This year’s World Baseball Classic features perhaps the most competitive field in the tournament’s history. That makes for better matchups, better moments and better plays.
But it also can make for confusion. With great parity comes great responsibility, at least for tourney organizers. It’s hard to separate the real contenders from the phonies when teams only have a couple days to try to punch their ticket to the next round.
It may be a sin to cry in baseball. But to tie? Well, that’s a far more common occurrence.
So, what do you do? How do the powers that be differentiate two teams with identical records?
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The Sporting News details the various directives used to settle deadlocks in the WBC’s pool play.
World Baseball Classic tiebreaker rules
What happens if teams finish with the same record?
Nobody likes ties, especially in a tournament as loaded as the WBC. But they have to be dealt with, particularly in a four-game pool schedule.
In the case of teams with matching records, the first tiebreaker rule the tournament uses is head-to-head record between tied teams. A fairly simplistic concept, all in all; whoever performed the best in the matchups between evenly matched sides is probably deserving of making it on to the next round.
But even that rule is subject to scrutiny, namely when there are a large number of deadlocked teams in the same pool.
In that case, we move to the second tiebreaker…
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What happens if teams post even records against their deadlocked opponents?
The WBC had to enact this contingency right off the bat in 2023. Pool A was an absolute doozy, with Cuba, Italy, Netherlands, Panama and Chinese Taipei proving formidable opponents against one another. The result: 2-2 records across the board.
For fans hoping to watch competitive contests, that certainly was a good thing. For tournament officials hoping for a seamless transition to the next round? Well, that was a little more stressful. Five teams with 2-2 records meant each team finished 2-2 against tied teams, rendering the first tiebreaking rule obsolete.
So organizers had to get creative. The second tiebreaker, used to figure out which teams made it out of Pool A, focused on defense: the two sides with the fewest runs allowed per defensive out would punch their ticket to the knockout stages.
That may seem confounding, at least at first glance. It’s not too bad, though. Simply, this formula centers around dividing the amount of runs allowed over the course of pool play by the number of defensive outs recorded. It’s a fancy way to say “ERA” while accounting for potential mercies.
Cuba, which gave up 15 runs and recorded 108 outs over its four pool play games, averaged .139 runs allowed per out, the best rate in the pool. As such, it finished top of the group.
Italy came in at second, allowing 17 runs compared to 108 outs. That’s a ratio of .157 runs allowed/out, a hair better than the Dutch’s .186 runs allowed/out. As a result, the Italians are moving on.
Here’s the official language as its written up in the WBC’s rule book:
“The tied teams shall be ranked in the standings according to the lowest quotient of fewest runs allowed divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in the games in that round between the teams tied.”
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What happens if teams are tied on runs allowed per defensive outs recorded?
Although runs allowed per defensive outs recorded may seem an inscrutable tie-breaking determinant, that too can finish level.
In that case, we move on to the third (yes, third!) tiebreaker: earned runs allowed per defensive out recorded.
A mouthful, I know. All runs aren’t created equal; earned runs give a better reflection of how much a pitcher did or didn’t struggle.
As such, if teams were level on runs allowed per defensive out, superiority would be given to the side that gave up less earned runs per defensive out recorded. So, if two teams in a pool gave up 15 runs each compared to 108 defensive outs, the advantage would go to the side that allowed more earned runs to cross the plate.
The official language, as provided by the WBC:
“The tied teams shall be ranked in the standings according to the lowest quotient of fewest earned runs allowed divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in the games in that round between the teams tied.”
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What happens if teams are tied on earned runs allowed per defensive outs recorded?
As you’ve likely gauged by now, the WBC is a crapshoot. And if you’ve had to dig this deep into the rulebook, you can’t be surprised if teams finish level on earned runs allowed per defensive outs recorded, either.
In such a scenario, we move back to offense. The standings are determined based on which side posts the highest batting average in games against tied teams.
“The tied teams shall be ranked in the standings according to the highest batting average in games in that round between the teams tied.”
A proposal to call this the Rod Carew Rule, perhaps?
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What happens if teams are tied on batting average in games between tied teams?
Somehow, even this marker — batting average in pool games between tied teams — can prove indecipherable. On the off chance this does happen, we reach our fifth (and final) tiebreaker: a good old fashioned drawing of straws.
“Standings shall be determined by the drawing of lots, conducted by WBCI.”
You gotta love an elementary school classic.
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