Former Los Angeles Angels General Manger Tony Reagins spoke with the media yesterday at the Baseball Winter Meetings about Team USA. Reagins was named as the Team USA General Manager and has been tasked with assembling the team that will defend the title last won in 2017 by the USA when they defeated Puerto Rico in the final.
Merrill Kelly of the Diamondbacks will be playing for Team USA in the WBC. At the end of last season Kelly talked about how proud he was to have the the opportunity to pitch for his country. Reagins eyes lit up at the mere mention of Merrill’s name.
“I’m getting goosebumps man. I had the the conversation with Merrill, so much excitement, it was so powerful how much it meant for him to be a part of something like this. I mean, this guy was like, I’m in! He was vocal, pumped up. there was real energy. He passionately talked about representing his country. We’ve had those conversations [with other players], but Merrill sticks out because of the energy and passion he expressed.”
“These guys are doing this for the right reasons. They want to represent their country. They want to wear Team USA across their chests. They know we’ve got to defend this thing and they want to win.”
The WBC schedule coincides with the MLB Spring Training. The first games for team USA start March 11th in Phoenix. Assuming the team gets out of Pool C, they’ll travel to Florida to play March 17th & 18th in the Quarterfinals. The Finals is March 21st if they make it that far. This is right in the middle of when pitchers are ramping up their pitch counts to get ready for the season. I asked Reagins about workload management and how much they coordinate with the Major League teams.
“What’s really important for us first and foremost is Team USA getting those guys back to their clubs healthy. That’s priority number one. So the communication between Team USA and the major league club is going to be phenomenal. being in Phoenix not too far from the Diamondbacks complex their staff will be able to watch what we’re doing and have conversations if need be. Whatever recommendations or limitations that the major league club suggests to us, we’re going to follow that. That’s the priority. We want to win this thing, but we don’t want to get guys hurt. Obviously at that time of the year, early March they’ll be on a pitch count. It’s a three week process, so at certain stages it will build up from an innings standpoint. We’ll keep guys on their schedule.”
The WBC is a terrific event. The excitement and adrenaline will be pumping. All of these players on every team want to win for their country. While pitch counts and buildup will be monitored, the one thing that can’t be controlled is how much effort the pitcher will put into each pitch. Whereas a veteran starter getting ready for the season may ease into things during spring, working on pitches, and not necessarily going into compete mode right away, the WBC is different. When they need a strikeout in a key situation they are likely to hump it up there at max effort.
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The track record for starting pitchers after participating in the WBC is spotty. Here is how the most recent Team USA starters compared in the year before and the year after participating:
Marcus Stroman saw no drop off and in fact was better in 2017 than 2016. He also started three games and with 15.1 innings pitched in the tournament, throwing the most of anyone on the team.
Danny Duffy, Chris Archer, and Tanner Roark all threw fewer innings and had higher ERA in 2017 compared to the previous season. That could just be regression to the mean plus a higher run environment in 2017 than 2016 impacting those numbers.
Drew Smyly however did not pitch at all in 2017 and had to have Tommy John Surgery mid season.
It’s impossible to draw any hard conclusions from such a small sample of data. But these kinds of results feed the narrative from past WBC events that pitchers often struggle the year after participating. It’s just early to be in high intensity games for these players. It’s out of their normal routines. Some will not be negatively impacted at all, while others could see it derail their seasons.
Hopefully Merrill will be able to handle wisely. He is a very smart pitcher and is acutely aware of what he can and can’t do. Despite his overt enthusiasm for the event, hopefully he will maintain that approach. The WBC is such an exciting event. I highly recommend to all baseball fans. I personally look forward to rooting for Team USA and Merrill Kelly to win it all!
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