Improvement ideas for the next WBC

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The 2017 WBC has concluded and many baseball journalists are pitching the idea of holding the WBC semifinals during All-Star week. The idea sounds possible in theory, but pitchers aren’t used for more than a couple of innings in the ASG, much less pitch a couple of competitive games outside of their MLB club’s control. The idea doesn’t even consider that many other professional leagues around the world would have to plan their All-Star Game & festivities to coincide with MLB’s. Just about the only thing that tournament organizers and journalists seem to agree on, is that there is no perfect time to hold the WBC. Outside of the timing of the event, here are some ways to improve the WBC:

1) Announce hosts years in advance: As flawed as FIFA and the IOC are, one of the few things they and many other sporting event organizers do correctly is that they announce hosts years in advance. All of the 2017 WBC hosts were announced about six months away from the first pitch. This is not good enough for baseball’s marquee international event. Especially, when attendances for games not involving the host nation are dismal. It would help those attendances if people had years to prepare for their trip; instead of a few months. This would also help the next suggestion…

2) Have a region host the whole event: Having Pools hosted in many different countries limits the possibilities of tournament formats, interrupts the flow of the event and doesn’t maximize the potential for boosting attendance. Given enough time to make travel arrangements, people could visit just about anywhere. Based on the latest attendance, only a few regions have the stadiums to surpass those numbers in the month of March. A singular region could be the focal point of the baseball universe’s attention.

3) Mix up the groups without using a selection committee: The previous two suggestions would enable Pools to be mixed up a little more. The following team pairings have been made in all WBC editions: Japan/China, USA/Canada and South Korea/Taiwan. The following are the most common parings in the second round of the WBC: Japan/Cuba, Puerto Rico/Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico/Venezuela. Part of what makes the FIFA World Cup so great are all of the possibilities for match-ups in contrasting styles. This is another thing that FIFA does correctly; it arranges team by quality and geography then randomly selects the groups for their World Cup. The use of a selection committee makes WBC Pools more predictable and therefore a little less interesting.

4) Limit the use of Passport players: First let’s define what a Passport player is, they are players that are only eligible for a passport of the country they are to represent. The use of Passport players in the WBC makes it hard for some to take the tournament seriously. Some national teams rely more heavily on their use than others. Obviously, MLB has very relaxed player eligibility rules and this hurts national federations that don’t possess a seemingly endless supply of Passport players. MLB wants national teams to be as competitive as possible, but at what expense? The problem is that these players represent “their” country in the WBC, then go back home and never follow up promoting the game in the place they represented. This is not to say that a Passport player cannot evolve into a permanent resident player that promotes the game of baseball within the country he represented in the tournament. MLB needs to give national teams with more home grown talent some leverage, by limiting the use of Passport players; this will help develop and promote the game more than the current system.

5) Incorporate the Robo Ump to call the strike zone: We got a small sample of what a bad home plate umpire can do in the last WBC tournament. National pride, Umpire Egos and perceived favoritism is a toxic mix, but the good news is that the technology exists to neutralize the potential for an ugly incident. With the next WBC in four years, MLB should be proactive and implement Robo Ump; there is more than enough time to fine tune the technology. Home plate umpires don’t need to be eliminated all-together, but take the strike zone out of their hands.

6) Expand the amount of participating nations: Baseball is back in the Olympics for Tokyo 2020 and there are no guarantees that it will be on the program beyond that. MLB should seize the momentum of the currently finished WBC tournament and expand the qualifiers as much as possible. The worst eight teams from the last qualifiers aren’t that much better than the potential next eight teams to be invited.

7) Find more broadcast partners: MLB Network is available in over 70 million U.S. homes, but it cannot cover all of the games simultaneously. A broadcast partnership would lighten the content load and allow access to a larger audience. MLB Network had exclusive WBC rights through 2017, so this could very well change going forward.

8) Make Statcast go Metric: MLB is trying to globalize baseball, and Statcast is an amazing way to demonstrate and quantify how talented MLB players are. But the rest of the world may not quite appreciate what these numbers mean and they have no time to break out a conversion table. MLB should simplify things by showing all values in both Standard & Metric.

9) Settle on a tie breaker system: Each edition of the WBC has had a different tie breaker system and none have been repeated. MLB needs to establish one tie breaker system and communicate it clearly to all national federations as well as answer all technical questions before every tournament.

In the unlikely case MLB is considering moving the whole tournament to July, an outside the box idea is a Hybrid Split season format and consists of the first half of the season focusing primarily on divisional rivalries. Due to the odd number of teams in each league and all divisions; some non-divisional games will have to be played in the first half. Two of every three series each team plays should be against a division rival and all divisional games should be wrapped up by mid-season. At this point, all six divisional champions would be decided strictly by their divisional record and all non-divisional first half games would count towards the wildcard race. The remainder of the season would be used to determine the wildcards by a) total win-loss record or b) non-divisional win-loss record. In order to complete all divisional games by mid-season, the current amount of head to head divisional games would have to be reduced to 12 or 13 games; depending on how long MLB wants their seasons during World Baseball Classic years. To summarize, 6 of the 10 playoff teams would be determined by mid-season, the second half would contain the WBC break and would only decide the wildcard teams.

We should be expecting for some changes to be made to the next World Baseball Classic, whether or not the changes improve the tournament is another question to be answered in 2021.

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Updated 03-28-2017 at 11:55 AM by SouthwestAmAZins