Olympic Baseball Update (7/20)

Since my previews went up, there have been some changes to the rosters:

  • First off, two members of the South Korean team were removed from the roster as part of a punishment for breaking social distancing. Those players, 2B Min-Woo Park and P Hyun-hee Han, have also been suspended the rest of the KBO season. Their replacements are rookie left-handed reliever Jin Uk Kim and former MLBer Seunghwan Oh, arguably the best reliever in Korea’s history. Jin-Uk is a bit of an odd choice, however, as his stats haven’t been very good this year. Also of note is that they did not add a new 2B to replace Park. Korea is facing other COVID-19 related issues: the first of their warm-up games, which would have been against a team of under-24 KBO All-Stars, has been called off due to pandemic restrictions.
  • Two members of Team Mexico have tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be making the trip. Hector Velazquez and Sammy Solis tested positive on Sunday before the team was set to leave for Tokyo, and now the team is in quarantine while they await further tests. It isn’t clear if Solis and Velazquez are being re-tested in case of a false positive and may end up making the trip, and I haven’t found anything yet to suggest who (if anyone) will replace them. The bigger question is what might happen should a large portion of the team have COVID. Would they forfeit all their games? Would they be allowed to quickly add a bunch of new players? These are some of the issues facing all the sports in this pandemic Olympics.
  • Team USA has been playing exhibition games against the USA National Collegiate Team to prepare for Tokyo. While obviously they are college kids, they are hardly slouches and most of them will likely go on to have professional careers. The Olympians won the 7-inning Game 1 8-3 on Sunday behind good days at the plate by Eddy Alvarez (3-4, HR, 2 RBI, SB) and Patrick Kivlehan (2-3, 2B, HR, 3 RBI). Scott Kazmir had 5 IP giving up 3 hits (one a home run to the University of Arizona’s Jacob Berry) and 2 ER while striking out 9. Game 2 was much closer as a pitcher’s duel took place, with Team USA edging the college team 1-0 thanks to a 6th-inning RBI by Alvarez. The teams are set to finish their exhibition series today at 1 p.m.
  • Team Israel, meanwhile, has been barnstorming through the East Coast. They have gone 6-2 against an eclectic bunch of amateur teams ranging from the FDNY baseball team to all-stars from the Cal Ripken College League. They have one more warmup game remaining.

I’ll have more on Olympic baseball as the start of that tournament nears.

2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics Baseball Preview: Mexico

Flag of Mexico

Appearing in an Olympic baseball tournament for the first time, Mexico is a serious medal contender. They are managed by former Major League infielder Benji Gil, who now manages in the Mexican League. The roster can be found en español here.

About the Country: Gaining recognized independence in 1821 (11 years after it was declared), Mexico is built where the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs once lived. Mexico is home to a rapidly-modernizing economy, the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere (Mexico City, beating out New York), and a diverse ecology. However, it has also had to deal with inequality and crime, particularly related to the drug trade.

Baseball History: Although it is not nearly as popular in Mexico as futbol, baseball still holds a long and storied history there. Nobody is quite sure how it was first introduced, although it is likely the Americans were involved in some way. Notable events in Mexico’s baseball history include the formation of the Mexican League in 1925, the back-to-back victories of a Monterrey team in the 1957 and 1958 Little League World Series, and Fernando Valenzuela‘s debut with the Dodgers in the early 1980s.

Olympic History: Mexico has never participated in the Olympics in baseball.

Outside of baseball, Mexico debuted at the Olympics in 1900, but didn’t return until 1924. They’ve taken part in every summer games since, including hosting the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. They have also had sporadic participation in the winter games. Mexico has seen its most success in track, boxing, taekwondo, and diving. The top medalists in Mexican history are diver Joaquín Capilla, equestrian Humberto Mariles, and taekwondo practitioner María Espinoza.

Road to Tokyo: Mexico qualified for the Olympics through the 2019 Premier12 tournament by finishing as the best-finishing team from the Americas thanks to a bronze medal upset against Team USA.

Notable Names: The Mexican National Team possesses several former MLB players from Mexico or of Mexican descent. The most notable, no doubt, is Adrian Gonzalez. Born in San Diego but raised in Tijuana, the five-time all-star is now 39 and a member of the Mexican League team in Guadalajara.

Notable MLB experienced pitchers include but are not limited to Oliver Perez (now playing in Mexico), Manny Banuelos (who most recently was in Taiwan’s CPBL but who has returned to the Mexican League ahead of the Olympics), Hector Velazquez (now in the Astros system), Sammy Solis (now in Mexico) and Fernando Salas (who has a 0.00 ERA in 19.1 IP in Mexico this season).

Notable MLB experienced position players besides Gonzalez include Danny Espinosa, Brandon Laird (who is currently playing in Japan), Efren Navarro and Ramiro Pena. One of Team Mexico’s two catchers, Ali Solis, had two cups of coffee in the big leagues in the 2010s.

Ones to Watch: As expected, most of those without MLB experience on Team Mexico are active in the minors or the Mexican League (this is also the case for those with MLB experience, of course).

Joey Meneses, for example, has spent his career bouncing between Mexico, Japan, and affiliated baseball, winning the International League MVP award in 2018. The 29-year-old 1B/OF is currently playing in the Red Sox system. Another outfielder, Jonathan Jones, is a 31-year-old was a member of the all-tournament team in 2019’s Premier12. Now playing in Mexico, Jones also has experience in the affiliated minors, independent ball, and even a brief stint in Australia. A third outfielder, right-hander Jose Cardona, got as high as AAA but has now been in Mexico the last few years. Cardona has been hitting over .300 this season between two teams. In the infield, middle-infielder Isaac Rodriguez is a 30-year-old veteran of the Mexican League who is hitting .389/.455/.520 this season

Among the pitchers without MLB experience, notables include righty Manny Barreda, who joined the Orioles organization this season (primarily in AAA) after several years in Mexico after his initial affiliated career flamed out. Another notable is lefty starter Juan Oramas, who has a 3.17 ERA in 10 starts in Mexico this season. Like Banuelos, Teddy Stankiewicz (who is Mexican on his mother’s side) was active in the CPBL but has moved to the Mexican League ahead of the Olympics. Daniel Duarte is a 24-year-old righty in the Reds system, while Carlos Bustamante (3.20 ERA in 19.2 IP in Mexico this season) will be another right-hander out of the bullpen.

Outlook: The selection for this team have not been without controversy, with some saying that Benji Gil overly-favored players who have played for his Culiacan club. Regardless, Mexico is a dangerous but likely outgunned team in these Olympics, and would likely fall behind Japan, Team USA, the Dominican and perhaps Korea (in no particular order) in a power rankings ahead of the games. However, in a field this small and with a playing format so strange, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they’ll pull out a medal.

You can find all the current Olympic Baseball previews here.

OLYMPICS CONTINUUM: What was Team USA’s Best Slugging Percentage? You’d be surprised…

It’s time for OLYMPICS CONTINUUM. Today, I was just thinking: “How can you measure what team has had the best Olympics?” There are several methods, of course, and technically the Olympics aren’t even about winning or losing, officially, especially outside of individual events. For example, medal tables are done entirely by the media, not the IOC.

So… is it what country has the most golds? What country has the most overall medals? Some type of points system?

Then, I realized: Winning a medal is like getting a hit in baseball. And so, I provide you with THE OLYMPIC SLUGGING PERCENTAGE. 

As you are on a baseball blog, you probably know how slugging percentage is calculated, but if you aren’t normally up on baseball stats here’s the formula:

In essence, it weighs how good each hit is done, and that, divided by how many times they were at the plate, determines the slugging percentage. The greatest slugging percentage ever, for example, is held by Babe Ruth, who had a .690 career slugging percentage.

Of course, there are some problems with adapting this to the Olympics. For example, obviously winning gold is a “Home Run”, but what are silver and bronze? Well, my way of thinking is that obviously winning gold is far bigger than just winning a silver, so, for the sake of this article, a silver is equivalent of a double, with a bronze a single. And “AB” is instead replaced by “total number of medals awarded”. Due to the fact that, of course, in many events a “sweep” is impossible, this means that it would be impossible for any team to have a perfect score. So, here are Team USA’s “slugging percentage” in all Olympic Games both Summer and Winter… after the jump:

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