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St. Louis Cardinals: Don’t Sweat the World Baseball Classic

Oh delivers a pitch

As it stands right now, the St. Louis Cardinals will be sending five players to the World Baseball Classic as Seung Hwan Oh recently committed to pitch for Korea. He joins Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Carlos Martinez (Dominican Republic), Matt Carpenter (USA), and Alex Reyes (Dominican Republic).

There has been a lot of skepticism from fans over the years about their favorite team sending players to the WBC. I don’t believe there’s any reason to be concerned about it. Fans will always worry about Cardinal players health, and for good reason. One key injury can completely derail a team’s season. With the WBC though, one thing to remember is that it takes place during spring training. A time when players would be playing in games anyway.

Pitching Limitations

A pitcher must:

• Not pitch until a minimum of four days have passed since he last pitched, if he threw 50 or more pitches when he last pitched;
• Not pitch until a minimum of one day has passed since he last pitched, if he threw 30 or more pitches when he last pitched;
• Not pitch until a minimum of one day has passed since any second consecutive day on which the pitcher pitched; and
• Throw no more than:
• 65 pitches per game in Round One of the tournament;
• 80 pitches per game in Round Two of the tournament; and
• 95 pitches per game in the Semifinals and Final of the tournament.

Looking at the limitations you would think they were for the Little League World Series, which actually uses some similar rules. These rules seem to be very well set up to me. It forces starting pitchers to ramp up their pitch count like they would in spring training. It also keeps relief pitchers from being overused and from being used in more than two consecutive games.

Workload

This is the most common complaint that I hear. There is a common belief that a pitcher participating in the WBC will have a larger workload than necessary. This doesn’t seem to be the case. Kenta Maeda led the 2013 tournament with 15 innings pitched. And due to the pitching limitations, he had to have gotten to that total without any high pitch counts. For reference, Mike Leake threw exactly 20 innings in 2016 spring training to lead the team with most Cardinals starters checking in around 15 or so innings. The workload for relievers is fairly low as well. Most of the more highly used relievers were in the 5-6 innings pitched range. With the exception being a couple long relievers. Most relievers in Cardinals camp last season threw about nine innings. So all in all, the workload between the WBC and spring training is pretty comparable.

The Designated Hitter

Another measure that will help keep pitchers healthy is the designated hitter. All WBC games are played with a DH. This eliminates the risk of a pitcher being hit by a pitch and being injured in that way. It also keeps them off the base paths, further decreasing their risk of injury.

Position Players

There are not currently any limitations on position players in the tournament. I initially thought that hitters would be the ones to see an increased workload as they are likely to play full games instead of being taken out of the game after a couple at bats. I found that this wasn’t the case either though. The typical at-bats leaders from each tournament have typically been around the mid 30’s, with the lone exception being Ichiro in the 2009 tournament when he got 44 at-bats. The Cardinals spring training leaders in at-bats have been in the upper 40’s and low 50’s. Jose Reyes led the 2013 tournament in at-bats with 35 and added another 36 at-bats in regular spring training that year. So his 71 at-bats is more than normal, but that can easily be fixed by resting players during spring training games if it’s necessary.

In the end, there may be slightly different workloads for players. For the most part though, playing in the WBC ends up being pretty comparable to a regular spring. Injuries can happen at any time, but I don’t believe that the WBC would be to blame.

Thanks for reading!

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