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The World Baseball Classic Effect - Hitters
Stuart Wallace | Thursday February 14th, 2013
Will Jimmy Rollins see a decrease in production from the WBC? (US Presswire)
Will Jimmy Rollins see a decrease in production from the WBC? (US Presswire)

Not too long ago, I took a cursory look at whether participation in the World Baseball Classic is as deleterious to a pitcher's health and MLB production as is it purported to be. The results pointed to yes, if you're reliever. 

With that in mind, it only makes sense to complete the exercise, and turn our eyes and efforts to position players, and see if there are any negative consequences of playing in the WBC, using the US entries of 2006 and 2009, and their major league performances as examples.

The methods for this analysis are similar to what was done for the pitchers: 

Pertinent stats from the year prior to the WBC, the year of the WBC, and the year after WBC appearances were collected and analyzed to see if there were any significant changes in performance. Injury histories of those years were also collected, again looking for drastic increases in games lost due to injuries, assuming the increased workload arising from WBC participation could lend a player to increased potential for injury. Stats again are courtesy of Fangraphs, with injury data courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, and their Player Cards. With respect to injury data, I only included games lost due to injury that could feasibly be due to performance-related wear and tear, so games lost to general medical issues, or to a wrist fracture from being hit by a pitch, as examples, were excluded.

While participation in the WBC looks to be the kiss of death for relief pitchers, can the same be said for hitters?

To start, let's look at pooled position player data:

  Year G HR RBI ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR Games Lost
  2005 139 25 85 0.219 0.301 0.371 0.520 0.380 131 4.6 111
WBC 2006 135 22 84 0.196 0.290 0.359 0.485 0.360 114 3.1 193
  2007 143 21 89 0.186 0.294 0.369 0.480 0.366 119 3.8 122
                         
  2008 143 22 82 0.208 0.293 0.376 0.501 0.379 129 5.0 99
WBC 2009 147 22 81 0.192 0.280 0.364 0.473 0.363 119 4.0 64
  2010 114 17 62 0.180 0.264 0.350 0.444 0.347 113 3.2 492

We see a similar trend as compared to pitchers, with across the board drops in production in a number of statistical categories during the years of interest. The 2009 squad was hit hard the year after the WBC by injuries, with Mark DeRosa (134 games) and Brian Roberts (93 games) leading the pack in games lost to injury; in contrast, the 2006 squad was hit hardest in '06 by injury, but returned to just about baseline in 2007 with respect to games lost to injury. In terms of team age, the difference between the squads is basically negligible, with the 2006 squad having an average age of 29.4, and 2009 at an average 28.9 years of age. Broadly, the 2009 US WBC suffered more dramatic decreases in production, as compared to the 2006 roster.

Not all positions are created equal, so let's break out these statistics a little further. For the next set of data, I broke down the players into three groups - catchers, infielders, and outfielders. I also looked at average number of games lost to injury, as well as total games lost, by position. Here's how the 2006 squad breaks down:

 Year Pos G HR RBI ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR Games Lost, Avg
2005 C 127 16 58 0.184 0.275 0.347 0.459 0.347 110 3.1 19, 6.3
2005 IF 151 33 103 0.246 0.312 0.397 0.558 0.406 149 6.3 57, 8
2005 OF 131 21 77 0.205 0.300 0.352 0.505 0.366 121 3.4 35, 6
                         
2006 C 111 11 54 0.149 0.267 0.338 0.415 0.324 90 1.3 53, 18
2006 IF 136 23 93 0.204 0.307 0.385 0.511 0.382 128 4.3 84, 12
2006 OF 146 26 89 0.209 0.281 0.339 0.490 0.353 108 2.6 56, 9
                         
2007 C 120 11 54 0.131 0.245 0.325 0.376 0.307 82 1.2 1, 0.3
2007 IF 145 25 102 0.217 0.320 0.402 0.537 0.402 142 5.7 92, 13
2007 OF 152 21 91 0.178 0.288 0.354 0.465 0.354 109 3.0 29, 5

For 2006, there were 3 catchers, 7 infielders, and 6 outfielders.

Overall, we see that infielders on average suffered the most in terms of injuries, but succeeded in maintaining or returning to their pre-WBC performance and production after their participation in the WBC. Outfielders did show signs of a drop in production and power, but weren't as precipitous as the declines seen in catcher productivity. However, sample size could be problematic when looking at the catcher's data.

On to the 2009 squad...

Year Pos G HR RBI ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR Games Lost, Avg
2008 C 125 21 76 0.231 0.283 0.382 0.514 0.389 132 4.4 0, 0
2008 IF 145 20 84 0.194 0.304 0.382 0.497 0.380 130 5.7 73, 8
2008 OF 149 28 83 0.228 0.274 0.360 0.502 0.371 124 3.7 26, 7
                         
2009 C 116 19 73 0.219 0.255 0.347 0.473 0.354 110 3.1 15, 7.5
2009 IF 149 20 80 0.178 0.286 0.367 0.463 0.361 117 4.5 43, 5
2009 OF 158 28 88 0.213 0.282 0.367 0.495 0.372 126 3.2 6, 1.5
                         
2010 C 102 15 52 0.185 0.233 0.347 0.418 0.338 101 2.8 11, 5.5
2010 IF 101 13 54 0.163 0.269 0.353 0.432 0.345 112 3.1 435, 48
2010 OF 150 26 86 0.216 0.268 0.343 0.484 0.359 121 3.8 46, 11.5

For the 2009 squad, the position players included 2 catchers, 9 infielders, and 4 outfielders, with the additional infielders coming after Chipper Jones and Dustin Pedroia bowing out of their WBC roles due to injury.

Again, we see the infielders leading the way with games lost to injury, but also see that they don't retain their pre-WBC prowess as well as their 2006 brethren upon returning to their MLB teams, suffering across the board drops in performance and rates. Outfielders from the 2009 squad appear to not fall prey to any particular ill effects of WBC participation, generally maintaining their usual levels of performance during and after the WBC. Catchers again suffer a continued drop in production during and after their WBC years, but do so with least amount of MLB games lost to injury.

With respect to WBC performances, again, we see small sample sizes, with the 2006 squad being led in at bats by Ken Griffey, Jr, and Alex Rodriguez, each amassing 21 ABs. The team average came out to a whopping WBC 12 ABs. From the stresses of these at bats, ARod lost no games to injury in either 2006 or 2007, with Griffey losing 45 games and 10 games to injury in '06, and '07, respectively. The 2009 iteration of the US team was led by David Wright's 32 ABs, with the team averaging 18 ABs per player. Injury wise, Wright lost a game in both 2009 and 2010. Overall, not an inordinate amount of WBC at bats were seen, in the grand scheme of a season, and all things considered.

For hitters, the results of this cursory analysis aren't as cut and dry as it was for WBC relief pitchers; in fact many of the trends seen can be explained simply due to age; in particular, the lion's share of the games lost to injury by the 2009 WBC squad in 2010 were suffered by players already in their thirties, who had previous injury histories. Along the same lines, the yearly, almost linear reductions in productivity suffered by catchers can be explained by the rigors and stresses of the position taking their toll on those who don the tools of ignorance.

Overall, WBC participation and its ramifications upon position players is a mixed bag, and any deterioration in performance is more likely due to age and the stresses a particular position puts upon a player, more so than the additional innings played in the WBC. However, additional analysis and approaches to the data are required to truly rule out a WBC effect. In particular, further breakdown of position beyond groupings of infielder, outfield, and catcher, and, as mentioned in the comments section in my previous WBC article, looking at all MLB players, regardless of nationality, will help sample sizes and statistical power.

Rife with detractors, the World Baseball Classic presents a unique opportunity to truly determine the best of the best of the baseball playing nations. While it has thus far fallen short of these expectations due to the continued difficulties in offsetting potential for injury from global bragging rights, it nonetheless remains a conduit to the development of the game of baseball, and its increased importance in sports and athletics internationally. While there is still a ways to go with respect to optimizing the timing of the Classic, and minimizing the potential effects of injury on the players and their professional obligations, it nonetheless remains a vital and vibrant venue for the game.

Stuart WallaceStuart Wallace is a writer for Baseball Press. A native of Las Vegas, NV, gave up 4 home runs in his college career, 3 to Johnny Estrada. Proprietor of the obtuse baseball musings at How Do I Baseball?. You can also catch him on Twitter at @TClippardsSpecs.