Prior to this year’s quadrennial international baseball tournament, most MLB fans met the WBC with a healthy dose of skepticism. Maybe it was the lack of Tier 1 superstars participating for Team USA. Maybe it was the scourge of a serious injury to an important contributor (which may have already happen to Sal Perez), or a general lack of interest in watching some teams without a lot of talent play. Two weeks in, all of those issues (with the exception of injuries) seem like bad excuses to not watch the riveting, spirited baseball that’s been on display.
Before I begin this Astros-centric international update, big thanks to Bhodronos/David for providing a ton of incredible international baseball analysis. He’s been up until the wee hours of the morning watching more international baseball than I could ever dream of, and his contributions have been invaluable here.
The Astros currently have seven rostered players participating in the WBC (Kevin Chapman, pitching for Canada, was recently waived and claimed by Atlanta so he doesn’t count anymore. Sorry Kevin). Their experience at the WBC will be analyzed based on contributions to their home country’s squads, but also will consider the amount of fun they are having, staying away from injuries, and playing time. Bonus points will be considered for bat flips, great defensive plays, and team record. These factors will be calculated into a new sabermetric called “golden plantains”. To jog your memory, recall the golden plantain as a symbol started by Fernando Rodney of the Dominican Republic’s dominance and national spirit for the game of baseball in this WBC and the last.
The golden plantain metric will be measured on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being the lowest (player’s team isn’t doing great or getting playing time) and 4 being the highest (player is hitting dingers, having fun and may be named Carlos Correa). Away we go.
Nori Aoki, OF, Japan: .250/.438/.417, 4 games - Three Golden Plantains
The only MLB player who elected to play for Japan this spring, Aoki is hitting in the three-hole for the Japanese squad, who has not lost yet and looks to be a favorite to reach the WBC final in Los Angeles. Not as heralded as other Japanese national players like Darvish, Tanaka and Ichiro, you can bet Aoki feels pretty great about being the only MLBer to represent his country. He made a spectacular catch last week, and also started the 11th and decisive inning in Japan’s 8-6 win over the Dutch on Monday morning as a designated runner under the new extra-innings rule. Though dumb, that was probably also fun.
Luke Gregerson, RHP, United States: 1.0 IP, 1 K, Two Golden Plantains
It’s not a bad thing that Gregerson has experienced a limited workload so far in the WBC - the Astros bullpen needs to stay as fresh as possible in advance of another probably-taxing season, and keeping Gregerson’s high-leverage innings to a minimum are fine with me. Luke pitched a perfect inning on Friday against Colombia with one strikeout. It’ll be tough to find innings in a really deep USA bullpen that features some excellent setup guys and closers, so we’ll see if Gregerson gets into any more games in the semifinal in San Diego.
Alex Bregman, 2B, United States: .000/.000/.000, 1 K, 1 game - One Golden Plantain
Before we start on Bregman, let me take a few shots at Jim Leyland real quick - Leyland has always seemed to get a pass on his managerial aptitude in an era when so many managers are over-scrutinized. Yes, he’s a future Hall of Fame manager, winning three pennants and a World Series and has that grandpa feel to him complete with the chain-smoking, but to put it bluntly: Leyland’s decision-making in this WBC has been a mess. His decision to piggyback Marcus Stroman with Tanner Roark backfired and began a five-run collapse against the Dominicans, and he continues to start Eric Hosmer at first (-4 DRS) and hit him in the middle of the order (101 wRC+) over guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Daniel Murphy. Oh, he also hit Giancarlo Stanton eighth once last weekend.
That was off-tangent, but Alex Bregman saw the field just once last weekend as a defensive replacement for Nolan Arenado and struck out in his one at-bat, and A.J. Hinch is none too happy with Granddad Jim for that. The silver lining here? Bregman can’t get hurt on the bench, and it is a huge honor to even be considered for the Team USA roster. But you wonder if Bregman is reconsidering his decision to pass on playing for Team Israel, and, you know, actually get some at-bats during a time when he should be getting some reps in live game action to gear up for the season.
Carlos Correa, 3B, Puerto Rico: .222/385/.889, 3 games - Four Golden Plantains
That slash line is as much fun as Carlos Correa had this weekend, and almost as much fun as “Estadio Charros de Jalisco” is to say. Correa’s only two hits were a pair of mammoth home runs, complete with the bat flip to end all bat flips after a homer on Sunday against Italy. Correa has been hitting in the three-spot for Puerto Rico (just ahead of Carlos Beltran, which we should be getting used to), but playing third base instead of his normal club role at short. That’s because Francisco Lindor, who somehow matches Correa’s hype and energy with admittedly better infield defense is also on the squad. It’s been a good look into Correa’s chops at the hot corner, which could be his long-term home defensively. Correa helped Puerto Rico to a dominating Pool D performance with three easy wins.
Carlos Beltran, OF, Puerto Rico: .556/.667/.667, 3 games, Three Golden Plantains
You could easily talk me into four bananas for Beltran, but he’s sporting this hideous bleached facial hair which has to count against him here. Other than that, Beltran has mashed as Puerto Rico’s designated hitter and a member of the old guard on a P.R. team full of young players (Correa and Lindor, as well as Javier Baez). Keep in mind that Beltran has his own dang baseball academy on the island, so playing in this tournament for his home country means a ton to him, especially as his career winds to a close.
Dayan Diaz, RHP, Colombia: 2.0 IP, 4 K, Two Golden Plantains
Raise your hand if you forgot Diaz was an Astros non-roster invitee! A darkhorse for one of the last spots in the Astros bullpen this season, Diaz pitched well in two outings against Canada and the Dominican Republic, though for naught as a spirited Colombia squad was bounced from pool play after losing to the D.R. on Sunday. He’ll be back in camp soon with a couple good international outings under his belt and a chance to compete for a major league roster spot.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Venezuela: .286/.333/.286, 4 games - Two Golden Plantains
In a wild elimination game against Italy last night, Venezuela prevailed even after manager Omar Vizquel opted to start Rougned Odor over Jose Altuve at second base. Though this decision was vindicated after Odor’s go-ahead RBI single in the ninth, electing to start Odor over Altuve in an elimination game in the first place is madness. Altuve got into the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth and his team will advance to San Diego to play the United States this week, but I was selfishly hoping for a Venezuela loss last night - if Jose isn’t going to start an elimination game at the WBC, I would rather see him back in West Palm Beach taking hacks in the gentler confines of Astros camp.