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How does the World Baseball Classic work?

Format, rules, schedule for 2017 WBC

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The World Baseball Classic is back in 2017, and many baseball fans are wondering how this worldwide tournament works. What's the format? What do the "pools" mean? What are the rules?

It's that time of year when everybody is looking forward to baseball. The end of the winter is near, and pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training. Fans are itching to get their first look at their team, even if it's just an exhibition game.

But what people rarely remember is how stale spring training gets by the middle of March. Yes, there are still games to watch, but when players most people have never heard of are dominating the reps for the better part of a month, fans check out until Opening Day.

READ10 players from Tigers organization to play in WBC

Every four years, there's a remedy for that: The World Baseball Classic.

Even though many of the top MLB players don't participate in the WBC, it's an event that should catch the eye of serious baseball fans around the world. Since baseball was scratched from the Olympics, the WBC has become the only way to crown a world champion in the sport, which has pockets of elite talent around the world.

One of the reasons the WBC doesn't get more attention is that people don't understand how it works. Here's a breakdown of all things WBC.

Format

The way the WBC determines its champion is simple. There are four rounds, each round eliminating half of the remaining teams.

In the first round, there are four pools of four teams. Each team plays the other three teams in its pool once, meaning every team plays three games. At the end of those three games, the top two teams from each pool advance, cutting the field to eight.

In the second round, the top two teams from Pools A and B from the first round form Pool E, and the top two teams from Pools C and D from the first round form Pool F. Essentially, the eight teams are split up into two pools of four teams. As they did in the first round, each team plays the other three teams in its pool once, meaning every team plays three games. At the end of those games, the top two teams from both pools advance, cutting the field to four teams.

In the semifinals, the winner of Pool E plays the runner-up of Pool F and the winner of Pool F plays the runner-up of Pool E. This round is single elimination, so the winners of these two games move into the championship game.

The championship is also single elimination, so the winner of this game is crowned world champion.

How are the original teams chosen?

Qualifying for the World Baseball Classic is largely based off performance in the last WBC, which was played in 2013. The top 12 teams from the 2013 WBC automatically qualified for the 2017 tournament, with only the four teams that finished in last place in their pools needing to play in the qualifying rounds.

The four last-place teams from 2013 were placed in a group with 12 other countries to qualify for this year's WBC. The 16 competing teams were placed into four four-team pools to play against each of the other three teams in their pool. The winners of each pool qualified for the 2017 WBC.

How are the pools determined?

When the qualifying is over, the four first-round pools are constructed based on past performance, not a random draw.

The four teams that advanced to the semifinals in 2013 -- the Dominican Republic, Japan, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands -- were split up to become Team 1 in each pool.

The four teams that advanced to the second round in 2013 but didn't advance to the semifinals -- the United States, Italy, Cuba and Chinese Taipei -- were split up to become Team 2 in each pool.

The four teams that won at least one game in the 2013 first round but didn't advance to the second round -- China, South Korea, Venezuela and Canada -- were split up to become Team 3 in each pool.

The four teams that qualified for this year's tournament -- Australia, Mexico, Colombia and Israel -- were split up to become Team 4 in each pool.

Teams 1 and 2 in each pool play as the home team in two out of three first-round games. Team 1 is the away team against Team 4 and Team 2 is the away team against Team 1. Team 3 is only home against Team 4. Team 4 is only home against Team 1.

After the first round, home and away teams are determined by performance in this year's tournament.

You can check out the full 2017 World Baseball Classic schedule here.

Pitcher limitations

The WBC enforces pitch count limits throughout the tournament to protect players.

In the first round, pitchers can't throw more than 65 pitches. In the second round, they can't throw more than 80 pitches. In the semifinals and championship rounds, they can't throw more than 95 pitches.

If a pitcher hits his pitch limit in the middle of an at-bat, they can finish the at-bat and then must be pulled at the end of the at-bat.

A pitcher who throws 50 or more pitches in a game can't pitch for the next four days in the tournament. A pitcher who throws 30-49 pitches can't pitch for one day. A pitcher who throws on back-to-back days can't pitch the following day.

Mercy rules

That's right, the WBC has mercy rules!

Any team leading by 10 or more runs after the other team has batted in the 7th inning wins the game.

Any team leading by 15 or more runs after the other team has batted in the 5th inning wins the game.

Extra innings fun

If games go deep into extra innings, the WBC has rules to try to speed things along.

Starting in the 11th inning, each team will start every inning with runners on first and second base with no outs. The batter who normally would have batted still bats, and the player immediately ahead of him in the batting order goes to first base. The player who bats immediately ahead of the runner on first base starts on second base.

Tiebreakers

Here are the tiebreakers for the first and second rounds of the tournament, according to the official WBC rules:

First and Second Place Teams Tied

If the first and second-place teams are tied in a pool, the team that defeated the other tied team in that round is ranked higher in the pool standings for that round.

Three Teams Tied 2-1

If there are three teams 2-1 in a pool, then the tiebreaker rules would be applied to rank the three, and the first-ranked team would advance. The second and third-ranked teams would play a game to determine who the second-place team is.

The tiebreaker rules applied would be:

  • Step 1: The tied teams are ranked in the standings for that round according to fewest runs allowed divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense in the games in that round between the teams tied.
  • Step 2: The tied teams are ranked in the standings according to fewest earned runs allowed divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense in the games in that round between the teams tied.
  • Step 3: The tied teams are ranked in the standings according to highest batting average in games in that round between the teams tied.
  • Step 4: Standings are determined by the drawing of lots, conducted by WBCI.

Three Teams Tied 1-2

If there are three teams tied 1-2 in a pool, then the tiebreaker rules would be applied to rank the three, and the first two ranked teams would play a tiebreaker game, the winner of which would advance.

The tiebreaker rules applied would be:

  • Step 1: The tied teams are ranked in the standings for that round according to fewest runs allowed divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense in the games in that round between the teams tied.
  • Step 2: The tied teams are ranked in the standings according to fewest earned runs allowed divided by the number of innings (including partial innings) played in defense in the games in that round between the teams tied.
  • Step 3: The tied teams are ranked in the standings according to highest batting average in games in that round between the teams tied.
  • Step 4: Standings are determined by the drawing of lots, conducted by WBCI

Click here to view the World Baseball Classic official rules.

Do you have more questions that should be added to this article? Email them to me at dhutchinson@wdiv.com.