When the rosters of the 20 participants in the 2023 World Baseball Classic were announced last month, our imaginations were captured by some prospective lineups that looked absolutely stacked. While it’ll be decades before we know how many Hall of Famers will be featured in the tournament, which begins next week, we know that there will be many.
The level of talent in this tournament — especially among the top few teams — is unprecedented.
Even if you go back to the summer of 1933, when The Sporting News hailed baseball’s first official All-Star Game “The Game of the Century.” Just imagine one legend after another strolling to the Comiskey Park plate to try their luck against Lefty Grove or Carl Hubbell, stars like Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons, Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry.
Now imagine if it were a tournament rather than a single game, one featuring all of those great players but also Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Turkey Stearnes, among the Hall of Famers who appeared in the first Negro Leagues All-Star Game, played later that summer, also at Comiskey.
Now imagine if the best players from outside the United States were part of the proceedings as well, greats like Martin Dihigo and Cristobal Torriente, both from Cuba, and Haruyasu Nakajima, a leading star from the blossoming baseball culture of Japan.
Now imagine if that tournament were more than a mere exhibition.
What you’d end up with would look a lot like the WBC.
In addition to listing the probable starting lineups for that first All-Star Game, The Sporting News also noted the season-to-date batting averages for each starter. Because the American League’s figures were a little higher (.318 to .305, in total), the publication declared the AL to have a “marked advantage in hitting ability.”
Well, hey, modern analytics weren’t exactly a thing then, so TSN might have stumbled into a proper conclusion, its method doesn’t hold up to 2023 standards. We now have the tools and the numbers to dig much deeper than that.
We know that the top WBC lineups are stacked. But just how stacked are they? Let’s put some of those 21st century tools to work.
How the WBC teams stack up
The lineups that inspired this batting-centric approach to looking at the WBC are no mystery, as debates have cropped up everywhere about whether the Dominican Republic or the United States has the stronger lineup. That conversation overlooks Japan, which has a little less MLB name recognition, but one look at the odds tells us that Shohei Ohtani and his teammates ought to be part of this conversation.
With that in mind, let’s run through the top seven lineups by Lineup Wins Added (click here for our methodology). Why seven? These seven teams feature an LWA that would slot them among the top 30 in MLB this season (for context, the San Diego Padres rank first in MLB, at 9.4 LWA). Thus, they can all be classified as big league caliber. (We’ll leave aside the obvious jokes about the seven offenses in MLB that fell out of the top 30 because of the WBC teams.)
Do not take this as a swipe at any of the other 13 WBC teams not listed — this is purely a statistical glance. We’re dealing with teams from all over the globe, featuring players who star in leagues many of us have never watched, that we can’t measure with any high degree of certainty. That doesn’t mean they can’t be competitive. The Netherlands, for example, made the semifinals in the two most recent editions of the WBC and features MLB standouts like Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, Jonathan Schoop, Didi Gregorius and Jurickson Profar.
1. United States (15.8 Lineup Wins Added)
2023 MLB rank: 1 | Historical percentile: 99
Closest historical comp: 1928 New York Yankees
1. Mookie Betts
2. Trea Turner
3. Mike Trout
4. Paul Goldschmidt
5. Kyle Schwarber (L)
6. Pete Alonso
7. Kyle Tucker (L)
8. Nolan Arenado
9. J.T. Realmuto
Well, here you have it. While this won’t quiet the debates, by this method the United States rates as the top hitting group in the WBC. The U.S. has an All-Star team of a lineup, to be sure. Trout, Goldschmidt and Betts are all recent MVPs.
The lineup has it all. You’ve got elite power (Trout, Goldschmidt, Alonso and Schwarber), contact maestros (Tim Anderson, Jeff McNeil) and basepath terrors (Betts, Cedric Mullins, Bobby Witt Jr. and Turner). No one can match the offensive punch of the catchers (Realmuto and Will Smith).
There is speed, power, contact, balance and depth. What more could you want? This would not just be by far the best lineup in MLB but it could be one of the best ever, reaching the heights of teams with names like the Boys of Summer and the Big Red Machine.
2. Dominican Republic (13 LWA)
2023 MLB rank: 1 | Historical percentile: 97.5
Closest historical comp: 2013 Boston Red Sox
1. Julio Rodriguez
2. Wander Franco
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
4. Juan Soto (L)
5. Manny Machado
6. Rafael Devers (L)
7. Teoscar Hernandez
8. Jean Segura
9. Francisco Mejia (B)
Maybe the best thing you can say about the Dominican’s high-octane potential lineup is that this listing is really just a guess because there are way more legit star hitters on this roster than you can pack into one lineup.
Franco is listed here as the starting shortstop, but it could be American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Pena or possibly veteran Ketel Marte, both of whom could be in the mix at second base in place of Segura. In the corner outfield/DH mix, we’ve left out Eloy Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Also, while the D.R. comes in just behind the U.S. for the top spot, make no mistake: That LWA rating is wildly high. This is a great, great group. Like Team USA, the Dominicans would feature easily the strongest lineup in baseball if slid into MLB.
3. Japan (6.5 LWA)
2023 MLB rank: 3 | Historical percentile: 82.9
Closest historical comp: 1992 Philadelphia Phillies
1. Masataka Yoshida (L)
2. Shohei Ohtani (L)
3. Munetaka Murakami (L)
4. Hotaka Yamakawa
5. Kensuke Kondoh (L)
6. Lars Nootbaar (L)
7. Shugo Maki
8. Sosuke Genda
9. Takumi Oshiro (L)
Japan received a blow this week when Chicago Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki suffered an oblique strain and had to withdraw from the WBC. While Suzuki is a standout and a familiar name to MLB fans, this team has the depth to withstand the loss.
For most of us, the image we have of the kind of offenses we’ve seen from Japan in international play is one featuring lots of contact, bat control and bunting. That’s here, too, but there is also enough raw power for Japan to go toe-to-toe with the United States and the Dominican Republic.
Everyone knows about Ohtani, of course. But Murakami is an emergent, international star who big league clubs are already slobbering over. Last season, at age 22, Murakami hit .318/.458/.711 with 56 homers, 134 RBIs (in 141 games) and nearly as many walks (118) as strikeouts (128). The homers broke a relished record held by the legendary Sadaharu Oh. He’s going to be a very rich young man.
Meanwhile, Yamakawa hit more than 40 homers for the third time in his career. And Red Sox fans will get a look at their new left fielder, Yoshida, in some high-stakes action.
4. Venezuela (6.2 LWA)
2023 MLB rank: 4 | Historical percentile: 81.9
Closest historical comp: 2001 Texas Rangers
1. Jose Altuve
2. Luis Arraez (L)
3. Ronald Acuna Jr.
4. Eugenio Suarez
5. Miguel Cabrera
6. Salvador Perez
7. David Peralta (L)
8. Anthony Santander (B)
9. Andres Gimenez (L)
Figuring out the positional fits for this roster will be a challenge for manager Omar Lopez, but as far as figuring out a batting order, he has nothing but great options.
The middle of the lineup probably lags a bit behind those of the top three teams on this list and it’s not quite as deep, but it’s a configuration that would rank among the best in MLB if that’s where it was deployed. The bench is strong as well, with Gleyber Torres and Eduardo Escobar among those left out of our guess at a starting lineup.
Of course, this will mark the last international competition for Cabrera, at least while he’s an active big leaguer. Maybe he can kick-start a resurgent final season by helping Venezuela go on a deep run.
5. Mexico (minus-0.3 LWA)
2023 MLB rank: 15 | Historical percentile: 50.1
Closest historical comp: 1996 Los Angeles Dodgers
1. Randy Arozarena
2. Alek Thomas (L)
3. Luis Urias
4. Rowdy Tellez (L)
5. Joey Meneses
6. Alex Verdugo (L)
7. Isaac Paredes
8. Jonathan Aranda (L)
9. Austin Barnes
Most of the early buzz about the Mexican squad has revolved around starting pitching options that include Julio Urias, Jose Urquidy, Taijuan Walker and Patrick Sandoval. But Mexico features a balanced, athletic lineup. With a rating that puts it roughly on par with a league-average lineup, the offense is good enough for the team to compete at a high level if the pitchers live up to their billing.
The offense did lose a little thump this week when Toronto Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk withdrew from the WBC. That leaves the primary responsibilities behind the plate to Barnes.
6. Korea (minus-1 LWA)
2023 MLB rank: 16 | Historical percentile: 46
Closest historical comp: 1973 California Angels
1. Tommy Edman (B)
2. Ha-Seong Kim
3. Jung Hoo Lee (L)
4. Jeong Choi
5. Baek-Ho Kang (L)
6. ByungHo Park
7. Hyun Soo Kim (L)
8. Euiji Yang
9. Sung Bum Na (L)
One familiar name missing from the roster is first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who the Pittsburgh Pirates opted to hold out of the tournament because of offseason elbow surgery. (Choi reportedly wasn’t too happy about it, either.) Nevertheless, an outstanding lineup will take the field for Korea in the WBC, a group that should generate plenty of balls in play. It’s also a deep roster — with several additional players, like middle infielder Hye-Seong Kim — more than capable of occupying spots in the above projected lineup.
While Edman (St. Louis Cardinals) and Ha-Seong Kim (Padres) are the names that will stand out for MLB fans, if Korea goes deep in the tournament, the breakout star could well be Jung Hoo Lee, a 24-year-old MVP outfielder who has hit .342 over six seasons in the KBO. He was rookie of the year in that circuit at age 18.
Lee hit 23 homers in 2022 and slugged .575 while walking 66 times, more than twice his number of whiffs (32). Yeah, he’s that kind of hitter … and he’s reportedly a strong candidate to head to MLB after the 2023 season. Here’s your chance to see him in action with the stakes at a premium.
One thing that drags down Korea’s rating a bit was that Kang, one of the club’s primary power threats, was injured for much of last season and his numbers — and thus his statistical translation — suffered as a result. Still, the 22-year-old put up a .683 OPS over 62 games after three straight seasons when his OPS had been north of .900.
7. Puerto Rico (minus-5.2 LWA)
2023 MLB rank: 24 | Historical percentile: 25.2
Closest historical comp: 1993 New York Mets
1. Francisco Lindor (B)
2. Enrique Hernandez
3. Emmanuel Rivera
4. Javier Baez
5. Eddie Rosario (L)
6. MJ Melendez (L)
7. Neftali Soto
8. Emmanuel Rivera
9. Martin Maldonado
After finishing second in the 2017 WBC, this rating is a bit of letdown for Puerto Rico. It’s still a lineup full of big names, several of which have much to prove, as does Puerto Rico’s new manager — freshly retired Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
As for that much-to-prove comment, we’re referring to Hernandez (.629 OPS in 2022), Rosario (.587) and Baez (.671), all of whom are coming off subpar seasons. Because, where possible, these ratings are projection-based, those seasons are a big factor in dragging down Puerto Rico’s overall outlook.
Nevertheless, Puerto Rico is once again a team to watch, and not simply because it has some of the game’s most entertaining players. In addition to the veteran bounce-back candidates, Molina can turn to a pair of rising stars looking to establish their identities on the big stage in Melendez and Rivera, who is likely to man third after Jose Miranda pulled out.
Yeah, it’s a big stage all right. It’s not just an All-Star game, but an All-Star tournament, one that gives baseball a shining chance to show how much it has developed as a global product. It’s also a chance to show that the game is doing just fine here in the country where it was invented. It’s more than a fan back in 1933 could have ever possibly imagined.