Team USA could have boasted a pretty impressive collection of starters in the World Baseball Classic.
Key word: could.
That’s not to say the American pitching staff was completely devoid of talent. The championship starter, Merrill Kelly, is coming off his best season in the majors. The bullpen had high-end late-inning arms like Ryan Pressly and Devin Williams.
But it was hard not to notice the lack of star power in the rotation. Kelly, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn are all fine starters, but hardly representative of the United States’ overall talent pool. Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Shane Bieber, Corbin Burnes and Shane McClanahan are just a few of the many American pitchers who didn’t end up participating.
That is obviously their prerogative, and it’s hard to fault someone for prioritizing their MLB season. Audacy MLB Insider Jon Heyman pointed to players’ mindsets in an appearance on “Mully & Haugh” as part of the reason the US lacked elite starters.
“There were six great starters going into this tournament, and (Japan) had four of them,” Heyman said, referring to Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. “Those four, plus (Julio) Urias and (Sandy) Alcantara, really six aces, six of the best pitchers in the world.
“Some of it is the way MLB does it, but Darvish, Urias and Alcantara are MLB pitchers and they pitched. It’s just kind of the mindset of the American players and the fact that they want to be cautious and be ready for the season and not take any chances. …
“Our top 12 pitchers were not there,” Heyman continued. “Our ace was Adam Wainwright – who has got huge heart and got up to 89 (mph) on adrenaline, when he got to spring training he was throwing 84 – but at this moment we really did not have a great pitching staff.
“Someone who was a former WBC player said it was our weakest pitching staff ever in the WBC. I’m not sure about that, but give credit to all the guys who were willing to do it.”
Again, it’s not hard to find a reason why certain players didn’t want to be part of it. Team USA Mark DeRosa even shared what Verlander told him when declining the invite, and the reigning Cy Young winner’s trepidation had to have been similar to where many other veteran hurlers stood.
And for young players who have yet to get their first big contract, putting any extra miles on the arm in a non-MLB game can be a dangerous dance.
But at the end of the day, the pitching staff had plenty of talent, and was able to get them to the final. That said, it’s fair to wonder how things could have been different had the US been able to bring its top pitchers.
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