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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New WBC news

Some of the first tangible news of the 2009 World Baseball Classic was announced yesterday. I had a blast watching the last tournament (I'll sprinkle a few pictures into this post that I took when attending the first US v. Mexico game), and it looks like this next one will be even better.

There were two big news items in yesterday's announcement:

No More Tiebreakers!

This bit of news has gotten a bit less play, but I think it's probably the most exciting thing in the announcement: at least in the first round, teams will use a double-elimination format to determine who advances similar to that used in the NCAA baseball tournament. This format should also allow clear and simple seeding moving into the next round.

This new format, of course, occurs instead of the round-robin with tiebreaker format of the last Classic. The tiebreaker was something of a pet peeve of mine, and switching to a double-elimination format is something I advocated back in '06. The problem was that the tiebreaker, which was stupidly just runs scored (not even run differential), determined who advanced in 33% of the pools in the last Classic. Ridiculous.

A double-elimination format is a much better fit for a baseball tournament because it puts the emphasis on winning games, not scoring runs. A team will always be alive in the tournament until the final play of that last game. That's what baseball is all about, baby!

Round 1 locations and brackets announced

Here's the first round:
  • Playing in Tokyo: China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, South Korea
  • Playing in Mexico City: Australia, Cuba, Mexico, South Africa
  • Playing in Toronto: Canada, Italy, USA, and Venezuela
  • Playing in San Juan: D.R., Netherlands, Panama, and Puerto Rico
I like that they're switching up the brackets. Last time, the US played Mexico and South Africa in the first round. Bringing Venezuela up to the USA bracket sets up the possibility of a later showdown between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, which is a match-up of high-caliber teams with a great rivalry. It also introduces a serious competitor in the USA's bracket, which was not (supposed to have been) the case in the previous tournament.

Japan and Cuba seem to have the easiest path through the first round, which is appropriate given that they played in the final game of the last Classic. Japan will probably always play the other three Asian countries in the first round, so that's no surprise. Cuba, on the other hand, does have to deal with the decent Mexican team, but they also get to play against two lower-tier teams in Australia and especially South Africa.

In contrast, the Toronto and San Juan brackets are a bit more challenging. Both feature two top-tier teams (USA and Venezuela, and Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico), a legitimate second-tier team (Canada and Panama), and a lower-teir team to beat up on (Italy and the Netherlands). I think that's a nice balance across the four brackets.

Also, there are some good, historically-meaningful match ups in the first round. South Korea gave Japan a run for their money last time, so that should be a fun way to start the tournament. And the battles between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico is always fairly heated. And Canada beat the USA team in the first round last time, so I would hope that the lackadaisical US team might have something to prove this go around.


Anyway, looks like a great start to the next tournament. Let's hope that they get some decent television coverage this year, both in terms of budgeted time as well as announcer preparation. If they do that, we should be in for exciting times next spring.

Hat tip to David Pinto.