World Baseball Classic
Team USA isn't WBC favorite, but boasts its best roster in years
World Baseball Classic

Team USA isn't WBC favorite, but boasts its best roster in years

Updated Mar. 7, 2023 5:25 p.m. ET

When Team USA takes the field this week, first for exhibition games against the Giants and Angels and then, Saturday, for its World Baseball Classic opener against Great Britain, it will do so with a significantly more skilled roster than it has had in over a decade.

In terms of previous-season WAR, as calculated by Baseball-Reference, this USA team is closer to its elite aughts-era peers than to its lesser 2017 and 2013 rosters. Of course, that may not matter. The 2017 team, 30% less valuable during the previous full season than the 2006 equivalent, remains the only one to win the tournament. The 2006 team’s stacked squad couldn’t earn its way to the semifinals.

But Team USA’s assembled talent certainly plays a role in the Americans’ status as the consensus No. 2 favorites, after the Dominican Republic, to win this year’s WBC. Five 2023 Americans — Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, J.T. Realmuto, Mookie Betts and Mike Trout — logged seasons worth 6 WAR or more this past season. The 2017 Americans had zero such players, although they did benefit from the services of both Arenado and Goldschmidt.

Those two, and many other 2023 Americans, enter this tournament coming off of career years. How much that will mean is unclear. Remember that the 2017 WBC MVP, Marcus Stroman, registered a mediocre 2016 season, with a 1.4 WAR, before he starred the following spring. (Stroman, who pitched for the U.S. in 2017 and later recruited members to join the next team, will this year pitch for Puerto Rico to honor his mother, a Puerto Rican native.)


Overall, the 2023 USA roster and its 99.5 combined 2022 WAR ranks in the middle of the country’s five teams since the inaugural tournament. The 2006 team had a collective 113.2 WAR in 2005. The 2009 team had a collective 101.7 WAR in 2008. The 2013 team logged just 78.2 WAR in 2012, and the 2017 team had 79.4 WAR in 2016.

The additions of Betts and Trout augur well for both the Americans’ chances to win this year and the World Baseball Classic’s chances to grow. All-Stars Trea Turner, Kyle Tucker and Pete Alonso also help both fronts. Clayton Kershaw and Bryce Harper, too, had designs on competing before injuries interrupted them. 

It’s unlikely the Americans will have any issues scoring. From the starting nine on down, the offense is the strength. It’s so strong, even, that some of that WAR will go to waste. Will Smith and Realmuto, perhaps the sport’s two best backstops, will split catching duties. At least two of the likes of Tim Anderson, an All-Star each of the last two seasons; Jeff McNeil, the reigning batting champion; and Kyle Schwarber, 2022 postseason star, should be relegated to the bench each night.

Ideally, the Americans would reallocate some of that leftover talent toward their rotation. There are seven starting candidates: Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Lance Lynn, Brady Singer, Merrill Kelly, Kyle Freeland and Nick Martinez. All of them are competent; none of them inspire total confidence. Singer, a 26-year-old Royals right-hander, had the best season of the bunch in 2022 in terms of bWAR, but he had little track record until then. Mikolas was dependable if unspectacular, and he is as good a bet as any American to start multiple games.

Because of the tournament rules, dominant starters are significantly less important than they are in the MLB postseason. Starters can’t throw more than 65 pitches per first-round game. That number escalates through the tournament, up to 95 for the semifinals and finals.

Teams can utilize relievers more like they would in the playoffs. Pitchers can throw on consecutive days; they just need one day off before they can throw a third time. If their pitch count reaches 30, they are required to take a day off. Those constraints should allow the U.S. relievers to tackle a large percentage of innings. And the Americans’ top two relievers, Ryan Pressly and Devin Williams, might form the top duo in the tournament, with the probable exception of the dominant Díaz brothers, Edwin and Alexis, who will pitch for Puerto Rico.

Beyond Pressly and Williams, the American bullpen is full of relievers who found success a season ago. Jason Adam, a 31-year-old journeyman, had the sport’s third-best WHIP in 2022, at 0.76. Brooks Raley and Adam Ottavino, fellow veterans, weren’t far behind at 0.97 each, and Daniel Bard also snuck under 1.00 while pitching his home games at Coors Field. Other nations might have comparable assortments of arms, but the bullpen should not be the Americans’ downfall.

Twenty 2023 Americans were worth two or more WAR last season. Team USA has not featured more such players since the first WBC. This year’s roster is replete with stars, and it is deep. It should be no surprise if this group outlasts its peers.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of "How to Beat a Broken Game." Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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