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2014 in international baseball

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A year-end wrapup of international baseball events, and the best and worst teams over the last 12 months.

Even without Jurickson Profar (left) or Andrelton Simmons (right), the Netherlands won the 2014 European Baseball Championship.
Even without Jurickson Profar (left) or Andrelton Simmons (right), the Netherlands won the 2014 European Baseball Championship.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

2014 was a relatively quiet year in international baseball. There were no global senior-level championships, but the European continental championships highlighted a slate of 158 games between top-level teams.

2014 Tournaments Summary

  • The Netherlands rolled through the competition en route to their 21st gold medal at the European Baseball Championships, their first since 2007. The Dutch won all nine games by a combined score of 103-22, beating the defending champions Italy 6-3 in the final in Brno, Czech Republic. Spain captured their fifth bronze in their last six tournaments, going 6-2. Sweden and Croatia finished 11th and 12th, respectively, and were relegated into the B-level championships to be held in 2015.
  • South Korea took advantage of their home-field advantage to win their second consecutive gold medal at the Asian Games in Incheon, beating Chinese Taipei 6-3 in the finals. Chinese Taipei upset Japan 10-4 to make their second consecutive finals appearance. Japan beat China 10-0 in a mercy-rule shortened bronze medal game.
  • The Cuban national team also coasted to gold at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico, winning its five games by a combined 39-7. The win was Cuba's 15th in the 21 editions of the tournament. The Dominican Republic, without the MLB stars that led them to victory in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, lost 6-3 to Cuba in the semifinals and earned the bronze, while Nicaragua upset the Dominican and Puerto Rican squads to claim their first silver since 1998.
  • A number of smaller competitions were held as well: Israel knocked off Slovenia to capture the European C-Level championships and earned a promotion to the B-Level tournament in 2015; Guam beat the Northern Mariana Islands to win the 2014 Micro Games; and the United States avenged an early loss to Japan and won the Haarlem Baseball Week held in the Netherlands.

End-of-Year Rankings

Cuba cleaned up in 2014, going 12-0 to wrest the top spot in our rankings away from the Dominican Republic. In addition to their success at the Central American and Caribbean Games, Cuba swept a four-game friendly series on the island against the United States and won a smaller friendly tournament that included the Dominican Republic and Panama. The entire rankings table can be found below; with the addition of Israel and the Northern Mariana Islands, our database now has at least 25 games from 67 national squads. More information on our methodology can be found here.

The rankings are visualized in this map, with blue representing higher Elo rankings, and orange representing lower. Countries in black have no games in our database.

Superlatives

Best and Worst Years

Country Elo Chg Rank Chg W L T RS RA
Spain 43 2 8 5 0 103 60
France 40 4 6 5 0 60 78
Israel 36 0 5 0 0 53 7
Cuba 36 2 12 0 0 71 16
United States 30 0 13 6 2 81 39
Czech Republic 28 2 6 7 0 82 72
Slovenia 23 0 3 2 0 33 30
Netherlands 21 1 14 5 0 140 57

Spain saw the biggest improvement in its ranking since last January behind their bronze-medal run at the European Baseball Championship and their upset victory at the Italian Baseball Week the week before. France beat the Netherlands 12-8 in a warmup tournament in France as their ranking improved four spots in 2014. The win over the Dutch was one of the biggest upsets of the year; the Netherlands were 18-0 in the previous games against France found in our database, outscoring Les Bleus 279-16 in those games.

Country Elo Chg Rank Chg W L T RS RA
Japan -14 -1 9 7 0 75 51
Belgium -16 0 2 6 0 34 51
Italy -21 0 11 3 0 100 44
Dominican Republic -22 -2 3 4 0 38 29
Chinese Taipei -29 -2 3 12 2 51 62
Norway -35 -4 0 5 0 12 61
Sweden -40 -3 2 8 0 36 86
Greece -60 -5 1 6 0 20 69

Heading in the opposite direction was Greece, whose 10-0 win over Croatia helped the Greeks avoid relegation. A number of big defeats at the European championships saw Greece drop 60 Elo points and five places in the rankings. Falling four places each were Norway (-35 points) and Hong Kong (-8).

Biggest Games and Upsets

Date Home Home Score Road Road Score Location Home WP Mercy Pts Exch Description
9/18/2014 Belgium 2 Russia 12 Czech Rep. 63.2% 1 22.5 2014 European Baseball Championship (Group A)
9/13/2014 Russia 14 Greece 1 Czech Rep. 42.6% 1 21.5 2014 European Baseball Championship (Group B)
9/16/2014 Spain 9 Czech Rep. 2 Czech Rep. 35.9% 0 20.9 2014 European Baseball Championship (Group B)
9/20/2014 Germany 5 Czech Rep. 2 Czech Rep. 21.1% 0 20.8 2014 European Baseball Championship (Group C)
9/15/2014 Croatia 10 Russia 3 Czech Rep. 39.2% 0 19.8 2014 European Baseball Championship (Group B)
9/15/2014 Belgium 5 Great Britain 0 Germany 36.3% 0 19.1 2014 European Baseball Championship (Group A)
8/1/2014 Hungary 4 Latvia* 12 Slovenia 70.0% 0 17.7 2014 European C-Level Championship (Consolation Ladder)
7/31/2014 Slovenia 17 Finland 2 Slovenia 40.5% 1 17.3 2014 European C-Level Championship Group Stage Gm 1
9/14/2014 Sweden 0 Belgium 11 Germany 44.7% 1 16.3 2014 European Baseball Championship (Group A)
11/15/2014 Dom. Rep. 1 Nicaragua 10 Mexico 92.1% 0 16.0 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games (Group B)

Russia earned some respect with big wins over presumptive favorites Belgium and Greece; coupled with the extra weight put on a continental championship, these results saw the most points exchanged for any game played in 2014. Slovenia's 17-2 drubbing of Finland, while it had a big effect on the ranking, was not the largest margin of victory this year. Pakistan beat Mongolia 25-0 at the Asian Games.

Elo System Performance

To judge the accuracy of our system, we applied a calibration test to our predictions for each game. Even with over 150 games predicted, the confidence intervals for each bin are very wide. We seem to be overestimating home underdogs while slightly underestimating home favorites, suggesting that a future update of our system should include a wider spread between teams.

Elo system: 2014 calibration results

On Deck in 2015

The Premier 12 tournament will take place in November in Taiwan. Invitations were sent to the top 12 teams in the IBAF's rankings, which incorporate results from youth-level tournaments. The 12 invitees are:

  1. Japan
  2. United States
  3. Cuba
  4. Chinese Taipei
  5. Netherlands
  6. Dominican Republic
  7. Canada
  8. South Korea
  9. Puerto Rico
  10. Venezuela
  11. Italy
  12. Mexico

By scheduling the event in November and offering a multi-million dollar prize pool, the IBAF hopes to attract top professional talent. The IBAF is calling this event "the flagship men's national team baseball event," and has not discussed how this new tournament will co-exist with the World Baseball Classic.

A number of continental-level championships will also take place next year:

  • The 13th South American championship will take place at the end of February. Brazil will host a seven-team tournament, including teams from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Peru.
  • The winner of the South American championship will claim the seventh spot at the Pan-American Games in Toronto, joining the Canadian hosts, United States, and the top four teams from the Central American and Caribbean Games (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico). These games will be held in mid-July.
  • The Asian Baseball Championship is tentatively scheduled to take place in Thailand in October. The top four nations -- China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and South Korea -- will qualify automatically, along with the top two teams from two regional qualifiers. Pakistan and Sri Lanka qualified in the 2013 West Asia Baseball Cup; the East Asia Baseball Cup was slated for this November in the Philippines.
  • Next summer will also see the European B-Level Championship. Twelve nations -- Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine -- will compete for two spots in the 2016 continental championship; the bottom two finishers will be relegated to the C-Level competition in 2016.

But one of the biggest things to watch for in 2015 will happen off the field. The International Olympic Committee recently proposed a number of reforms, including a more flexible sports program. The reforms will give sports like baseball and softball an opportunity to return to the Olympic stage in countries where they are more popular. The reforms would not take effect until the 2020 Summer Olympics at the earliest, but they could mean that edition of the Games (hosted in Tokyo) could include a return to baseball for the first time since 2008.

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Bryan Cole is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score and is always looking for more historical results to add to his database. You can follow him on Twitter at @Doctor_Bryan.