Classic Baseball Upset ?

The Netherlands win over the Dominican Republic on Tuesday in the World Baseball Classic was the biggest upset since …. the Netherlands beat the Dominicans last Saturday. The latest win was obviously more dramatic since it was an elimination game, but still, it made me think about what we consider upsets, especially in baseball.

Expectations obviously have a lot to do with it. The Dominican team could be confused for a MLB all-star lineup, whereas the Netherlands only active MLB player was the Marlins own, Henricus [Rick] VandenHurk. I would think baseball would be more susceptible to upsets, given that great pitching can dominate a game. See that’s my prejudice going into the topic and it was reinforced in the case of the Netherlands against the Dominicans.

They ended up playing 20 innings in two games. The Netherlands only scored in 2 of them, the first inning of the first game [3 runs] and the last inning of the last game [2 runs]. So their hitting, while timely, was not the difference. Their pitching was. They allowed only 3 earned runs in those 20 innings, despite 15 base on balls–VandenHurk did not pitch against the Dominicans, but had 3 shutout innings against Puerto Rico. Based on that, could we make the case that pitching is the key to teams which are considered upset winners?

Let’s see if even a superficial review of recent World Series winners yields any evidence about the effect of pitching in upset scenarios. We’ll define upsets as those cases which the winning team had 10 [or less] wins than the team they beat during the regular season–I include the team pitching ERA for the season and keep in mind that American League ERA’s are probably about half-a-run higher due to the DH:

  • St Louis in 2006 [4.54 – 9th of NL 16 teams] beat Detroit [3.84 – 1st of 14 AL teams]
  • Florida in 2003 [4.04 – 7th in NL] beat New York [4.02 – 3rd in AL]
  • Atlanta in 1995 [3.44 – 1st in NL] beat Cleveland [3.83 – 1st in AL]
  • Cincinnati in 1990 [3.39 – 2nd in NL] beat Oakland [3.18 – 1st in AL]

Well, other than establishing that NL teams are more likely to pull the upset, it’s back to the drawing board in terms of understanding why upsets occur. Pitching is the easy and intuitive answer, but I need to find another way to look at the numbers. In three out of the four cases above, the team with the best pitching during the season [DH adjusted] was the victim of the upset.

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The Dutch Are Stunning the World at the Classic

March 12, 2009 – By JACK CURRY

SAN JUAN, P.R. — The surprising baseball heroes from the Netherlands trickled out of the third-base dugout on Wednesday, more successful than ever and as unidentifiable as ever. They have no names on their jerseys, which only partly explains why just one player was initially asked for an autograph.

When pitcher Leon Boyd signed his name, some of his teammates watched, happily and hopefully. Maybe a fan would ask them to sign, too. It was a cool scene surrounding a cool team, a team that has already overachieved by shocking the Dominicans twice in the World Baseball Classic.

The Dutch team’s second victory over the Dominican Republic, in 11 innings on Tuesday, enabled it to scoot into the second round of the W.B.C. Alexander Smit, another pitcher for the Netherlands, was acting relaxed about the stunning results while lounging at the hotel with some teammates. Eventually, he stopped being calm and acted as giddy as a Little Leaguer eating ice cream.

“Imagine when I’m 60, I’ll still be talking about this,” Smit said. “If I ever have kids, I’ll be telling them what we did.”

What the Netherlands did was press the fast-forward button on its humble status in international baseball. The Dutch pitched smartly and aggressively, made play after snazzy play, and generated just enough offense to stay alive. “For us, we shocked the world,” outfielder Gene Kingsale said.

Since the Netherlands and Puerto Rico had already qualified for the next round, Wednesday’s game mattered only for seeding. It also mattered to 19,501 Puerto Rican fans who watched the home team win, 5-0. That result, and Venezuela’s 5-3 win over the United States, set up these second-round matchups Saturday in Miami Gardens, Fla.: the Dutch play Venezuela, and Puerto Rico plays the United States.

The progress of the honkballers, which is the Dutch word for baseball players, is the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament’s equivalent of a 16th-seeded team beating a No. 1. Twice. Half of the players on the Netherlands’s 28-man roster were born there, 11 are from Curaçao and 2 are from Aruba. Boyd, who had a win and a save against the Dominicans, is from Canada.

Knowing that Boyd’s mother was from the Netherlands, Robert Eenhoorn, the team’s general manager, journeyed to Belgium to scout him. After watching Boyd, Eenhoorn asked him how soon he could apply for a Dutch passport. Boyd said that he already owned one.

“Then you just made the Dutch team,” Eenhoorn said.

Even Eenhoorn admitted that he thought his team was at least four years away from something this special. Rick VandenHurk has pitched in 22 games for the Florida Marlins, while 10 other players on the Dutch team are minor leaguers. If those players blossomed, Eenhoorn believed that 2013 could be memorable.

But the Netherlands succeeded in making 2009 memorable. The team with players from Corendon Kinheim, DOOR Neptunus and Veracruz Red Eagles, clubs in the Dutch Major Leagues, outlasted a Dominican team with David Ortiz, Hanley Ramírez and José Reyes. Only five Dutch players have major league experience.

The Netherlands used five pitchers in the first win over the Dominicans, and six in the second matchup. Manager Rod Delmonico tried to never let the Dominican hitters face the same reliever in two straight at-bats. That strategy confused some strong hitters, who were already flustered against pitchers they had never seen.

Bert Blyleven, who was born in the Netherlands and won 287 games in the majors, is the team’s pitching coach. He has implored his pitchers to be aggressive, to pitch to their strengths and to not worry about which All-Star was batting. Before Wednesday’s game with Puerto Rico, the Dutch had held opponents scoreless in 26 of 29 innings.

“I think sometimes when you’re David Ortiz or you put that Dominican club together or Puerto Rico, they think that maybe these guys over here are in awe,” Blyleven said. “Like I told them, David Ortiz puts his pants on the same as you do.”

In the tensest situations, the Dominicans, not the Dutch, were the players who seemed anxious. That was an interesting contrast, especially since Delmonico compared the talent in the Dutch league with that of Class A rookie ball. But, he proudly added that the Netherlands had proved it could compete at the major league level for the last few days, too.

As Eenhoorn watched batting practice on Wednesday, he was a satisfied architect. Eenhoorn, who played briefly with the Yankees in the mid-1990s, retired from the majors before the 1998 season. He could have stayed in the States, but he returned home to build the sport he loved. Construction is ahead of schedule.

“I’m a little in awe, too,” he said. “This is unbelievable what we’re doing.”
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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One Response to Classic Baseball Upset ?

  1. Robert says:

    Pitching is a big factor in upsets, but as you point out, baseball is too complex a game to pin any success or failure on just one element. No doubt the Netherlands’ pitching was a big contributor to their upset wins, but just as important was Dominicana’s lack of “team play”. I haven’t seen the numbers, but their average with runners in scoring position must have been minuscule. They also committed 3 errors in the elimination game. We’ll see what happens here in Miami this weekend and next week. Should be fun.

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