July is typically a slow period in the sports calendar, even for baseball fans. This year, though, the Pan American Games help fill the doldrums around the All-Star Game. To help prepare you for this month's events, I've compiled another update of my international baseball rankings with predictions of the men's and women's baseball events at the Pan-Am Games, along with the European championship qualifiers being held at the end of the month.
In all honesty, though, I'm beginning to lose faith in my methodology. The following is the result of a calibration test done with predictions of all available matches since I created the system last June. Ideally, the blue diamonds would fall exactly on the diagonal line, so that (for example) teams with expected winning percentages around 60 percent would win about 60 percent of the time.
Even after 200 games, the error bars on each of these diamonds is still pretty wide. But a disappointing trend is starting to emerge: the favorites are winning too often and the underdogs aren't winning enough. That suggests that the teams should be more spread out, and that my system should give the better teams higher win probabilities. With that in mind, let's start with a look back at what's happened since our last update in March.
Spring Results Summary and Updated Rankings
After months of delays and a change of venues, the Philippines captured the East Asia Baseball Cup with a 10-0 victory over host Indonesia this May. The Philippines, who were originally slated to host the event last November, swept all five round-robin games and the final to earn a berth in the Asian Baseball Championships this September against regional powers and West Asia Baseball Cup champion Pakistan. Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka all finished the preliminary round tied at 3-2, with Indonesia advancing on run differential. Thailand, which participated in the last World Baseball Classic qualifying round, went 1-4, with their lone win against newcomer Singapore.
This spring featured a number of friendly tournaments in Europe. Finland won the Nordic Baseball Open over hosts Estonia in a 23-21 final described as "windy." I can't find any more information about the game, which is too bad, because that sounds interesting. Latvia and Norway also participated in the tournament, which the organizers hope to hold every two years.
Back in April, host Bulgaria upset the higher-ranked Romanian team to win the Triple Ball Balkan Championship. In Vienna, Austria earned victories over Hungary and Slovakia to win the annual Danube Cup for the first time since 2009. And the Czech national team won the Prague Baseball Week over a field that mostly consisted of junior national teams and traveling all-star teams.
The results of these competitions have been included in our most recent ranking table (below). 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. Men's and women's rankings are visualized on separate maps.
Pan American Games (Men's)
This year's Pan American Games will be held in Toronto, and will feature professional players from the minor leagues and NPB. The rankings say Cuba, the United States, and the Dominican Republic are all about equal. But history tells us the Cubans take the event far more seriously than their rivals, and won ten consecutive gold medals between 1971 and 2007. Still, the Canadians should also be taken seriously: in addition to home-field advantage, they are the defending champions.
The table below gives each national team's chance of winning the tournament, as found by running a Monte Carlo simulation 10,000 times. The probabilities listed are for each team winning the championship, making the final game, and making the four-team tournament after the initial round robin.
Pan American Games (Women's)
The Pan American Games will also include women's baseball for the first time officially. Five teams will compete, after an initial qualifying round this March eliminated the Dominican Republic. There are not nearly as many games in the women's database to base our predictions on, but the Americans are clear favorites based on their past performance, with Canada most likely to finish in second. As with the simulation for the men's event above, the table below includes the probability each team wins the tournament, makes the final, or makes it into the four-team tournament after the preliminary round robin. These probabilities were also generated by a 10,000-trial Monte Carlo simulation based on each squad's Elo ranking.
European Championship Qualifiers
Across the pond, the Confederation of European Baseball is holding two qualifiers ahead of next year's continental championship. Europe's championship includes a promotion and relegation system (one of my favorite things about European soccer), so the bottom two teams from last year's championship (Sweden and Croatia) join the top two teams from last year's C-Level qualifier (Israel and Slovenia) to compete with the other eight teams in these B-Level events.
The events are split between a site in Austria and a second site in Croatia. Each site hosts a round robin between six teams, with the top two teams playing in a final game. The winners of those finals get promoted into next year's championship, where they will aim to break the Dutch and Italian reign of dominance.
Not surprisingly, the two teams relegated from the A-Level -- Sweden and Croatia -- are the favorites, especially since Croatia also has home-field advantage. But the model isn't too optimistic about Sweden's chances of returning to the top level. Part of that can be explained by Austria's home-field advantage. But part can also be explained by the model putting too much stock in the Israeli team's performance in the recent World Baseball Classic qualifiers: unlike in 2013, major leaguers like Joc Pedersen, Nate Freiman, Shawn Green, and Josh Zeid will most likely not be flying to Vienna to join Team Israel.
Other Upcoming Events
A few smaller events are on the docket for the summer. The World Port Tournament, a biennial tournament held in Rotterdam, will take place at the end of the month and feature teams from Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Curacao, Japan, and the Netherlands. The Cubans will most likely be favored, but the Dutch usually perform well when they host.
That same weekend, Belgium will host France and Sweden in the Flanders Invitational Tournament. This event comes on the heels of Europe's under-18 championship in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Ten teams from across the continent will compete, but all eyes will be on French phenom Melissa Mayeux as she competes to attract the attention of any MLB scouts in attendance.
A complete list of known upcoming events can be found here (submissions of missing events are always welcome).
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Special thanks to Mark Cruickshank at The Roon Ba, the World Baseball Softball Confederation, and the various national baseball federations for information on these tournaments. Additional details about the methodology, including the #gorymath, can be found in this PDF.
Bryan Cole is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score who looked through 257 photos in a failed attempt for information on the Slovakia-Hungary game. You can follow him on Twitter at @Doctor_Bryan.