Yesterday, we introduced a series that analyses the latest WBSC rankings [link]. In it, we noted the ascendant nations of Europe, led by helium-filled Israel, which completed a shocking treble of tournament wins in 2019. Today, we look at a Confederation of European Baseball rival that has dropped to an all-time low, along with two North American juggernauts that fallen consistently in recent years. Finally, we note the freefall of a once intriguing Asian nation.
Three Powerhouses Tumble
Four teams faced worrying drops in the WBSC table. Cuba stumbled from fifth to eighth, with the former its previous worst result. It marked the third-straight drop in the rankings. Furthermore, its 2019 ranking removes it from a tie with the U.S. for first in the all-time rankings—which have been kept since 2009—and positions it third, after Japan.
Only 17 points (less than 0.7 percent) above Venezuela, Cuba would have plummeted further had it not been for its Under-12 team claiming bronze at the 2019 World Cup. A tenth-place finish at the Premier 12 and sixth at the Pan-American Games were real disappointments in 2019. Cuba has not won a single tournament since the 2016 Under-15 World Cup, a shocking run for the long-time undefeated world champion. A recent article [link] suggests that Cuba may decide to invite a few defectors to play as “wild cards” in the WBC should help the senior team significantly.
Canada added another disappointing ranking in a run of eight-straight polls without positive movement. Its No. 12 ranking is its worst-ever and in the last 13 months it has fallen outside of the Top 10 for the first time since rankings have been kept. Failing to send a team to Under-15 Pan-American Championship and the postponement of the Under-23 Pan-American Championship certainly had significant effects. In all likelihood, it is a short-term fall for a nation that has been remarkably consistent in the last few decades.
Italy also continued its freefall, dropping in the rankings for the sixth time in the last seven polls. Strangely, the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier was not included by the WBSC in its rankings, but the estimated 205 points from its fifth-place finish would have actually enlarged the gap between it and Czech Republic, which is ranked ahead of Italy for the first time ever. Italy has thus far failed to send a team to the Under-23 European Championship, also hurting its ranking.
“There’s confidence in the young generations,” remarked an anonymous Italian baseball journalist with extensive knowledge of the national team programme. “The staff [new manager Mike Piazza and National Director of Baseball Bill Holmberg, returning to a similar position with FIBS] is going to work hard to improve the development of our players.”
It is worth noting a final nation on the back foot, with Thailand in freefall at No. 51, a drop of 26 places in the last six years. Since its top rating of No. 17 in mid-2009, has only made positive progression in one out of 12 rankings. There is a partial explanation for this year’s dramatic drop, however: its Southeast Asian Games silver medal did not count for points, costing them a whopping 15 places.
Previous articles in this series:
Part I: Europe and Israel [link]
All photos copyright Extra Innings UK, with the exception of the team photo of Thailand, copyright Baseball Thailand.