In our fourth article on the most recent world baseball rankings, we delve even deeper into the methodology to explain some idiosyncracies. Our research affirmed that two nations are missing from the rankings, multiple important tournaments did not deliver rankings points (even ones that had in the past), and that as a result, 16 teams were under-ranked. Thus, in this final piece to the WBSC world baseball rankings puzzle, we offer our take on how the rankings ought to have looked, while also offering insight into two of the newest affiliated countries, Kosovo and Egypt.
New Faces on the Largest Rankings Ever
The December 2019 ballot, released last week, was the largest WBSC or IBAF ranking ever at 85 nations and territories. The previous high was the December 2012 rankings, which had 77 teams. Between October 2009 and December 2018, the rankings averaged 72 teams, making for a massive leap in the most recent listing.
The WBSC billed the enlarged ballot as welcoming 10 newcomers, but that number actually refers to the number of nations on the 2019 rankings that were absent from 2018. A total of five teams had never been ranked before 2019, while the three African nations noted in yesterday’s piece enter the WBSC rankings for the first time. The other two, Fiji and Palau, had simply been unranked since 2014.
The five debutants include the four African nations above and Bangladesh (pictured above), which competed in the West Asia Cup in 2019. Since forming a national team in 2016, the South Asian nation had played at least one friendly against India and competed in the Presidential Cup, failing to earn rankings points at either.
Omissions from the Rankings
A sixth nation ought to have entered the rankings for the first time this year: Jamaica. After awarding 50 points to its winner in 2018, the Caribbean Cup did not award points in 2019, likely because the ‘Dominican Republic’ and ‘Venezuela’ teams were not representatives. The Caribbean island, home to Chili Davis, would have debuted at No. 83, however, bumping Haiti up four rungs to No. 79 and Aruba up 11 spots to No. 58.
The U.S. Virgin Islands (pictured left) would gained even more, leaping from 71st to a tie for 55th after its bronze. The lack of points denied Peru what ought to have been a record ranking of No. 36. The lack of points in this competition alone clearly had a noticeable affect on the world rankings.
One country that should have made its rankings debut in 2018 and is still missing is Laos. The southeast Asian nation competed in the 2018 Asian Games, which awarded points to all other nations that competed. That is, of course, except Sri Lanka, which was oddly denied points for its ninth-place finish. Our assumption on Laos’ exception is that the federation was not yet a registered member of the WBSC, but Sri Lanka’s exclusion is without explanation.
Registering with the WBSC is no small task in an LEDC as annual membership fees cost $400. This amount prevented Zambia from registering to compete in the Africa Pre-Olympic Qualifiers, even with $200 from a donor. With another $10,000 or more on top of this for travel, visas, accommodation, and more, even earning rankings points is difficult.
What is more puzzling, however, are the number of WBSC-sanctioned tournaments in 2019 that failed to provide points. Multiple federations have told us that the lack of points awarded for friendlies and smaller international tournaments discourages them from organising such events.
Four major events did not yield points in 2019: the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier, European B-Pool Playoff [ed: likely because it had only two teams], Premier 12 friendlies, and the Southeast Asian Games. The inclusion of Premier 12 friendlies on this list may strike you as odd, but many friendlies are listed among rankings points and 60 total points would have been claimed by eight teams. Furthermore, Japan earned eight ranking points for the industrial league team that played France in the Yoshida Challenge, whereas 11 of the 12 nations played each other before the Premier 12.
The omission of the Southeast Asian Games (SEA) cost multiple nations valuable points. It is unclear whether it would be considered a ‘Major Multi-Sport Event’ or an ‘Official Regional Event’, with the latter offering a maximum of 500 points to the winner and the former 100-135 (depending on rankings bonuses are added). It seems likely it to be one of the smaller amounts, but even 100 points would have vaulted the champion Philippines from 32nd to 27th and boosted Singapore 19 places. The SEA Games would also have re-entered Cambodia into the rankings for the first time since December 2012.
The four aforementioned major events are hardly the only games missing, however. In 2019 alone, the following tournaments did not receive rankings points: Danube Cup, U8 and U10 Pan-American Championships, World Port Tournament, and the Caribbean Cup.
Friendlies were played between Argentina and Brazil before Pan-American Games Qualification, Argentina and Dominican Republic friendlies before the actual Pan-Am Games, Cuba and El Salvador, and Puerto Rico and Nicaragua. Not included from 2018 are the U10 Pan-American Championship, Swiss Alpine Cup, Hong Kong International Baseball Open (HKIBO), France – South Africa friendly series, and Barranquilla Series.
None of these omissions are surprising as the Danube Cup, World Port Tournament, Swiss Alpine, and HKIBO have never been ranked, but as illustrated above, earning rankings points costs a lot money. And, if you are not convinced that the above make a difference, consider this: Including the four major tournaments and the friendlies adjusts the positions of 63 different countries, including 16 with upward movement (with most of the others dropping only a place or two), denoted in green, through 1,494 missing points.
Looking Ahead to the Next Ranking
Seven nations were accepted into the WBSC at the November 2019 Congress, including Bangladesh and Laos. The others are Benin, Bermuda, Egypt, Kosovo, and Palestine. The WBSC is the third major sports organisation to recognise Kosovo and Palestine (after FIFA and FIBA). There will likely be limited opportunities for the African and Middle Eastern teams to compete internationally in 2020, but Michael Johnstone, head of the Kosovo Baseball Iniative told us, “I don’t think Kosovo is going to have a team ready for the C-Pool, but there will be attempt at putting together some training matches as we prepare for the next opportunity.”
We might see Egypt make its debut in 2020 as well. The Egyptian Baseball and Softball Federation has hit the ground running since opening shop only a few months ago, with clinics hosted by Japanese coaches, multiple containers of equipment, and plans to host baseball at an Arab Sports Tournament in March [link].
Several unranked teams will have the chance to join or rejoin the rankings, with the East Asia Cup offering a possibility for Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Only the first three appear to still field national teams. With the attention on Turkey by the WBSC, it is possible that they could join Latvia in submitting teams to the third tier Euros.
There will be, of course, many more international baseball events in 2020, quite a few of which have not been announced, so stay tuned for our annual calendar of the year’s tournaments, to be unveiled soon.
Photos of Caribbean Cup copyright Aqui Beisbol. Other photo copyright respective federations.