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

The first week of the 2023 World Baseball Classic was marked by loud crowds and excitement galore, as well as a massive five-team tie at Pool A in Taichung, Taiwan. All five teams in Group A – Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Italy, Netherlands, Panama – went 2-2 in their four games. Italy defeated the Netherlands early Sunday morning to secure the mighty 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 records in each pool advance to the Quarterfinals. From then on, it’s essentially an eight-team single-elimination tournament. In the case of a tie between two teams in pool play, the tiebreaker is the head-to-head game. The winner holds the tiebreak. Nice and simple.

However, the tiebreaker rules are quite complicated for anything involving three or more teams and we need to deal with them in order to break the five-team tie in Pool A. Here are the tiebreaker rules for a tie between three or more teams:

  1. The lowest ratio of the fewest runs allowed divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in games between two evenly ranked teams.
  2. The lowest quotient of the fewest runs earned divided by the number of defensive outs recorded in games between two tied teams.
  3. Highest batting average in games this round between the tied teams.
  4. A raffle.

Like I said, complicated. Unnecessarily complicated, I would say. A simple barrel differential would have been an easy place to start, but the rules are the rules. Nowhere else in professional baseball will you find a tiebreaker as complicated as the WBC for a three or more team tie. Here’s the gory math of Pool A’s tiebreaker ratio:

















Chinese Taipei




Cuba and Italy advanced to the quarterfinals from Pool A. Italy meet a formidable Japanese team on Tuesday and Cuba’s opponents have yet to be determined. Australia controls their fate in Pool B and can secure a place in the quarter-finals against Cuba with a win over the Czech Republic on Sunday night.

The Netherlands, Panama and Chinese Taipei are all going home. The Netherlands finished fourth at the 2013 and 2017 WBCs and were favored out of pool play this year but are eliminated despite a 2-0 start. Their roster contained the most MLB talent among Pool A teams, with Xander Bogaerts leading a roster that also included Didi Gregorius, Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop. Cuba advanced after 0:2.

Chinese Taipei, the hosts of Group A, finished bottom and were relegated. You must go through a qualifying tournament to secure a seat at the next WBC. Panama secured a spot at this year’s WBC with victories over Brazil and Argentina in a qualifier last fall. They have an autoslot in the next WBC, so securing an autoslot is a win on the whole, even though they were eliminated.

It should be noted that the tiebreaker during Sunday’s game between Italy and the Netherlands created late-inning drama despite a rather one-sided result. The Netherlands put the first two runners on base in the ninth inning, although they ultimately failed to score. Had they scored at least four runs in the innings, their quotient would have been lower than Italy’s and they would even have gone through to the quarterfinals with a loss.

Pool A in Taiwan is complete and Pool B in Tokyo completes Sunday night and early Monday morning play. Pool C in Phoenix and Pool D in Miami started play on Saturday. The WBC championship game will be played in Miami on March 21st. A team from pool A or B competes against a team from pool C or D.

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