Plenty of suggestions for better Classic
First tournament a success, but could be improved with tweaks
By every important barometer, the inaugural World Baseball Classic was an unqualified success. But no rookie bats a thousand.
The lessons learned in 2006 could make the 2009 event that much better.
An informal canvassing of various managers, coaches, general managers and players involved last time gave a few insights as to what could make the World Baseball Classic even better next year.
"It has been a topic at our GM meetings for the last couple of years, but I can't say the discussion was extensive," Milwaukee assistant GM Gord Ash said. "I think the only thing I could see different was [MLB giving teams] permission to start their training camp earlier so that pitchers could get ready, instead of the hurry-up approach it was last time.
"You could let pitchers get ready earlier, then let them pitch deeper into games and have less restrictions on them. All of those restrictions were in place because they had so little time to get ready. I think they should also look at roster size, maybe have a few extra guys. Other than that, I think the experience was sensational. I think it's a good idea."
Scheduling was the most common concern brought up by individuals approached by MLB.com during Spring Training.
Several were of the opinion that starting preparations earlier and/or the first-round games later might be a way to lessen the chance of injury to pitchers.
"To me, the later [in Spring Training] the better, but then you want guys here to get ready," Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "There's really no great time. I'm sure they'll work it out for the best."
Last time, the tournament ran from March 6-20. Giants manager Bruce Bochy, formerly the manager of the San Diego Padres, would also like to see the event moved to later in the spring.
"Pitchers [would] have a little bit more time, just like the hitters," Bochy said. "I know that was one complaint they had. They didn't quite think they were ready.
"I think it's going to be easier for everybody -- pitchers and hitters included -- if they do it a little later in the spring. We all learned from it. I had a pitcher [Jake Peavy] who was certainly affected. I think they can learn from their experience."
Peavy, who won the National League Cy Young Award last season under manager Bud Black, was 11-14 for the Padres and Bochy in 2006. Peavy pitched eight innings for the United States team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, then went 1-3 with a 5.17 ERA in five April starts for the Padres.
Dialing up his game early for the World Baseball Classic could have been a contributing factor in Peavy's sub-.500 season for San Diego.
"He got amped up pretty good for that," Bochy said. "Your adrenaline's going -- he probably wasn't quite ready, even though he thought he was. He doesn't throw a lot in the winter. A couple of other pitchers -- same thing. When you go game speed and you're not quite ready, it's going to affect you."
Under World Baseball Classic rules in 2006, a pitcher could throw no more than 65 pitches per game in Round One of the tournament. The limit went to 80 in Round Two and 95 for the semifinals and final.
There were also limits on appearances. For example, if a pitcher threw 50 pitches, he had to wait a minimum of four days until he could pitch again.
Most pitchers and managers agreed the problem was not overwork. No Major League pitcher threw more than 14 innings in the Classic, and just two reached that number.
The problem was starting pitchers were thrust into a very competitive environment as opposed to a Spring Training game. And unlike a Spring Training game, the pitchers weren't merely building up arm strength for the season.
"There are some things we learned from the first Classic," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "A lot of guys, from the pitching side especially, weren't where they needed to be, and there were some arm injuries. I'm not saying every arm injury that season was caused by the Classic, but it was obvious some guys tried to do something out of the ordinary and paid for it down the road."
Make no mistake, Scioscia is a fan of the World Baseball Classic. But he does have some ideas on how to make it even better.
"I think it's great for the game, an exciting event," he said. "I'd like to be involved in it sometime -- just not in the near future.
"It's a great exhibition, a great format. What I was impressed most by was how deep those rosters were. The Dominican and Venezuelan teams were loaded, and so were some of the other countries. It was exciting to see those guys on the same team. I think there needs to be some data gathered to determine the best time to do this and go from there. I've heard a few interesting ideas and proposals, including one where we'd start the season a few weeks earlier with games in Arizona and Florida -- we could even use the stadiums in Southern California, where the weather is good -- then take a two-week break during the season for the Classic."
Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt remembered how the scheduling needs of the World Baseball Classic affected the Dodgers' pitching staff in '06.
"The only thing that impacted us that year was not knowing the schedule of the pitchers early enough," Honeycutt said. "We didn't know who was starting and relieving, when they were pitching. We had a couple of injuries and didn't have the Minor League minicamp, and we didn't really have enough pitchers.
"All of that has to be taken into consideration. It's a question of scheduling and communicating to the clubs, and they didn't know either. It became a scheduling nightmare for us."
The Royals were one team that didn't have any issues with pitchers heading to the World Baseball Classic. Pitching coach Bob McClure had just one (right-hander Elmer Dessens of Mexico) miss part of Spring Training with Kansas City because of the World Baseball Classic.
"He was throwing a lot, so he didn't miss much time," McClure said. "When he came back, he was ready to go. I'm not saying that's going to happen to everyone. I think it's harder for a starter, and how late in Spring Training it is, because you're trying to line everybody up, the starters anyway. I think you can work around it. I mean, it's an important thing to pitch for your country. To me, that comes first."
The question is how do you do both to the satisfaction of all parties?
"If they're committed to playing in the WBC, then they need to start earlier to get ready," said Matt Galante, special assistant to Astros GM Ed Wade and the manager of Team Italy in 2006. "I'm not talking about building up a lot, because there is a pitch limit. They're really on schedule, but they're also in game competition a lot quicker. They're in meaningful games. Those are important games to these countries.
"Instead of pitching a three-inning game against the Indians, where [it's] 'I'm just going to get my work in,' now the adrenaline's flowing. To me, they've got to prepare earlier to be in competition."
Galante doesn't agree that getting ready to go full speed early is necessarily a bad thing for pitchers.
"I don't think that's going to hurt them," he said. "It will actually help them. But if some of them are thinking they're just coming into camp, and all of a sudden they're thrown into an adrenaline-filled game, it might hurt them."
Another factor that can't be avoided is the time away from camp required of every player on a World Baseball Classic roster.
While that is not a major consideration for a proven veteran, it is important to a player trying to make the 25-man roster, or a newly acquired player trying to show his new manager what he can do.
In 2006, the Chicago White Sox were represented by Javier Vazquez, Freddy Garcia and Alex Cintron in the World Baseball Classic. Vazquez had been acquired from Arizona during the previous December.
"One thing I learned was I didn't get to see Javy a lot when he went and played," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "I don't think anyone was affected by the higher intensity of throwing at the time. In Javy's case, I didn't get to see him a lot and with the delivery adjustments [that were made midway through his first season with the White Sox].
"[We] might have made them sooner. He wasn't there at Spring Training. I can't say for sure we would have done them earlier, but it would have been on my mind earlier, that's for sure."
Kansas City first baseman Justin Huber, a member of Team Australia in 2006, was trying to make the Royals' roster that year.
"I think I was gone for about 10 days, but I don't know if leaving for that amount of time hurts a player's chance of making the team or interrupts the scheduling of at-bats that spring," Huber said. "From my perspective, getting to play against that caliber of player, whether it be in the World Baseball Classic or the World Cup or the Olympics, is going to help any player aspiring to play at that level. The more you challenge yourself, the more beneficial it's going to be. It's got to be helpful."
Perhaps the 2009 World Baseball Classic will find a way around the problems of the inaugural event. Whatever the difference in opinions regarding the mechanics of the event, the tournament is here to stay.
"I have a lot of faith in [Commissioner] Bud [Selig] and know that the game is going global, and it's good to get the whole world to participate," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said. "I'm one who thinks there's a lot of good in it.
"Unfortunately, there's always an injury or two. Or somebody gets off to a bad start and there's blame to be handed off in our game if it doesn't work well. I like it. I think it's a good concept. I don't know if there's a correct time to do it or not. I don't know if there ever is one. From the U.S. point of view, I hope that some of our guys the next time prepare earlier, because obviously we were in Spring Training mode and didn't do well. Maybe the next time we'd like to try to win it."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.