March 9, 2013
Of the 223 players with at least 350 plate appearances in 2012, J.P. Arencibia ranked 169th in wOBA. Among those players born in the United States, he's not one of the top 100 hitters. Maybe he's in the 100-150 range.
Yet there was Arencibia getting what may well have been the biggest at-bat for Joe Torre's team in Friday's game against Mexico. Team USA was down 5-1 with two on and none out in the bottom of the fifth. A right-hander was on the mound for Mexico. Arencibia is right-handed.
The U.S. is carrying three catchers. Joe Mauer was DHing, but there was little danger in batting for Arencibia and putting in Jonathan Lucroy afterwards. That would actually be an upgrade. Lucroy is a better player than Arencibia.
Of course, Buster Posey and Matt Wieters are also better players than Arencibia. They're not here. A.J. Pierzynski, Alex Avila and John Jaso are better players than Arencibia. I'd probably argue for Chris Iannetta, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Ellis, too.
Which is why Team USA is never going to win the World Baseball Classic as its presently constructed. It's not just that many of the country's best players don't want to play. It's that those in charge do a lousy job of picking the players that do. And then it does an even worse job of employing the players who are picked.
Gio Gonzalez is Team USA's second best pitcher. He's not even going to be used in Round 1, since it's such a given that the team is going to advance to Round 2 (except that's hardly the case). Eric Hosmer, starting for the ailing Mark Teixeira, is the wrong fallback to the wrong choice to play first base in the first place. Don't even get me started on Heath Bell.
Willie Bloomquist was on the provisional roster, for crying out loud.
And there was Arencibia. He's not one of the United States' five-best catchers. It's arguable whether he's in the top 10. Yet there he was starting against Pool D's toughest opponent in Friday's opener. Because he's handled a couple R.A. Dickey bullpen sessions. And then he was left in to take a crucial at-bat in the fifth, even though Dickey had already been pulled.
As I'm writing this, Team USA is still in the game against Mexico. Maybe it will come back. Maybe it will still advance to Round 2.
But winning the tournament? That's not happening. Team USA wasn't designed with any thoughts of winning the World Baseball Classic. It's just there to get taken down by a more interested team.