Monday, May 8, 2017

All-the-WBC Players 2017

I know the World Baseball Classic ended more than a month ago, but given that this particular tournament occurs only once every three/four years, the time for relevant WBC analysis should extend a little into the next season. Plus, it's taken me the better part of this month to take a detailed look back at the three previous WBC's in order to analyze stats and trends. So now, in the interest of looking at the "big picture," here's the handful of players who have participated in all four of the past tournaments.

Nobody on this year's championship United States roster has earned All-the-WBC honors (in fact, no player has appeared on more than two Team USA rosters, let alone all of them), but this year's runners up in Puerto Rico have a WBC-co-leading four players on that list. Of those four, Carlos Beltran has had by far the longest career with 20 seasons and counting in the major leagues. Despite the fact that his once premium center field defense has declined to such an extent that he no longer roams the outfield grass with regularity, Beltran was an MLB All-Star in three of the four pre-WBC platform seasons, including last year at age 39. While Beltran may have the length, Yadier Molina has the stability, as his entire career to date has come with the Cardinals. Long known as a defensive wizard, with eight straight Gold Glove awards heading into 2016, Yadi actually served as the backup catcher in his first two WBC's, which makes more sense when you consider the starter was Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.

Of Puerto Rico's two All-the-WBC pitchers, only lefty reliever J.C. Romero has major league experience. In fact, he's got experience all over the majors, as the seven different teams on his resume is the same amount that Beltran has played for, but in six fewer years in the bigs. Romero is such an important part of Team Puerto Rico that he was placed on this year's WBC roster despite his last major league action coming way back in 2012 (the platform year for the last WBC) - although he has stayed fresh since then by playing in AAA, the Mexican League, the Independent Atlantic League, and the Puerto Rican Winter League. Longtime minor league farmhand Orlando Roman (eight years in the New York Mets' system from 1999 thru 2006) also saw his only 2016 action in the PRWL, but prior to last year, the 37-year-old spent four years in Japan, where he made the full-time transition from starter to reliever (despite a brief stint as a closer in the Mexican League). For more about Puerto Rico's 2017 WBC roster, see my post about this year's championship game.

The only other team with four All-the-WBC members is the Netherlands, where the eight-team Dutch Major League provides a forum for prominent Honkbal players as they advance well into their 40s. I'm referring specifically to starting pitcher Rob Cordemans, who has been mowing down batters thru last season, after which he turned 42 years of age. Lefty Diego(mar) Markwell hasn't been quite as consistent across the three WBC platform years we have data for (stats from the DUTM only go back as far as 2007 on, and he also didn't start pitching in his native country until after a seven-season stint in the Blue Jays minor league organization (representing his age 16 thru 22 seasons). Tom Stuifbergen (possibly no relation to Nick Stuifbergen, who joined him on the 2006 NED roster) was the only Dutch pitcher on this list who played affiliated ball at the time of a World Baseball Classic tournament, as he started his professional career in the Twins system. And the only Dutch player on this list to see major league action is utilityman Yurendell DeCaster, who came up with the Pirates for three games in 2006, directly following his first WBC appearance. DeCaster (also de Caster) didn't play at all in 2016 (according to, but he nevertheless started four games for this year's Dutch club at first base, the fourth position he's played in the WBC.

Five different teams had two players each represent their country in all four WBC's, and I'll go through them in order of major league success enjoyed by the participants. Venezuela boasts two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and single-season saves leader Francisco Rodriguez (you can read more about them in my post about Team Venezuela's 2017 WBC roster). Incidentally, when I made the trek down to Anaheim last week to see the A's play the Angels, I sat in front of a guy who claims to have invented the "K-Rod" nickname for Rodriguez, and to have popularized it by way of a giant sign that read "MLB MEET K-ROD" that he took the ballpark and held up for the cameras during his meteoric rise late in the 2002 season. I haven't been able to verify this through watching archival footage, but it was cool to be tangentially related to such an Angels legend, regardless of what I feel about the team itself.

A pair of lefties have found themselves on all four of Team Mexico's WBC rosters. When first baseman Adrian Gonzalez played in his first WBC he was just 23 years old and one year removed from being ranked as the game's #52 prospect. That was his second season in the majors and his last with the Rangers, for which he made his debut despite spending the majority of his development in the Marlins minor league system. Since then, Gonzalez has been the picture of durability, as he just recently went on the disabled list for the first time in his 14 year career, and honestly that DL placement might have more to do with the hot bat of rookie Cody Bellinger than A-Gon's ailing back. Oliver Perez has made a very interesting transition from high octane starter to serviceable LOOGY reliever, and we can trace that career change in his third WBC platform season. After compiling a middling 4.63 ERA over his first nine seasons as a starter with the Padres, Pirates, Mets, and Nationals AA affiliate, Perez worked out of the bullpen in the Mexican Winter League in 2011 before signing with the Mariners prior 2012, auditioning as a reliever in the minors, and the rest is history.

Team Canada's top All-the-WBC player, Justin Morneau, has the distinction of winning an AL MVP award in the same calendar year as the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Throughout his WBC tenure, CAN has supplemented him in the lineup with such preeminent power hitters as Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Jason Bay, and Matt Stairs, but the guy who has played in all four Classics with him is Pete Orr. The middle infielder made his MLB debut in the year leading up to the first WBC, hitting .300 over 150 ABs for the Braves, and was asked back for 2017 at age 37 despite not having played any kind of baseball last year.

When Luke Hughes appeared in the first WBC for Team Australia as the backup second baseman for Trent Durrington, he hadn't yet risen to the AA level. Hughes would then go on to play in more WBC tournaments than he had seasons in the major leagues, as he played most of the 2011 season for the Twins, flanked by two cups of coffee in Minnesota and Oakland. Speaking of the Twins, I feel like it's time for MLB to investigate the pipeline from Australia to Minnesota: each AUS roster in the WBC has featured at least five players that spent a significant portion of their development in the Twins system, topping out with a whopping 11 players this year! One Australian who never saw action with the Twins organization is shortstop Brad Harman, whose major league career consists of six games with the 2008 Phillies. Meanwhile, Harman has spent the last six years playing for his native Melbourne in the Australian Baseball League.

Two players on the South Korean WBC team have played in all four tournaments, but only one has reached the major leagues. Closing pitcher Seung Hwan Oh made the journey to America just last year, after 11 seasons pitching overseas (nine with his native Korea Baseball Organization, two with Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball), and the "Final Boss" picked up right where he left off with a 1.92 ERA and 19 saves finishing games for the Cardinals. does not show positional data for the KBO, but based on Tae-Kyun Kim's WBC history (and his two seasons in the NPB), we can assume that the slugger is primarily a first baseman. Kim was a member of the starting lineup in only two of his four WBC appearances - in 2006 he sat in favor of major leaguer Hee-Seop Choi and 11-year KBO veteran Seung-Yuop Lee, while in 2013 he was behind S-Y Lee and future major leaguer Dae-Ho Lee - but Kim's .365 batting average at age 34 last year proves that he still has plenty left in the tank, even in the offensively-charged KBO.

No one has played all four years for two-time champion Team Japan (MLB outfielder Nori Aoki, first baseman Seiichi Uchikawa, and starting pitcher Toshiya Sugiuchi have three appearances apiece), but the 2013 champion Dominican Republic has one such player in shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes actually rode the bench for most of the 2006 tournament in favor of Miguel Tejada (who played in the first three WBC's), but he started and led off in the next two, before returning to a reserve role last year. Going back to '06, one of Reyes's benchmates, second baseman Alfonso Soriano, had a significantly better season than the player who ended up starting most games at the keystone (Placido Polanco, who put up 1,584 fantasy points in 2005, compared to Soriano's 2,445), starting a long tradition of the superior players getting passed over in WBC play - just ask Paul Goldschmidt.

Team Italy has one player with All-the-WBC honors, Cesena native Alessandro "Alex" Maestri. Maestri also has the distinction of playing in a different country in each of his WBC platform seasons: in 2005 he pitched for San Marino in the Italian Baseball League (according to Wikipedia; Baseball-Reference is spotty on ITBL stats before 2007), in 2008 he was in the third of five seasons he would spend in the Cubs minor league system, 2012 was the first of his four seasons with the Japanese Orix Buffaloes, while in 2016 he pitched (rather poorly) for the Korean Hanwha Eagles. Incidentally, in 2017 Maestri would add another country to his resume, as he is currently pitching for Veracruz in the Mexican League.

The only player on the highly successful Team Cuba to play in all four WBC's is slugging left fielder Frederich Cepeda, who has amassed a 1.020 OPS over 20 seasons in Cuba's Serie Nacional. Notably, infielder Yulieski Gurriel (nee Gourriel) played in the first three tournaments before defecting to the USA and signing with the Astros, and both outfielder Alfredo Despaigne and pitcher Vladimir Garcia have played in the last three WBC's. It would be interesting to see which Cuban WBC players who have reached the major leagues (such as Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Raisel Iglesias, Yasmany Tomas, Leonys Martin, and Guillermo Heredia) would have been willing to return and play for their native country had the immigration situation been different.

And finally, there is one player for team China who has played in All-the-WBC's, but given the lack of information on the China Baseball League, I could find very little statistical information about Kun Chen outside of his international competitions. For instance, in the 2008 Olympics, he blew a save against Taiwan and was ejected from China's game with the United States for throwing at a batter in retaliation for a home plate collision, but I couldn't find any regular season stats for his time playing with the Sichuan Dragons.

So by my count, that's 22 players who have played in all four World Baseball Classics, and given the age of each and the four year gap between each tournament, we're very unlikely to see anywhere close to that number continue this trend into 2021. Until then, let's hope that the climate for international baseball competition remains fresh and exciting, and that countries from all over the world send their best players in the hopes of unseating the defending champion Team USA!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Preliminary All-Star Ballot 2017

While watching's free game yesterday - a Florida Fight between the Marlins and the Rays - I saw Miami's closer AJ Ramos do several promos reminding fans to fill out their 2017 All-Star Ballots. If you're like me and think that one month into a six-month season is a bit too soon to determine who should represent their leagues in the midsummer display of baseball excellence, then you'll refrain from casting too many votes at this juncture (each individual is allowed 35 total votes, but the new rules state that you can vote no more than five times in a 24-hour period). However, I had just taken a statistical snapshot of the most fantasy relevant players for the monthly lineup rebalancing of my Fantasy Astrology project, so I thought I'd fill out a preliminary ballot with the top performers thru the month of April. Here's the NL team first:

Going in order of fantasy points scored, we find three members of the red-hot Washington Nationals, led by MLB's overall offensive point leader Bryce Harper, who should have no problem reprising his role from last year as the NL's starting right fielder. (The only higher scoring player in 2017 so far is Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who has put up 688 points with a whopping 114.7 points per game, but we all know that fans have no say in All-Star pitchers.) To see Ryan Zimmerman as the next name on this list is a complete surprise, given how his struggles last year (a career-low .642 OPS) prompted the Nats to bring in a potential left-handed-hitting platoon partner for him this offseason in Adam Lind. Zimm's 1.345 OPS in 2017 is bound to fall back to earth, but his 11 home runs, 29 RBI, and .420 average (all four of which are league-leading figures) put him on top of a very talented crop of NL first basemen. I would argue that two 2016 All-Star reserves deserve to start this time around: Daniel Murphy, who continues the hot-hitting ways that saw him fall one percentage point shy of a batting title last year, despite spending most of Spring Training on Team USA's bench in the WBC, and Matt Wieters, the only player on either of my ballots who changed teams during the last offseason.

Another National who arguably deserves a starting spot is shortstop Trea Turner (306 points / 20.4 PPG), who very well might have eclipsed 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager's point total had he not missed some time already this year with a hamstring strain. But interestingly enough, it's multi-positional threat Chris Owings (391 / 15.6) who is right on Seager's heels in terms of fantasy points, although the humidor they recently installed in Phoenix's Chase Field shows that we may have to apply the same offensive caveat to Diamondbacks as we do to those who play their home games at Coors Field in Denver. Speaking of which, Rockies Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado have earned spots on my ballot, but while Blackmon looks fully deserving, the difference between 2017 Team USA member Arenado and 2016 NL MVP / All-Star starter Kris Bryant (399 / 16.6) looks fairly negligible when we account for the Coors effect. Ryan Braun rounds out my outfield picks, with his (extremely) closest competition being Diamondbacks center fielder A.J. Pollock (413 / 16.5), who hasn't lost a step after his mostly-lost 2016 season.

It's no surprise to see Mike Trout leading all AL batters in fantasy points, as it was no surprise to see him start in center field for the AL in last year's All-Star Game. The only other repeat starter I have on my AL ballot is catcher Salvador Perez, which is ironic because there's probably no player in the majors who would better deserve a prolonged rest in the middle of the season, due to his high volume of games caught and the injury he sustained while playing for his native Venezuela in the WBC. Sticking with WBC participants, Puerto Rican shortstop Francisco Lindor has been on fire for the Indians, outpacing his nearest competition (Elvis Andrus, 283 / 11.8) by more than 150 points already this year. The Dominican Republic's Nelson Cruz is far and away the top DH candidate, as he's seemingly ready to take up the mantle of his retired countryman David Ortiz. And Cruz's WBC teammate Carlos Santana has distinguished himself as the top first baseman in the AL so far, despite spending most of his 2016 as Cleveland's DH.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say a little bit about the discrepancy in first base talent across the two leagues. Santana's 306 points are tops among AL first basemen, with Mitch Moreland and Logan Morrison coming in second, both with 271 points (with 11.3 and 10.8 points per game, respectively). Meanwhile, over in the NL, you have to go nine (9!) deep before you get to someone with the same point total as the AL leader: after the aforementioned Ryan Zimmerman, we have Korean re-import Eric Thames (546 / 22.8), Canadian-American Freddie Freeman (525 / 22.8), Team USA benchwarmer Paul Goldschmidt (494 / 18.3), last year's NL All-Star DH Wil Myers (429 / 15.9), write-in candidate Mark Reynolds (411 / 15.8), Canadian-Canadian Joey Votto (398 / 16.6), Italian-American Anthony Rizzo (394 / 16.4), and burgeoning left fielder Brandon Belt (306 / 12.2). I can't account for this talent gap, especially since the NL is supposed to be a pitcher's league, what with the absence of the DH and all, but it's something to look into as the season progresses. Now back to my AL ballot.

The only rookie on either of my ballots, towering Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, is coincidentally the AL's #2 point scorer behind Trout. After him is long-vaunted third base prospect Miguel Sano (he topped out at #4 overall prior to the 2014 season, according to, who finally looks to be breaking out now that the Twins have abandoned the experiment of using him in the outfield. If I were voting today, I would check the box for Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro, because he's the top performer among the available choices (although I could see last year's starter Jose Altuve (330 /13.8) eclipsing him statistically by the time most of the votes come in). However, if we were going by actual 2017 playing time, rather than where players appear on the ballot, I would definitely vote for Jose Ramirez (404 / 16.8), who has spent the majority of this season so far at the keystone filling in for the injured Jason Kipnis. And even though I'm normally totally biased towards the Oakland Athletics, my decision to round out my AL outfield with A's left fielder Khris Davis is completely justified by the numbers, as he currently leads the AL with 10 homers. Although if breakout Seattle outfielder Mitch Haniger (402 / 19.1) hadn't recently gone down with an oblique strain, I would have had to deal with a big-time crisis of conscience...

So while I'm not casting any of my 35 All-Star votes this early in the season, the above players are who I would have voted for if I wanted to be hasty. Nevertheless, I think it's a worthwhile exercise to note the top performers at the start of the voting season in order to keep track of whether the same players can maintain the same level of excellence as we approach a more reasonable All-Star voting time. Until then, I'll continue to watch as many of MLB's free games as I can, where I will hopefully see All-Star voting promos from more teams.