Look, it's Ray Chang! Wearing an 1800's Reds logo! - Koji Watanabe
Hahaha! I'm back! The World Baseball Classic starts tonight! Slash tomorrow! Well, it's tonight here, and tomorrow there. Whatever, Chinese Taipei and Australia face off at 11:30 EST. I've already done the tl; dr version of a preview over at Aerys Sports, but for you, my beloved Red Reporters, I will go over the ludicrous rule changes, and hit the high points for Pools A and B which are playing this weekend. (I'll do Pools C and D next week in Part 2 - Oh yeah, I Know These Dudes)
Basically baseball. There is a designated hitter. The rules on pitch counts, mercy-killings, and extra-extra inning games are essentially the same in years past.
The big change is that Round 1 is going back to Round Robin format (like 2006), while Round 2 stays modified double elimination (like in 2009). But instead of tie-breaking via best RA/9, which is unfair, but simple. we have a new, completely ridiculous tie-breaking system. Ok, so in a 4-team round robin, there are basically 4 ways the standings can end up, and three of them involve ties.
Scenario 1: Two teams go 2-1 to tie at the top. The team that won the head-to-head game between them wins.
Scenario 2: Three teams tie. (Either at 2-1 and two move on, or at 1-2 and one of them moves on). This is what we call "the circle of death". Head to head won't work. So the WBC came up with the "Team Quality Balance" which = Runs Scored/Inning played on Offense - Runs scored/Innings played on defense for the games between those three teams. This is less pitching-favored than R/A and also doesn't penalize for mercy-ruled games. The teams are ranked from highest to lowest.
If there's STILL A TIE, you do the same thing, but take out the unearned runs and rank the teams by "Earned Run TQB" in the games played among those three teams.
If there's STILL A TIE, we rank the batting average in those three games.
If there's STILL A TIE, we flip a coin.
So now that we've established that any ties will be met with confusion and anger, let's talk about some baseball players. Every pool gets one team that made the final round in 2009, one team that made round 2, one team that won 1 game, and one Qualifier winner. In Pool A, that's Japan, Cuba, China, and Brazil. It will be played in the Fukuoka Yahoo! JAPAN Dome, which was used to trap the Gyaos in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.
Japan: Japan's the reigning champion, and they are pretty good at baseball. This is a very different team from 2009 - without Darvish, Matsuzaka, Ichiro, or Nakajima. Still, they've got the fresh young versions of some of those guys, so they'll probably do their thing and end up alright. Keep an eye on Masahiro Tanaka and Kenta Maeda. Both are impressive young aces, though a bit sub-Darvish. I think Tanaka (you can call him Ma-kun!) is better, think 400 Ks over the last two years, compared to 46 walks. Shinnosuke Abe is also awesome - he's been a staple of team Japan forever, and he just won the Central League MVP in 2012, as a 33 year old catcher, while OPSing over 100 points higher than the next best qualifier.
Cuba: It would be great if Chapman and Cespedes could play for Cuba in the WBC, but that's obviously the least of our worries with the whole.... Cuba thing. I think the sluggers will be what to watch for on this team - particularly Alfredo Despaigne, a young phenom in 2009 who has turned into the best hitter in Cuba's Serie Nacional, and Jose Abreu, who hit 35 HR (to Despaigne's 36), in a ~100 game season.
China: China beat Chinese Taipei in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, which I'm sure they were very pleased about. Still, I'm not sure that Chinese Taipei isn't the better team, and I'm pretty confident that Brazil could beat China, as well. Ray Chang, newly-minted Reds minor-league infielder will be playing. Chang was the best hitter for China in 2009. The other hero of China vs. Chinese Taipei was Jiangang Lu, who once pitched for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese baseball league, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). Lu threw 5 1/3 innings of 1-run ball against Chinese Taipei, and they may need him to repeat that if they want to avoid being relegated to the qualifiers next year.
Brazil: The best thing about Team Brazil is BARRY LARKIN. Because Barry Larkin is the best thing about anything that he's involved with, obviously. Brazil's had an awesome 2012 in baseball, between their first MLB player Yan Gomes, and winning the qualifier against some significant competition in Panama City. Based on that qualifier, I would say that the better pitchers on the squad are Murilo Gouvea, a low-A Astros prospect, and Rafael Fernandes (an NPB ni-gun (Second/minor league) pitcher). They have added some more minor-leaguers to the roster since November, but they're still pretty inexperienced.
Pool B is the runner-up pool, featuring Korea, Netherlands, Australia, and Chinese Taipei. This is a much more balanced league than Pool A, and no combination of teams moving on from this pool would surprise me too much. Pool B will be played in Intercontinental Stadium in Taichung, Taiwan, which has never been used to trap any monsters. (Useless.)
Korea: Please note the pro-Korea bias, here. Korea will lack our amazing, fantabulous, awesome Shin-Soo Choo, as well as Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers, and side-winder Chang-Yong Lim, who has signed with the Cubs. Without Ryu and Lim, the pitchers here could really bow under pressure from Dutch sluggers, but they still play pretty decent baseball, and keep in good shape over the winter, which is perhaps what has served them so well in the past.
There's still a Shin-Soo Choo connection, as first baseman Dae-Ho Lee of the Orix Buffaloes (NPB) was a friend/rival/teammate of Choo's throughout childhood in Busan. Also, I'm pretty sure that one of the coaches, Jung-tae Park is actually Choo's uncle, who is a coach for the Lotte Giants (KBO). Dae-Ho Lee is really good, by the way. Also look out for Suk-Min Yoon, a Boras client, who's made noise about coming to MLB before.
Netherlands: Everyone loved how the Netherlands beat the DR last year (twice!), but I wonder how much of that was just a really cold-hitting DR squad. Still, I like them a lot with the bat - with Wladimir Balentien, Roger Bernadina, and Andruw Jones. Pitching could be a little more dicey. In tomorrow's game against, the Dutch starter will be Diegomar Markwell, who, aside from having an awesome name, was once a Blue Jays prospect and mostly pitches now in the Honkbal Hoofdklasse. Loek van Mil, the giant, giant person who recently joined the Reds minor league system, will also pitch for the Netherlands.
Australia: Australia is proof that even though your pitching may suck, you can still hit your way into some wins. And in this format, two wins is a pretty good way to get into Round 2. I still like well-traveled pitchers Brad Thomas and C Chris Oxspring, who, between them, have pitched in like 6 different leagues. And Luke Hughes and Justin Huber may have had trouble catching on with an MLB team, but for these purposes, their bats will be plenty good enough, if they can get hot. It might be interesting to watch Tim Kennelly - Kennelly has a ton of games in the Phillies' minor leagues at catcher, outfield, infield, but they only converted him to pitcher at the end of 2012. And he's on the Australian roster as a pitcher.
Chinese Taipei: This team may have been the best Qualifier winner of the 4. Their competition wasn't as strong, but they demolished them - with shutouts in all three games, and two mercy-rule wins out of three games. I still like Chih-Shen Ling as a batter (he's also Amis - the native people of the island of Taiwan). Yao-Hsun Yang, who plays for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the NPB is a pretty strong bet on the pitching end of things. Plus, they've got a home field advantage, which might help.
OK! So action starts tonight at 11:30, with Australia v. Chinese Taipei. Japan and Brazil play at 5 tomorrow morning, Korea and Netherlands follow at 6:30 AM. All the games will be on MLB Network, but the schedule is a little different. I'll probably hang out and watch a bit of Australia v. Chinese Taipei tonight, so y'all should hang out with me in the comments. Because I'm sure you're not out enjoying yourself with other people, or anything.