After initially accepting an invitation to pitch for the United States in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Kris Medlen has decided to withdraw from the event with the upcoming birth of his first child. Obviously the milestone in his personal life was the factor in the decision, but the Atlanta Braves should be thrilled with the news from a baseball standpoint.
It is a rare opportunity to be able to represent your country, and I enjoy cheering on the red, white and blue in all competitive events, but the downside of the event far outweighs the upside from the organization’s perspective – especially with a starting pitcher. The World Baseball Classic has placed restrictions on the amount of pitches for pitchers in hopes to prevent players from being overworked. However, these guys are competitors, and there’s a huge difference between pitching four innings in the World Baseball Classic and Spring Training. Pitchers look to work out the kinks and find a groove in a meaningless Spring Training game. The World Baseball Classic adds pressure to perform for your country.
The top two pitchers for the United States in 2009 were Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt. Oswalt’s ERA rose in 2009 to 4.12 including a 4.68 ERA after his first four starts. While Peavy posted a solid 3.45 ERA in 2009, he also got off to a rocky start with a 5.74 ERA after the first month and rose by more than a half-run from his 2008 season. In looking at the 2013 USA roster, Medlen would have been a likely candidate to start one of the first two games. The Braves no longer have to worry about having a down season or even a rocky start to the 2013 season due to the World Baseball Classic.
The most staggering example of a pitcher being doomed by the World Baseball Classic is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Remember when Matsuzaka finished fourth in the American League Cy Young vote thanks to an 18-3 record with a 2.90 ERA back in 2008. He continued that success in the World Baseball Classic being named the Most Valuable Player of the event after leading Japan to the title behind his three wins. Here are his ERAs the following years: 5.76, 4,69, 5.30 and 8.28. He never won 10 games in any of those seasons after winning at least 15 in his first two MLB seasons. That incredible drop-off in production is one of the major fears for general managers with starting pitchers in the event.
Would Medlen have completely blown up following the event? Doubtful. It’s more likely he would have followed the mold of Peavy or Oswalt. But the point is Medlen can enter the 2013 season after having a normal Spring Training. He can build off his success last season by gaining comfort on the mound without the added pressure of delivering for the United States. Medlen may look back at the birth of his child being a blessing to him in more ways than one.