COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — Now playing in its fourth World Baseball Classic, Team USA has quickly established a tradition of bringing its B-list pitching staff to the international stage while the nation’s best arms choose to stay in Spring Training.
While the U.S. staff—led by Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, Danny Duffy and Drew Smyly—is as good as any in the tournament, it’s hard not to notice who is missing from the roster.
Ace pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and David Price have never represented Team USA. Current top dogs like Corey Kluber, Chris Sale and Noah Syndergaard all took a pass on joining this year’s team.
Syndergaard, the Mets budding superstar, told reporters he had “not one bit” of regret for skipping the WBC, because he’s “a Met,” and “ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win a World Series playing in the WBC.”
WBC pitchers risk injury throwing in high-intensity games while their colleagues get loose in Spring Training, which could cost them millions of dollars long-term.
What about the short-term? Does the extra use hurt World Baseball Classic pitchers’ performance in the major leagues the following season? It’s not clear that it does.
To test the question, Capital News Service collected a data set of all MLB pitchers who played the year before and the year after the three prior WBCs (2006, 2009, 2013). We broke the data set into two groups — starting pitchers who played in the WBC, and those who didn’t — and compared how their performance changed between the MLB seasons surrounding the tournament — 2005 and 2006; 2009 and 2010; or 2012 and 2013.
In the season after the World Baseball Classic, the 44 pitchers who played in the tournament averaged 2.5 fewer starts and 17 fewer innings than the year before. And the average pitcher’s WAR (which measures how many wins a player accounts for above a replacement level player) fell half a win (2.96 to 2.47) between seasons, a decline of 16.5 percent.
In our test, we found pitchers who skipped the tournament experienced less of a drop. They averaged 0.7 fewer starts in the season after the WBC, and 3.2 fewer innings. Their WAR declined a tenth of a win between seasons (1.78 to 1.7), a drop of 4.9 percent.
While that seems to suggest we found a connection between playing in the WBC and a larger decline in performance, that’s not the case; we found no statistically significant difference between the performance of the two groups.
For stats nerds, our test of statistical significance discovered a (huge) p-value of .88.
For us to accept that there was a real association between pitching in the World Baseball Classic and a decline in performance, that number would have to have been .05 or lower.
So the next time a concerned fan complains his or her team’s ace is going to hurt himself in the World Baseball Classic, remind him or her that there’s no convincing evidence to say pitchers are hurt by participating in the WBC.