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Yes, we're still arguing about World Baseball Classic and injuries

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Chris Trotman

So it looks like, once again, Team USA: World Police will be notable for the absence of some great starting pitchers. All because of a bunch of ninnies are afraid of getting hurt, or something. Right?

Huh. I wonder if @MLB_PR will be re-tweeting this FanGraphs study:

After looking through the statistics of those who appeared in both WBC tournaments, it is my belief that pitchers who participate in the WBC, especially starters, are far more likely to see a regression in their performance, get hurt or both than pitchers who do not play in the WBC. I reason that the most likely cause is the tournament’s timing disrupts the normal routine of pitchers and their arms are not yet ready to handle the stress and intensity then. With data collected from various sources, I will demonstrate the stark differences between WBC pitchers and their counterparts who did not participate in the tournament, using spreadsheet data and graphs included in this analysis.

That's from a piece written by Michael Echan, and titled "Flooring the WBC: How the World Baseball Classic Negatively Affects the Health and Performance of Pitchers".

But first let's go back to Jayson Stark's piece, which does not focus specifically on pitchers. Stark's column, by the way, has a different sort of title: "Busting the WBC injury myth" ...

MLB has done extensive research about the WBC and the impact it's had on the health of players who took part in it. And you know what that research determined?

That the health risks of participating are more myth than reality.


... I'm not saying the WBC is risk-free. I know all about Daisuke Matsuzaka's issues following the '09 WBC. I know all about Edinson Volquez's Tommy John surgery and Jake Peavy's ankle problems.

But here's what I think that data above reminds us: Baseball players will get hurt. Period. No matter what they do. No matter where they play.

Of the 10 highest-paid pitchers in baseball last year, half of them spent time on the DL -- in a non-WBC year. Eight of them have visited the DL at some point in the last two seasons -- neither of them WBC years.

Look, there's a simple truth here that I wish Stark had mentioned: Major League Baseball generally, and Bud Selig specifically, have a HUGE rooting interest in the financial and artistic success of the World Baseball Classic. I think it's fairly safe to suggest that even if MLB has done "extensive" research on the WBC, any results of that research that reflected negatively on the event simply wouldn't be released to the public.

The problem for Major League Baseball is that it's not difficult to conduct this sort of research. I'm sure that teams have done the research, and that some agents have done the research. Anybody who really wants to know or needs to know, can know. Pretty easily. No secrets are being kept from the stakeholders who really care.

Echan's research has led him to conclude that starting pitchers in the WBC are likely to suffer ill effects, in the forms of both debilitating injuries and slight performance downgrades. He doesn't show any regression analyses, so I'm wondering if the results are symptoms of small sample sizes; after all, we're not talking about a great number of pitchers. I wouldn't want my favorite team's ace throwing for Team America or Team Dominica or Team Venezuela, but that's just because I'm cautious and I prioritize my favorite team over all other considerations.

But there are other considerations, and they compete with one another. And there's really no right answer. If pitching in the WBC increases injury risk by 5 percent and decreases performance by 3 percent, is that enough to keep you out? What about 3 percent and 1 percent?

We'll never nail down the percentages. There will never be enough pitchers throwing the same number of WBC innings to get a truly accurate read on the effects. Which is why we'll keep seeing studies that show us what we want to see.