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World Baseball Classic’s rules create confusion

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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.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.