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International baseball: Premier 12 preview and summer wrapup

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Covering the new flagship championship to go along with the official championship, a golden pickoff error, Croatian workhorses, and more.

The U.S. won gold at the inaugural women's baseball event at this summer's Pan American Games in Toronto.
The U.S. won gold at the inaugural women's baseball event at this summer's Pan American Games in Toronto.
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball, as former commissioner Bart Giamatti once wrote, "is designed to break your heart." The World Series is over, the chill rains have come, the days are all twilight, and we're forced to scavenge, staring glumly at the garish colors and chemical aftertaste of I Can't Believe It's Not Baseball!

There is one more event on the calendar before the offseason: The World Baseball Softball Confederation is hosting the first Premier 12 tournament in Japan and Taiwan next week. The event features the top 12 nations in the WBSC's rankings, which are based on participation in other WBSC tournaments, and will serve as a qualifying event for future Olympic baseball tournaments. According to the WBSC, the Premier 12 is the "flagship professional baseball world championship." This is not to be confused with the World Baseball Championship, which was labeled the WBSC's "Official men's Baseball World Championship" [sic] when the MLB-WBSC partnership was renewed in September. (WBSC did not respond to requests to clarify the distinction between the two.)

Premier 12 Preview

Regardless, we can still use our Elo rankings method to come up with predictions for the event. The table below gives each team's probability of advancing to each round of the tournament based on the results of a Monte Carlo simulation run 10,000 times. Our simulation took into account the host country for each game, so that Japan got the home-field advantage for the finals in the Tokyo Dome, but Chinese Taipei got the home-field advantage for their round robin and quarterfinal matchups.

Team Group Elo Avg. W-L Playoff QtrFin SemiFin Champs
United States B 1981 4.4-1.5 95.3 65.9 41.18 25.43
Cuba A 1977 4.2-1.8 92.1 64.3 32.45 21.11
Dominican Republic B 1941 4.1-1.9 92.4 57.5 34.39 18.06
Canada A 1913 3.5-2.5 81.8 47.2 21.78 11.11
Netherlands A 1871 3.2-2.8 75.1 38.5 17.21 7.41
Japan B 1777 2.8-3.2 67.0 22.4 10.25 4.44
South Korea B 1828 2.8-3.2 66.2 27.7 12.41 4.39
Puerto Rico A 1823 2.7-3.3 61.0 25.4 11.15 3.82
Chinese Taipei A 1703 2.4-3.6 52.1 19.7 7.39 1.36
Italy A 1740 1.9-4.0 37.8 10.8 4.47 1.30
Mexico B 1730 2.0-3.9 43.1 11.7 4.26 0.94
Venezuela B 1703 1.8-4.2 35.9 8.9 3.06 0.63

But I would take these odds with a family-size bag of potato chips amount of salt. Although players from the NPB (Japan) and KBO (South Korea) will be participating, no one on an MLB 40-man roster will be taking part in this tournament. This especially dampens the chances of the United States and Dominican Republic.

The WBSC has announced broadcast partners for the event in countries around the world, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Netherlands. Those in the U.S. (and other countries) can watch live streams of the games on the WBSC's YouTube page.

Summer Results Summary

Canada won its second consecutive gold medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto with an extra-inning upset of the Americans, 7-6. With runners on first and second, U.S. reliever David Huff made an errant pickoff throw to first, and right fielder Brian Bogusevic overthrew third base when trying to get the ball back in, allowing both runners to score and giving the title to the host team. (To our knowledge, it is the first walkoff pickoff error in a Pan American gold medal game.) Perennial powerhouse Cuba also had a tournament to forget, failing to make the gold medal game for the second consecutive tournament. Although they beat Puerto Rico, 7-6, to win bronze, Cuba has now missed back-to-back finals for the first time since the 1955 and 1959 tournaments.

This summer's games also marked the first time women's baseball was included as an official sport at the Pan-Am Games. The American women dominated on their way to gold, winning their four games by a combined 34-4, including an 11-3 rolling of the host Canadians in the finals. Pitcher Stacy Piagno also made history for the U.S., throwing a complete game no-hitter in a 9-0 win over Puerto Rico. After a two-out walk in the first, Piagno sat down the next 19 Puerto Rican batters to complete the gem. According to USA Baseball, it was the first no-hitter thrown by the women's team since three pitchers combined to stymie India at the 2008 Women's World Cup.

September saw South Korea take the triennial Asian Baseball Championship for the first time since 1999, breaking a string of five consecutive Japanese championships. South Korea went a perfect 5-0 in the round robin tournament, including an 8-2 win over hosts Taiwan and a 2-1 comeback win over the defending champions. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, third baseman Ha Jusuk hit a walkoff homer to seal the upset. Pakistan, recently invited to participate in the 2016 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, went 1-4 in the tournament, highlighted by a 7-1 win over Indonesia.

Two rounds of qualifiers were held for next year's European championships in the Netherlands. In the first pool, Croatia went a perfect 6-0 on their home soil to earn promotion, capping their run with a 6-4 victory over runner-up Slovakia. It was a game of iron arms: Slobodan Gales threw 135 pitches over nine innings in the victory, while Slovakia's Marek Bosansky was saddled with the loss for his 121-pitch effort. The second pool was won by Sweden, who scored four runs in the top of the ninth to top host Austria and earn promotion back to the main event next summer.

Updated Rankings

The results of these and other smaller competitions have been included in our most recent ranking table (below). More information about 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. Men's and women's rankings are visualized on separate maps.

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Bryan Cole is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score who hopes someone will put up odds for the Premier 12 -- strictly for comparison purposes, of course. You can follow him on Twitter at @Doctor_Bryan.