Team Mexico was controversially eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Sunday night despite defeating Team Venezuela, which put three teams each with a 1-2 record in Pool D. The WBC’s rules, however, state that in this particular case, the two teams with the fewest average runs allowed per defensive inning (RAPDI) would play each other in a tiebreaker game for the right to advance. As a result, Mexico (1.12) was narrowly edged out by Venezuela (1.11) to play Italy in a tiebreaker.
Using this metric as the basis for determining tiebreaker participants, however, conflicts with other WBC rules, namely the “early termination” rule and the extra-innings rules. The early termination rule ends a game in which a team is leading by 15 runs after the fifth inning or if a team is leading by 10 runs after the seventh inning. Because teams are automatically prevented from adding additional innings into the denominator, some teams are doubly punished because RAPDI statistic has fewer innings in the denominator. While Venezuela advanced, it suffered an 11-0 loss to Puerto Rico that was stopped after the seventh inning and adversely impacted its RAPDI.
The extra-innings rule puts runners at first and second base to start any extra inning starting with the 11th inning. This extra-innings rule did not impact the outcome of his tiebreaker scenario, but it could have and it’s something the WBC should look at amending for the next tournament. For the purposes of a tiebreaker, a team is punished by losing in extra innings rather than in nine or ten innings. In other words, it creates a weird incentive for teams to lose quicker. For instance, some were suggesting that if Venezuela had scored a run in the bottom of the ninth, Mexico should have intentionally walked batters until the game was tied at 11-11 to send the game into extra innings. This was suggested under the assumption that the bottom of the ninth inning of Mexico’s loss to Italy on Sunday was being counted as a defensive inning, which it turns out it wasn’t. More on that…
Mexico was also hurt by being the visiting team to open up Pool D play against Italy. It led 9-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning, but Italy rallied for five runs without recording an out to walk off 10-9 winners. Had Mexico recorded an out that inning, its RAPDI statistic would have been better than Venezuela’s. Many will say that Mexico simply should have played better, but it would have been guaranteed to record three outs against Italy in the ninth had it been the home team instead.
The RAPDI statistic is simply highly flawed and should not be the basis for determining tiebreaker participants. It’s convoluted, first of all, which only serves to create confusion among fans, players, and WBC officials. It would have been better to use run differential, which is transparent, ubiquitous, and easy to calculate. By this metric, Mexico (-4) and Italy (-6) would have played the tiebreaker, and Venezuela (-12) would have been eliminated. One could likely brainstorm other, perhaps better methods; the point here is that RAPDI was a bad idea, especially when this statistic creates direct conflict with other rules.
The purpose of the World Baseball Classic is to catalyze interest in baseball across the globe. Lawyeresque parsing of rules to determine tiebreaker participants certainly won’t be helping.