World Baseball Classic: Explaining the complicated WBC tiebreaker that sends Cuba and Italy to quarterfinals

The first week of the 2023 World Baseball Classic was marked by rowdy crowds and many disappointments, as well as a massive five-team draw in Group A in Taichung, Taiwan. All five Group A teams—Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Italy, Netherlands, Panama—led 2-2 in their four games. Italy beat the Netherlands early on Sunday to end in a massive five-team draw (ITA 7, NED 1).

There are four pools in the WBC and in the first round each team plays every other team in their pool once. The teams with the top two results in each pool advance to the quarter-finals. From there, it’s essentially an eight-team one-elimination tournament. When there is a tie between two teams in a game of billiards, a tie-break is a one-on-one game. The winner holds the tie-break. Easy and pleasant.

However, the tie-break rules are quite complex for anything involving three or more teams, and we have to delve into them to make sense of a five-team draw in Group A. Here are the tiebreak rules for three or more teams.:

  1. The smallest quotient of the fewest runs allowed divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in games between the tied teams.
  2. The lowest quotient of the fewest runs earned allowed divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in games between the tied teams.
  3. Highest average in games in this round between tied teams.
  4. Draw.

Like I said, it’s difficult. Overcomplicated I would say. A simple mileage differential would be a fairly simple starting point, but rules are rules. Nowhere else in professional baseball will you find such a difficult tiebreak as the WBC for three or more teams. Here is the bloody math behind the tiebreak odds for pool A:

Jogging allowed Defensive outs private

















Chinese Taipei




Cuba and Italy advanced from Group A and advanced to the quarter-finals. On Thursday, Italy will meet the strongest team in Japan, while the opponent of Cuba has not yet been determined. Australia is in control of their fate in Group B and could reach the quarter-finals against Cuba by beating the Czech Republic on Sunday night.

The Netherlands, Panama and Chinese Taipei are returning home. The Netherlands finished fourth in the 2013 and 2017 WBC and had the opportunity to drop out of the pool game this year but were eliminated despite starting 2-0. They had the most MLB talent among the Group A teams, with Xander Bogaerts leading a team that also included Didi Gregorius, Eurekson Profar and Jonathan Shoup. Cuba took the lead after a 0-2 start.

Chinese Taipei, the host team of Group A, finished bottom of the group and were relegated. They have to go through a qualifying tournament to earn a ticket to the next WBC. Panama secured a spot in this year’s WBC by defeating Brazil and Argentina in a qualifying match last fall. They have an automatic spot in the next WBC, so even though they’ve been eliminated, securing an automatic spot is a win in the big picture.

It should be noted that the tie-break created drama at the end of the half during Sunday’s game between Italy and the Netherlands, despite a rather uneven scoreline. The Netherlands put the first two runners on base early in the ninth inning, although they ultimately didn’t score. Had they scored even four runs in an inning, their odds would have been lower than Italy’s and they would have advanced to the quarter-finals even with a loss.

Group A in Taiwan is complete and Group B in Tokyo completes the game on Sunday night and early Monday morning. Pool C in Phoenix and Pool D in Miami started playing on Saturday. The WBC title match will take place on March 21 in Miami. In it, a team from pool A or B will fight a team from pool C or D.


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