MLB Handicapping: How World Baseball Classic Will Affect Upcoming Season
by Trevor Whenham - 3/5/2013
The World Baseball Classic is underway. As a handicapper, I don’t find the Classic itself particularly interesting. It would be if it was what it was designed to be, but the American team is a shadow of what it could be, the Japanese don’t have a single Major Leaguer on the roster, and injuries have made a still-impressive Dominican team less than what it could be. It’s like an all-star game that few show up for — an extended Pro Bowl.
What is more interesting to me than the series is what impact it will have on the start of the regular season, what impact the public will assume, how those will differ, and what impact that could have. Here are five factors concerning the WBC to keep in mind as the regular season draws near:
Injury risk significantly overstated
If you ask a lot of bettors, they would say that the biggest concern about the WBC is the injuries that can impact the regular season. As it turns out, though, that just hasn’t proven to be true. In fact, if you look back at the history of the tournament, injuries are far from a concern. As Jayson Stark points out on ESPN.com, in 2009 when there was last a WBC there were 73 players on the disabled list to start the regular season. Only one, pitcher Rick VandenHurk, was on the list as a result of an injury suffered in the tourney. In the past eight years, the two years that have seen the lowest percentage of injured players to start the year are 2006 and 2009 — the two WBC seasons. Players who didn’t play in the WBC in 2009 were almost twice as likely to wind up on the DL in April than those who did. Sure, some players who played in the WBC went on to get hurt at some point the next season. But so did lots of other players. The fact of the matter is that baseball players get hurt very regularly whether they play in this tournament or not. It’s hard to really view injuries as a factor at all with the WBC.
Players joining new teams
When a player is playing in the WBC, he misses a significant chunk of Spring Training with his team. If he has changed teams in the offseason then he misses the chance to get to know his new teammates and to work with his new manager and coaches. R.A. Dickey, for example, will follow up his Cy Young season not working with his new pitching coach in Toronto, but rather working with the American squad and pitching coach Greg Maddux. That isn’t likely to have a massive impact in his case because he’s such a veteran and has such a unique style. For guys who are less secure in their position on a team or less advanced in their development, though, the time away from a new team could set the player back early in the regular season.
Can elevate confidence for lesser players
The tournament hasn’t drawn superstars for the most part this year, but it is still a very tough tournament. A younger player who shines in the tournament could enjoy a boost in confidence heading into the season. One name that jumps out, for example, is American pitcher Derek Holland. He’s coming off a decent year, but a strong start in a key role here could really get him rolling into a year when his team will really need him to shine.
Some teams far more impacted than others
Some teams have far more players heading to play in the tournament than others. The Blue Jays, for example, head into this season as the favorites to win the World Series, yet they will be missing seven players in the spring. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia are with the American team, Brett Lawrie joins the Canadians, and the Dominican team includes Melky Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Esmil Rogers. That’s a very large chunk of the batting order. Handicappers will have to consider the impact that could have for bettors.
Public interest low
This has not been a wildly-popular tournament in the North American market so far. With the American team far from dominant this year, there is a good chance that the tournament won’t draw much attention this time around, either. It certainly isn’t a world-class event on the scale of the World Cup like it wishes it could be. The less the casual fan cares about the event, the less impact it is likely to have on the way lines are set and how they move early in the season.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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