2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics Baseball Preview: Team USA

Flag of the United States of America

Managed by Mike Scioscia, Team USA comes to the Tokyo Games with an eclectic team that features former big leaguers looking for jobs and/or one last ride before retirement, prospects looking to make their name, and players who have gone overseas to ply their trade. Although among the tournament favorites, how Team USA does ultimately is anyone’s guess. You can see their roster here.

About the Country: …Seriously? Do I have to do an “about the country” for the USA? Look at your history books or something. Okay, fine: Declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776, the United States of America has grown from a 13-state experiment in Republican Democracy to a 50-state union that is a global power (in some cases the global power) in economics, politics, science, technology, military, sports and entertainment, amongst other areas.

Baseball History: The history of American baseball is, more or less, the history of baseball. While it is no longer the most popular sport as far as TV ratings or public-opinion polls go, its cultural impact in American history and its yearly attendance (more people attend MLB games than the other three major sports leagues combined, although admittedly MLB seasons are longer) remain unchallenged.

Olympic History: Team USA has played in every single Olympic baseball tournament save one (a meltdown during 2004 qualifiers prevented them from playing in Athens). After some sort of demonstration event at the 1904 Olympics that has been shrouded in mystery (and may not have even happened), America took part in every single demonstration game/tournament and won all of them save for 1984 (won by Japan). It proved harder once baseball officially joined the games, with Team USA winning only one gold (2000, when Ben Sheets threw a three-hit shutout against the Cubans in the final) and two bronze (1996 and 2008).

Outside of baseball, of course, Team USA is a giant of the Olympics, leading the all-time summer and overall (summer+winter) medal count in both golds and total medals overall even if you combine USSR and Russia. Of particular fame are Team USA’s track and swimming teams, whose dominance alone would probably be high up in the medal count most Olympiad.

Road to Tokyo: The road to the Olympics was a bit rougher than hoped for Team USA. Their initial shot came at the 2019 Premier12 tournament in Japan, which is sort of a World Cup-style contest between the top 12 teams in the WBSC’s world rankings. The top-finishing team from the Americas would be guaranteed a spot in the Olympics, but ultimately that would be Mexico after America’s bullpen blew the lead in the ninth and then fell in the 10th during the bronze-medal game. So, after a COVID delay of a year, Team USA played in the Americas Qualifier tournament. That went better, as Team USA went undefeated while outscoring their opponents 29-10 to clinch a spot in the games.

Notable Names: Like during the qualifiers, the roster contains some players who are MLB veterans who either have found themselves elsewhere (such as the minors or overseas) or out of a job (whether by choice or by simply being unable to get on a roster).

In all, 14 members of the team have MLB experience, including former all-stars in Scott Kazmir, Todd Frazier (who was impressive in qualifying), David Robertson (the lone player who was on the USA’s 2017 WBC title team), and Edwin Jackson. Other former MLB players who you might recognize on the roster include Anthony Gose, Tim Federowicz, and Bubba Starling. Eddy Alvarez, a primarily-defensive infielder who had a cup-of-coffee with Miami last season, already has an Olympic medal since he was part of a silver-winning relay speed-skating team in Sochi. Patrick Kivlehan can play both outfield and infield and has 137 career MLB games, mostly with Cincinnati in 2017.

There are also some players with MLB experience who now work internationally. Although he has now returned to the USA and is part of the Cardinals system, Brandon Dickson went to Japan after two cups of coffee in the bigs and became a regular with the Orix Buffaloes. Tyler Austin played parts of four seasons in the big leagues before going to Japan, where he is hitting .348 with 17 home runs this season for Yokohama. RHPs Nick Martinez and Scott McGough similarly had time in MLB but have found better luck in Japan.

Somewhat surprisingly, Adam Jones was not picked for the team despite the fact that he had expressed interest and would be by far one of the best historical resumes, possibly because he has been having a rough year in Japan where he’s only batting .233. It’ll be interesting to see if he is potentially added if there are any late injuries or pull-outs, since presumably he wouldn’t need to go through nearly as much COVID-related protocols going into or out-of Japan.

Ones to Watch: The Olympics have a long history of featuring prospects on Team USA, including players like Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Stephen Strasburg (the lone amateur on the 2008 team), Nomar Garciaparra, Roy Oswalt, and Jason Varitek. This year is no different. While the team’s inability to use any players on 40-man rosters keeps them from using much of the cream-of-the-cream, it’s likely that at least some of the prospects on this roster will end up big league regulars.

The three “ranked” prospects on the roster are 1B Triston Casas (Red Sox organization), RHP Simeon Woods Richardson (Blue Jays organization), and RHP Shane Baz (Rays organization). The other prospects on the squad, although not as well-regarded by scouts, are still hardly pushovers and will likely make it to the bigs. Middle-infielder Nick Allen is hitting .333 with an .882 OPS in AA for Oakland and was part of the qualifying team. OF/1B Eric Filia (Mariners organization) hit .313 with a HR and 5 RBIs during qualifiers. C Mark Kolozsary (Reds organization) showed good pop in the qualifiers with two home runs. Jamie Westbrook (Brewers organization) and Jack Lopez (Red Sox organization) will provide some defensive flexibility, which is important since these rosters only have 24 men on them.

There will also be a minor league “lifer” on the team in Anthony Carter. The 35-year-old RHP has been in pro ball since 2006 but has never appeared in an MLB game. He’s currently playing in the Mexican League.

Somewhat surprising omissions from the roster are Boston’s Jarren Duran and the Cardinals’ Matthew Liberatore, both well-regarded prospects who impressed in the qualifiers. It’s likely that they may now be on the verge of being called up to the big leagues, which of course would have meant that they would no longer be available. Luke Williams, who was so impressive during qualifiers that he was dubbed “Captain America” by some teammates and observers, is similarly ineligible since he has now been called up to the show (where he’s doing quite well!).

Outlook: While the prohibition on players on 40-man rosters means it doesn’t have the uniform excellence and up-down depth of Japan’s all-NPB team, Team USA needs to be considered one of the favorites for a gold thanks to its mix of experienced veterans and talented prospects. They are also aided by the fact that they are in a slightly-easier initial bracket (with Israel and South Korea instead of the other bracket, where Japan is with Dominican and Mexico). However, the randomness of baseball and the unforgiving format of the tournament leaves little room for error. One bad pitching performance or a ill-timed slump by some of the team’s players could be the difference between going for gold and not being on the medal stand at all.

You can find all the current Olympic Baseball previews here.

(Blogathon ’16) 2017 WBC Team USA Projections Version 0.1

This post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

We are over a year from the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and the road will no doubt be filled with commitments, pull-outs, unusual nationality switches, injuries, trades, new contracts, personal decisions and god-knows-what-else still on the way. But, for now, let’s just imagine everybody is available: who’d be on Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic?

Perhaps it would look something like this. Now, a reminder of the WBC roster rules:

  • Any player coming off a major injury or who has a history of injuries is unlikely to participate. This is especially true for the pitchers. (This “rule” is being ignored for version 0.1)
  • Players that will be on new teams are less likely to participate, but shouldn’t be completely ignored, with the exception of pitchers. (This “rule” is being ignored for version 0.1)
  • Teams are made up of 28 players, of which 13 of them must be pitchers and two of them catchers.
  • The pitch count rules make relievers extremely important.

Catchers (3): Buster Posey, Stephen Vogt, Derek Morris

First Baseman (2): Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo

Second Basemen (1): Dee Gordon

Third Basemen (2): David Wright, Josh Donaldson

David Wright is basically the closest thing that Team USA has to a given and after his performances in 2009 and 2013 he’s probably in if he has any sort of good season in 2016. If we were going strictly by performance, it’d be Donaldson and Manny Machado (who might play for the Dominican), with Kris Bryant also being a very real possibility.

Shortstop (2): Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Crawford

Utility (1): Ben Zobrist

The greatest utility player of his generation.

Outfield (4): Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Kevin Kiermaier

Or maybe Adam Jones. Or maybe Lorenzo Cain. Or maybe A.J. Pollock. Or maybe Jason Heyward. Or maybe…. really, even ALL FOUR of the guys I have in this pie-in-the-sky version 0.1 were to pull out (doubtful, as I seem to remember Harper and/or Trout saying they wanted in for 2017 shortly after they said he wasn’t in for 2013), it’s likely that Team USA will have one of the best outfields in the event.

Starting Pitchers (4): Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Max Scherzer

Like outfield, the sheer depth of American pitching means that it’s likely they will, on paper, have one of the best staffs in the WBC even if there are plenty of pull-outs. And, given that this is the WBC and the starting pitchers are the hardest players to have participate, there will be plenty of pull-outs. Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, the various Mets, Sonny Gray, etc. are all possibilities.

Relief Pitchers (9): Wade Davis, Darren O’Day, Dellin Betances, Trevor Rosenthal, Tony Watson, Zach Britton, Carson Smith, Ken Giles, Will Harris

 

And so, that’s Version 0.1 of my Team USA projections. Version 1.0, which will include actual consideration as to whether I think somebody will actually take part or not (for example, I doubt Zack Greinke would play), will come out sometime in the future. But until then…. feel free to imagine how the team would do if it looked like this.

 

At 11 AM: Dominican Republic WBC Projections 0.1

This post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

Games aren’t played on paper

With Team USA’s 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico and elimination from the World Baseball Classic, there are certain to be many theories as to why, once again, the Americans failed. Some are legitimate (lack of conditioning compared to teams from Asia and Latin America, the various dropouts from the event), some aren’t (the claim that the American players “didn’t care” about the games or their outcomes is easily disproved by Vinnie Pestano‘s post-game Tweet), and some are probably somewhere in between. But, ultimately, the fact that Team USA fell can be brought down to this:

It’s baseball, and in baseball, games aren’t played on paper. And that means weird things can happen, and even small mistakes can doom giants, especially in settings such as tournaments where the margin of error is small.

Consider: Who could have expected that the Team USA lineup would be so anemic (sans David Wright, now resting from his wounds in a S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-Carrier until he is needed in 2017, and Joe Mauer, who reminded the world about how beautiful a swing he has) for much of the tournament? On paper, you wouldn’t have expected it, but the games aren’t played on paper.

Or consider Nelson Figueroa, who hadn’t thrown a pitch in the Majors since 2011. Who could have expected him to have the night of his life? Or that the umpiring would have had such a… unusual strike zone? Nobody. There are countless other variables that determine this tournament and any given game. And tonight, those variables helped put Puerto Rico on top.

So, before you go ripping into Team USA, or calling for the WBC to be cancelled (it won’t be), just remember: this is baseball. The best team doesn’t always win. Some of the greatest teams in baseball history* haven’t won. It’s what makes the sport great. It’s why we watch. And sometimes, it can be very cruel and fickle game.

So enjoy the rest of the World Baseball Classic, people, because, like all baseball, we have no idea what’s going to happen.

*The 1906 Cubs, the 1954 Indians, the 1969 Orioles, the 2001 Mariners…

WBC News and… Dickey vs. the Mexican National Team (and Gallardo vs. USA)

Okay, here’s the WBC news for today: Brett Lawrie hurt his ribcage, and Deolis Guerra also is out of the WBC.

Got that? Okay, good, now, time for a little bit of a preview for the USA-Mexico game tonight. It should be a treat, with reports coming that the game is close to a sell-out, with the crowd expected to be an even split between the USA and Mexico (a common occurrence in games featuring the Mexican national teams, to the extent where the American national soccer team plays many of it’s games against Mexico in northern cities like Columbus and Seattle to ensure it’s mainly an American crowd).

For Team USA, it’s an important game in order to get the WBC off to a good start. But for Mexico, this is an all-but-must-win game, after their shocking upset by Italy yesterday. And in the center of this is R.A. Dickey. He played for Team USA in the 1996 Olympics (and Brandon Phillips was the bat-boy!), but this is his first time in the WBC. So, how have Team Mexico’s hitters done in the past against Dickey:

Jorge Cantu: 3-8, 2B, BB, SO

Luis Cruz: 0-1

Ramiro Pena: 0-3

Gil Velazquez: 2-5, SO

…And that’s it. Those are the only players on Team Mexico that have met Dickey in MLB play. Knuckleballers are so hit and miss, of course, that there is no way of possibly knowing how the game could turn out, or how the other players could fare the first time they see the knuckler.

On the flip-side, here’s how the expected lineup for Team USA has done against Yovani Gallardo, the Mexican starter (this includes postseason play, by the way):

Jimmy Rollins: 2-10, SO

Brandon Phillips: 9-37, 3 2B, HR, 5 SO, 2 BB

Ryan Braun: None, since Braun and Gallardo both have played with the Brewers their entire careers

Joe Mauer: 5-10, 2 SO, 2 BB

David Wright: 3-16, HR, 8 SO, 3 BB

Eric Hosmer: None.

Giancarlo Stanton: 3-9, 2B, 3 SO

Adam Jones: None.

J.P. Arencibia: None.

So, there you have it: the histories between Team USA and Team Mexico’s hitters and today’s starting pitchers. Enjoy the games.

Team USA would win about 127 games

Inspired by Ground Ball With Eyes’ look at the 1992 Springfield Nuclear Power Plant Softball Team, I decided to take a look at how well Team USA’s World Baseball Classic team would do if they were playing a season of Major League Baseball. So, I decided to, similar to how GBWE took a look at SNPP by using WAR, I will do the same thing. Baseball-Reference puts a team of “replacement level” players as being about a 52-win team, so presumably by adding up all the 2012-season Wins-Above-Replacement-Level of Team USA’s players and then adding them to those 52 wins that a replacement level team would be getting.

And the result of this little bit of research is this: Team USA would, if participating in Major League Baseball, be the greatest team ever assembled, going 127-35 (or maybe 126-36, depends on how you round).

Now, obviously, this isn’t a perfect way of determining how good the team would be, and it uses a 28-man roster instead of the 25 to 40 players that would be on a real MLB roster during a season. And, of course, it’s unlikely that all of the players would get as much playing time as they did on their usual teams, since obviously they couldn’t all be starters or all be the closer.

Still, when you hear somebody talk about how disappointing Team USA is and how it lacks some stars, consider that this team would be a runaway division winner.

Go below the jump if you want to see the WAR of every member of Team USA.

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World Baseball Classic Update: Gio Gonzalez upgrades the USA rotation

With Kris Medlen and Andy Pettitte out and Justin Verlander still making up his mind, the Team USA rotation was down to R.A. Dickey, Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland. Hardly a rotation of slouches (you could do very well in MLB with a front three that looked like that), but not exactly the names to strike fear into the hearts of the world’s hitters.

Well, yesterday, Team USA got an upgrade: Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals. Although currently under a cloud of suspicion due to his name being on the Biogenesis papers (but apparently not linked to any banned substances), Gonzalez instantly gives Team USA’s rotation a good shot in the arm. He won 21 games last season while leading the NL in strikeouts per 9 IP and fewest HR per 9 IP. He’s left-handed, young, and a two-time All-Star.

And, more importantly, it gives Team USA two aces, not just one, as well as two left-handed starters, not just one.

And, what’s more, if Verlander decides to play, it could allow Team USA to have a rotation of Verlander, Dickey, Gonzalez, Vogelsong and Holland.

And that rotation would strike fear into the hearts of the world’s hitters.

WBC Roster Analysis: Team USA

So, Team USA’s roster has been released, here’s how it looks (they’ve released 27 names, the 28th will be named later):

Jeremy Affeldt – San Francisco Giants – LHP
J.P. Arencibia – Toronto Blue Jays – C
Heath Bell – Arizona Diamondbacks – RHP
Willie Bloomquist – Arizona Diamondbacks – UTL
Mitchell Boggs – St. Louis Cardinals – RHP
Ryan Braun – Milwaukee Brewers – OF
Steve Cishek – Miami Marlins – RHP
Tim Collins – Kansas City Royals – LHP
R.A. Dickey – Toronto Blue Jays – RHP
Luke Gregerson – San Diego Padres – RHP
Derek Holland – Texas Rangers – LHP
Adam Jones – Baltimore Orioles – OF
Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves – RHP
Jonathan Lucroy – Milwaukee Brewers – C
Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins – C
Kris Medlen – Atlanta Braves – RHP
Glen Perkins – Minnesota Twins – LHP
Chris Perez – Cleveland Indians – RHP
Vinnie Pestano – Cleveland Indians – RHP
Brandon Phillips – Cincinnati Reds – IF
Jimmy Rollins – Philadelphia Phillies – IF
Giancarlo Stanton – Miami Marlins – OF
Mark Teixeira – New York Yankees – IF
Shane Victorino – Boston Red Sox – OF
Ryan Vogelsong – San Francisco Giants – RHP
David Wright – New York Mets – IF
Ben Zobrist – Tampa Bay Rays – UTL

Now, go after the jump for my analysis:

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So, here’s how Team USA looks right now (and how it may look on Thursday)

World Baseball Classic rosters are made up of 28 players, of which 13 of them must be pitchers and two of them must be catchers. So far, these are the players who have been confirmed or all-but-confirmed to be playing for the United States in the 2013 Classic:

  1. Joe Mauer, C (Minnesota)
  2. David Wright, 3B (NY Mets)
  3. Ryan Braun, OF (Milwaukee)
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, OF (Miami)
  5. R.A. Dickey, SP (Toronto)
  6. Adam Jones, OF (Baltimore)
  7. Shane Victorino, OF (Boston)
  8. Andy Pettitte, SP (NY Yankees)
  9. Craig Kimbrel, RP (Atlanta)
  10. Chris Perez, RP (Cleveland)
  11. Luke Gregerson, RP (San Diego)
  12. Brandon Phillips, 2B (Cincinnati)
  13. Vinnie Pestano, RP (Cleveland)
  14. Ryan Vogelsong, SP (San Francisco)
  15. Jonathan Lucroy, C (Milwaukee)
  16. Mark Teixeira, 1B (NY Yankees)
  17. Glen Perkins, RP (Minnesota)
  18. Jimmy Rollins, SS (Philadelphia)
  19. Jeremy Affeldt, RP (San Francisco)

That’s 19 players: three starting pitchers, six relievers, two catchers, a first-baseman, a second-baseman, a shortstop, a third-baseman and four outfielders. Put it another way, there are 9 spots still unrevealed, and at least four of them are pitchers (with at least one of them probably a starter). So, it also follows that at most five of the remaining players are position players. Team USA still needs some more infielders, maybe a utility guy, and perhaps another catcher (reports say that Team USA will have three catchers).

Here’s my predictions of how the rest of the roster will shape up (not that I assume that Troy Tulowitzki and Dustin Pedroia are held out due to injury concerns):

20. Either Justin Verlander or Kris Medlen

Justin Verlander isn’t on the provisional roster right now, but apparently that more has to do with the fact he hasn’t said yes or no yet. He’ll apparently be making that decision by early March. Meanwhile, Kris Medlen had been mentioned as a possibility for the team, but hasn’t been mentioned in the past few days. I’m going to guess that this basically means that the fourth spot in the rotation will either be Verlander or Medlen. So either the best pitcher on the planet or the pitcher who’s team won 22 consecutive games that he started. Not a bad set of options.

21. Matt Wieters, C (Baltimore Orioles)

The third catcher isn’t Buster Posey, so it’s likely either Wieters or another American catcher like A.J. Ellis or Alex Avila or somebody like that. After pitchers, catchers are the hardest players to get to commit to the WBC.

22. Joe Nathan, RP (Texas Rangers)
23. Tyler Clippard, RP (Washington Nationals)
24. James Russell, RP (Chicago Cubs)

Okay, so now they bullpen is filled up. Nathan definitely has received an invitation and was considering, the other two are just guesses based on guys who’d fit well. One thing to note is that it’s possible (but unlikely) that Medlen could remain on the roster as a long reliever if Verlander were to pitch

25. Paul Konerko, 1B (Chicago White Sox)

It was reported that Konerko was on at the very least an early list for Team USA, so I’ll put him down for now.

26. Jay Bruce, OF (Cincinnati)

Was reportedly on a early roster but hadn’t heard yet. Would make a great bat-off-the-bench and outfielder for those days where one of the other OFs are DHing.

27. Ben Zobrist, Utility (Tampa)
28. Ian Desmond, Shortstop (Washington)

Finishing the roster by adding in a guy who can play anywhere and another shortstop.

It’ll be interesting to see how well my predictions turn out.

Late World Baseball Classic news for January 13, 2013 (Part 3 of probably 3)

Okay, last update for the night… I hope.

    • In his article on the latest round of players to commit to Team USA, Jon Heyman mentions that Troy Tulowitzki will be held back from Team USA do to injury concerns. I had read elsewhere that Tulowitzki wanted to play in the WBC almost specifically to show how healthy he was, but maybe the Rockies are stopping him.
    • Adam Wainwright won’t be pitching in the WBC… but then again, he wasn’t even invited.
    • Barry M. Boom’s list of players who have committed to Team USA includes Jimmy Rollins, the first confirmation in recent days that he’ll be on the roster.
    • And, perhaps the biggest news:

Okay, so there you go: Justin Verlander will take part if he feels up to it. And there is still room for one more catcher on the roster (Posey? Wieters? Ellis?).

More WBC news as we get closer to roster day on Thursday.

Late World Baseball Classic news for January 13, 2013 (Part 2 of an undetermined number)

Okay, more news on Team USA, this time from Jon Heyman of MLB Network and CBSsports.com:

R.A. Dickey, Andy Pettitte & Ryan Vogelsong in team USA rotation for wbc. story coming on @cbssports

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 13, 2013

Braves star Craig Kimbrel, indians teammates Chris Perez & Vinnie Pestano plus Luke Gregerson will be in Team USA’s pen. — Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 13, 2013

 

Team USA will be announced Thursday. more stars will be named. #USA — Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 13, 2013

 //

So, the big news from these that we didn’t already know:

R.A. Dickey and Ryan Vogelsong, who had been mentioned as possibilities, are now probable. Luke Gregerson, Padres’ middle reliever, is also in, and continues to give good depth to the US bullpen. And Heyman says that there are more “stars” to be named. Take of that as you will.

I’ll have something on the Team USA players revealed so far either late tonight or sometime tomorrow.