Three years have passed since Japan and Korea stole the thunder of the first World Baseball Classic: Korea went undefeated until beaten by Japan in the semifinals, while Japan escaped three losses to beat Cuba in the final. This year's tourney features the same 16 teams that played in 2006, again grouped in four pools of four teams each. Unlike in 2006, though, teams will not play a round-robin tournament, but will instead play in a double-elimination format, with the top two teams from each group advancing. That will create two more four-team groups, who will again play a double-elimination tournament with the top two teams advancing from each group. The final four will then play single-elimination games to decide a winner.
The overwhelming majority of players in the WBC either do now or have played in the U.S. major or minor leagues, for whom we have extensive, reliable data that describes their contributions pretty effectively. We also have good data for the leagues in Cuba, Japan, and Korea, so the players from those countries and leagues aren't entirely mysterious to us. That still leaves four teams -- China, Taiwan, South Africa, and the Netherlands -- with a significant number of players who have not played in a "top" league. Not surprisingly, they rate as the four weakest teams in the tournament, and were a combined 2-10 in the 2006 tourney.