Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Japan wins WBC!

ESPN captured the celebration of Japanese's greatest player in history (Sadaharu Oh) and the best current Japanese player, Ichiro!, following Japan's 10-6 victory in the World Baseball Classic Championship over Cuba.

Japan's victory was a major upset in a series that everyone assumed that the victor would be one of the teams composed almost exclusively of professional players from the American baseball leagues, Major League Baseball.

Instead, of the four finalists, three were teams from countries with their own professional leagues, Cuba, Japan and Korea. When Cuba defeated the Dominican Republic--the last team of MLB players, the stage was set for an exciting final of non-MLB players.

As the nation of Japan celebrates their victory, how do we interpret this result? While the tournament was short enough that almost anything could happen, it has at least provided some evidence that MLB is not alone on the highest level of competition in the world. A single game or series of games could go either way, but that doesn't make their outcome utterly meaningless.

The fact is that most of the American baseball community, including many of those devoted to more empirical methods of evaluation, thought that the teams with the most MLB player would mop the floor with the other teams. They believed that the obstacles of small sample size, scheduling and the like were not significant enough to prevent "the best team to win", and then suddenly when the winning teams were not the ones they predicted, they pointed to these problems.

Some even pointed to non-existence issues like the greater time for the Asian teams to prepare--Japan, like the U.S. is in the middle of Spring Training practice games.

So while a short, single-game elimination tournament in the middle of March is not an accurate measure of where the best baseball players in the world play, it is enough to suggest that our prejudices on the issue may not be entirely correct.

The intuitive answer which seems to have been missed by most of us is, "The best players in the world are where ever zealous professional baseball is played!"


Blogger Gar said...

America maybe be the homeland of the sport, but the WBC proves that American arrogance alone is insufficient to win ballgames.

I think many American players walked into the WBC and thought they could win the whole thing by playing uninspired, lazy-ass baseball. Hopefully the losses the team took will remind your average American that skilled players aren't exclusive to our country anymore.

Go Japan, Cuba, and Korea!

2:44 AM  
Blogger xian said...

I think it's definitely possible that the U.S. team went in assuming that they would win their first pool. But after getting beat bad by Canada, I think they had had their wake up call.

Beyond that point, the problems were two-fold:
1) Atrocious defense
2) Terrible game management

In the end they were beat twice and the third game, they beat Japan on a terrible call by an Umpire who made 3 bad calls in the U.S.'s favor during the tournament.

If they want to win next time, they need to appoint a better manager and include defense when selecting players so every single ball in play doesn't turn into a hit...

9:47 AM  

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