After Mexico beat Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, Mexico figured that it would be headed to the tiebreaker game against Italy, as both teams sported 1-2 records. Mexico (-4) and Italy (-6) had far better run differentials than Venezuela (-12).
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) March 13, 2017
But as it turns out, the World Baseball Classic actually came up with a far more confusing tiebreaker: runs allowed per defensive inning. And this terrible metric actually sent Venezuela to the tiebreaker game against Italy.
MLB says Venezuela will play Italy in Monday's tiebreaker. Based on runs allowed per def. inning, Venezuela (1.11) edged out Mexico (1.12).
— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) March 13, 2017
Mexico’s players were less than pleased.
We win by two and lose by one, Venezuela loses by 2 and wins by 1? Way to set up a tournament.
— Adrián González (@Adrian_ElTitan) March 13, 2017
Here’s how it works:
Among the three teams vying for the tiebreaker spot, Mexico allowed 17 runs overall but 1.12 runs per defensive inning, Venezuela allowed 21 runs overall but 1.11 runs per defensive inning and Italy allowed 20 runs overall but 1.05 runs per defensive inning.
However, the tiebreaker helped Venezuela, because Mexico didn’t get to play as many innings. Mexico lost to Italy as the visiting team, and thus was only able to play eight innings in that game. Had it been the home team and put together a scoreless ninth inning, then it would have advanced. Meanwhile, Venezuela and Italy’s game went to extra innings, allowing both of those teams to have 19 defensive innings, while Mexico had 17.
Random chance like this shouldn’t decide tiebreakers, especially when there are better, simpler methods available.
There are other rules that did not affect this tiebreaker scenario but could have impacted “runs allowed per defensive inning” in other instances, as explained by NBC Sports’ Bill Baer:
Using this metric as the basis for determining tiebreaker participants, however, conflicts with other WBC rules, namely the “early termination” rule and the extra-innings rules. The early termination rule ends a game in which a team is leading by 15 runs after the fifth inning or if a team is leading by 10 runs after the seventh inning. Because teams are automatically prevented from adding additional innings into the denominator, some teams are doubly punished because RAPDI statistic has fewer innings in the denominator.
It also would adversely affect longer extra inning games.
The extra-innings rule puts runners at first and second base to start any extra inning starting with the 11th inning. This extra-innings rule did not impact the outcome of his tiebreaker scenario, but it could have and it’s something the WBC should look at amending for the next tournament.
Mexico has filed a protest about the rules, and they have a point. There is absolutely no good reason for the World Baseball Classic to use such an obscure, easily-manipulated tiebreaker. Run differential is a fine and simple tiebreaker that everyone can easily understand. In no world does runs allowed per defensive inning make sense as an alternative.