The 3 Best Teams in The World Baseball Classic
The 2023 WBC logo; CC by license 2.0
Baseball fans, the wait is finally over. The World Baseball Classic is finally back. The wait has been six years since the originally scheduled tournament was set for 2017 to keep it played every four years, but Covid-19 messed that up. We’re just under a week before the tournament kicks off on March 8th. For those who are unfamiliar with the World Baseball Classic, it’s a pool style tournament with 20 teams. The teams consist of players playing for their countries team. Each pool features five teams; the winner and runner up of each pool advance to the quarterfinals and the rest of the tournament plays out as a traditional bracket style tournament. USA took home the trophy in the last playing of this tournament in 2017 and I wouldn't be surprised if the did again this year in 2023. There will be good competition for sure, so let’s take a look at three different teams who are more than capable of being crowned World Baseball Classic champions.
The first team I want to mention is USA. This team has an extremely talented lineup, filled top to bottom with some of the MLB’s top talent. Their pitching is led by the Cardinal’s veteran Adam Wainwright. Although this past season wasn’t his greatest he will still be a huge asset for the team with his leadership and experience. Their pitching staff is talented, with some big names like Devin Williams and Ryan Pressly. Devin Williams is incredible at limiting hard contact out of the bullpen with an average exit velocity at 84.3 and 27.0% hard hit percentage. Devin Williams will be an asset for the middle/late innings of games to limit baserunners and extra base hits. Another pitcher who should be brought to light more often is Merrill Kelly. Kelly was a great arm for Diamondbacks in 2022 posting a 13-8 record. His .289 wOBA shows that he keeps runners off of base and his 22.0 K% is great as well. Merrill Kelly is underrated and should continue to improve as his career progresses.
USA’s offense really shows how legit they are. Led by big bats like Kyle Schwarber, Pete Alonso, and Paul Goldschmidt, as well as flashy gloves like Nolan Arenado, Trea Turner, J.T Realmuto, and Mookie Betts. Paul Goldschmidt, named NL MVP in 2022 will be a huge part of team USA’s offense, having a .419 wOBA and 177 wRC+ he will account for a good part of offensive production. Kyle Schwarber will also be a huge part of the offense with his power, leading the NL in home runs with 46. Opposing hitter beware because this defense won’t let much fall, having some of the top gloves in the outfield including Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, and Kyle Tucker. The infield features 10 time Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado at the hot corner, speedy Trea Turner at short, and rising star Bobby Witt Jr.. Expect to see team USA make a run for championship for loaded and experienced roster.
The next team worthy of mentioning is Dominican Republic. This team is also loaded with MLB talent including NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. Alcantara had an amazing 2022 season (obviously). Alcantara is elite at limiting baserunners, with a .260 wOBA. Limiting free bases is huge to winning any baseball game, Alcantara is exceptional at limiting walks with his 5.6 BB percentage. With his speed and ability to limit baserunners, Alcantara will be a huge asset to the DR’s pitching staff. Another notable pitcher, Cristian Javier proved himself to be a good option for the Astros this past season. Javier, a big strikeout guy, had a 33.2 K%, ranking in the 94th percentile according to Baseball Savant. He’s also a guy who will get you a lot of whiffs, having a 30.4 whiff%. Look for Javier to have a big impact for this team as well on the mound.
The offense for this team is extremely talented featuring many big names, including Juan Soto, Vladimir Gurrero Jr, and Julio Rodriguez. The rookie of the year, Rodriguez had a great first season with the Mariners posting a .366 wOBA and 146 wRC+. He’s such a great athlete in the outfield and has a nack for getting on base. Expect Rodriguez to tear it up at the plate and make an impact for this team. Another asset for the DR is Juan Soto. He can mash baseballs ranking in the 85th percentile in average exit velocity and a .376 wOBA, but he’ll take the free base when he gets the chance with highest walk rate in the league, walking 20.3% of the time. The Dominican Republic team is very talented and should not be taken lightly, they are more than talented enough to come out on top on March 21st.
The last team to mention is Japan with Shohei Ohtani bringing his talents to the WBC. Ohtani will be a threat as always with his ability to pitch and hit. Ohtani shocked the baseball world when he joined league being the first player in a long time to consistently pitch and hit. Ohtani can the hit the ball extremely hard with an average exit velocity of 92.9 MPH, but he also throws it hard when he’s on the mound; his average fastball is 97.3 MPH. He also generates a lot of whiffs ranking in the 90th percentile of whiff percentage. Ohtani will be a huge part of the teams success as he is elite at both aspects of the game. Another player worth mentioning is known for his name, but should be recognized for his game. Lars Nootbaar had a great season for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2022 posting a .342 wOBA. He spent some of 2022 in AAA, but when he made it to the majors he proved he needs to stay. He has sneaky power for his build, averaging an exit velocity of 91.7. His ability to walk is excellent as well, ranking in the 98th percentile of walk rate. I think Nootbaar is a great addition to this Japan offense, he’s an underrated player, but hopefully if he performs well he will start to get recognized.
After reviewing these teams, the WBC is loaded with talent. It’s going tp be exciting watching these matchups go down, especially with all the MLB talent and seeing teammate play against each other. I see these three teams as the top dogs of the group and would be surprised if one these teams didn’t win the whole thing. Since this is played early in the season, don't be afraid if your favorite player doesn’t perform to their full potential, spring training is still in full effect, so give them time. This should be an exciting event to watch, and these three teams specifically will be exciting to watch, so tune in on March 7th to watch the first game of the tournament and watch for one of these teams, if not two to be in the championship game for a chance to raise the WBC trophy.