
8-6 (career low wins); 4.12 ERA (career high); 181 IP; 132 K (career low)
Oswalt was just beginning the decline phase of his career in 2009, but he was still highly regarded as an ace. His WBC showing in ‘09 was a precursor of what was to come as he was lit up to the tune of a 5.56 ERA and no wins to show for his starts. Like Peavy above, he remained healthy for the Astros in ‘09 but his arm was tired and his velocity suffered for it. He posted career worsts in wins, ERA, K, and WHIP.
10-17 (led league in losses); 5.04 ERA (career worst); 200 IP; 110 K (career low); 1.42 WHIP
Guthrie is a nobody in comparison to the other players on this list, but let’s not forget that he was expected to take “the leap” in 2009 and become a bonafide ace for the O’s. The 2009 WBC put a damper on those projections, however, as he posted tourney worsts in losses, runs allowed (10 in only 3.2 innings!), and ERA for a starter (a ghastly 14.73). His 2009 season followed suit as he led the league in losses and posted the worst ERA (by nearly a run and a half!) of his career to that point while also leading the league in home runs allowed. It’s fair to say you’ll never hear Guthrie and the word ‘ace’ in the same sentence ever again unless he’s out of a major league job and working at a car rental desk.
It’s not surprising that the five busts above are all starting pitchers, as the World Baseball Classic puts some high pressure innings on the arms of guys who have pitched full seasons and (for most of them) postseasons the previous year and don’t get to enjoy the fruits of working into shape during Spring Training. If I was an MLB owner or GM, I would cringe if I heard one of my starters was going to pitch in the tourney. As a fantasy owner, keep an eye on the established starting pitchers in the Classic, and it’s fairly safe to devalue them a couple rounds in your own drafts due to the uncertainty of injury. Also, while Johan Santana was the exception, as his ridiculous 2006 season stats demonstrate above, it is also fair to note that he broke down the following year with arm injuries.
On the flipside, keep an eye on the hitters that get off to hot starts in the WBC. Success for hitters is far more dependant on confidence than it is for pitchers, and a blazing WBC showing could portend great offensive seasons fro, already established stars. It may bode well that players like Adrian Gonzalez with subpar 2012 campaigns are having great WBC showings.