On Saturday, Washington Nationals’ left-hander Gio Gonzalez announced that he would accept his bid to join the Team USA rotation, replacing Kris Medlen. Medlen withdrew from the World Baseball Classic a week ago because his wife is due to have the couple’s first child any day now.
The move from Medlen to Gonzalez isn’t a positive or a negative, it’s more of a lateral move, provided that Medlen looks as good in 2013 as he did at the end of 2012. Both pitchers can be utterly dominant strikeout machines when things are going well. Gonzalez won 21 games last year while striking out 207 batters in just 199.1 innings, which was good enough for a 3rd place finish in the Cy Young vote. Medlen was baseball’s best pitcher over the 2nd half of 2012, going 9-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA. The biggest positives for Team USA are that Gonzalez has more experience, throwing 400 more career big league innings than the Braves righty, and that the National’s ace has displayed a bit more consistency.
More importantly, it guarantees that the US will enter the WBC with the strongest rotation and the strongest roster. RA Dickey and Gio Gonzalez will top the rotation, which bumps Ryan Vogelsong and Derek Holland down to their more natural #3 and #4 spots. Dickey and Gonzalez are the exact type of guy you want fronting your rotation in a tournament with a pitch count. Both guys are efficient workers, averaging less than 4 pitches per batter, and both pitchers know a thing or two about picking up strikeouts. Last year Dickey led the Senior Circuit in whiffs, sitting 230 batters down via the K, while Gonzalez ranked 4th in total strikeouts and 1st in strikeout rate, averaging 9.3 K’s per 9 innings.
No other rotation in the World Baseball Classic has anywhere near this much firepower, and the US may not be done adding to the artillery just yet. Justin Verlander is still mulling over his offer to join the Stars and Stripes, which would make America the overwhelming favorite to win their first WBC title.
Enough with the whining already, Team USA is loaded
Since rosters were announced on January 17th, I’ve seen a number of writers’ bemoan Joe Torre’s roster selections and the so-called lack of “superstars” in the tournament. It’s understandable to be a little disappointed that Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen aren’t here, but it’s not like the guys playing in their place are slouches. Just take a look at all the star-wattage Team USA is bringing to the WBC:
- Number of MVP/Cy Young Award winners: 4
- Total number of MLB All-Star appearances: 40
- Players on Team USA who have been All-Stars: 16 out of 27
- Number of hitters with 30 homer seasons: 7
Every single offensive starter has an All-Star appearance, and each of the backups has a well-defined role on the team. Out of the starting pitchers, only Derek Holland is without an appearance at the midsummer classic. And the bullpen may be the most loaded of all with three current MLB closers in tow including Craig Kimbrel, who had arguably the best season by a reliever in baseball history. This roster’s loaded, let’s stop acting like it isn’t.
The King is no more
When rosters for the WBC were announced there was one that, in terms of raw talent, stood evenly with America. That country was Venezuela. With a stellar roster featuring former Cy Young and MVP award winners, the Venezuelans appeared to have the raw talent necessary to win the tournament.
But their roster took a big hit this weekend with the announcement that Felix Hernandez had withdrawn from the team. The 2010 AL Cy Young winner is still hammering out all the details of his lucrative 7-year/$135 million dollar extension with the Mariners so he won’t be available to play in the WBC.
Anibal Sanchez now becomes the ace of the Venezuelan staff which is like stepping into a Ford Mustang after riding in a Lamborghini all day. The Mustang has comparable power but in terms of control and overall makeup, the Lambo wins the day going away. It also means that unless Johan Santana is going to make a surprise appearance, Team Venezuela will have to rely a little more on their offense, because the country doesn’t have any more aces who are ready to step in and contribute.