The 2023 WBC is in the books, with Japan prevailing in a 3-2 nail-biter over the USA. Baseball fans couldn’t ask for more than a showdown between Angels’ teammates and international superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. Ohtani prevailed in spectacular fashion, putting an exclamation point on his MVP-winning WBC performance.
Ohtani’s WBC gave us an idea for another Top Ten: which players in the event’s history have put up the most dominant performances? Digging back into the archives, we’ve pulled out our top ten WBCs of all time and listed them below in descending order. Spoiler alert: Ohtani’s 2023 makes the list! Before we jump in with number ten, we’ll start with a few:
There have been five WBCs to date and, thus, five MVPs. Two MVPs didn’t crack our top ten, but given their accomplishment, we thought they deserved a shout-out.
Cano took home the MVP in 2013 after his Dominican Republic team finished a remarkable 8-0 in the tournament. Cano had 15 hits in the eight games, slashing .469/.514/.781 with two HRs and six RBI.
Stroman earned MVP honors in 2017 after throwing six shutout innings in the finale, which the USA won 8-0 over Puerto Rico. Stroman threw a WBC-high 15 and one-third innings in the tournament with a 2.35 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.
#10 Yadel Marti – 2006
Cuban right-handed pitcher Yadel Marti did all he could for his team, which lost 10-6 in the finale to Japan. Marti was nearly perfect in the tournament, putting up eye-popping numbers:
Marti pitched in half of Cuba’s games, winning one and saving two of their five victories. He didn’t allow a run over twelve and two-thirds innings and was one of three pitches named to the all-tournament team. Marti defected from Cuba in 2008 and signed with the Oakland A’s in 2010. However, he never made it past Triple-A.
#9 Seung Yuop Lee – 2006
South Korean first baseman Seung Yuop Lee helped his team reach the semi-finals, where they lost to Japan 6-0. Lee set the bar for home runs in the WBC at five in the tournament’s inaugural event. Here are his totals from 2006:
Lee held the record for the most HRs in a WBC tournament by himself until Trea Turner tied him this year. Only four players have driven in more than his ten RBI. Lee made the all-tournament team that season and the Korean slugger flirted with the Yankees the following Fall. Ultimately, he stayed close to home, playing the remainder of his career in Japan and South Korea. Lee is the KBO’s all-time home run leader with 467.
#8 Danny Betancourt – 2013
Danny Betancourt’s performance in the 2013 WBC is easy to overlook, as Cuba didn’t make it past the second round. However, the right-handed starter was the winner in two of the club’s four victories and nearly perfect statistically:
Betancourt was practically unhittable that year, but the team struggled when he wasn’t on the mound. Betancourt played for the Cuban national team for many years prior to the 2013 WBC. The highlight of his international career came in 2004 when Cuba won the gold medal at the Athens Olympic games.
#7 Daisuke Matsuzaka – 2006
The third entry from the inaugural tournament comes from the 2006 WBC MVP, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was also part of the all-tournament pitching trio with Yadel Marti and Chan Ho Park. Matsuzaka was named the MVP after Japan defeated Cuba in the finals. He won three of Japan’s eight games in the tournament, posting dominant numbers:
Dice-K matched his incredible 2006 performance three years later, going 3-0 again and winning his second WBC MVP. He wasn’t quite as dominant that year statistically, but he once again guided Japan to the title and took home all-tournament honors. Matsuzaka’s 6-0 record in the WBC may never be matched. After the 2006 MLB season, Dice-K joined the Red Sox via free agency and played eight seasons in the USA. He never quite lived up to the hype in the states except for his second season in Boston, when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA.
#6 Frederich Cepeda – 2009
Cuba didn’t make it out of Round 2 in 2009, but Frederich Cepeda and his teammate Yoenis Céspedes put on a show offensively. Cespedes hit .458/.480/1.000 with two HRs and five RBI in the six games, but Cepeda one-upped him:
Both outfielders were named to the all-tournament team. Cepeda’s 12 hits tied him for the WBC-high with Nori Aoki and Ichiro Suzuki of Japan, who accomplished it in 37 and 44 at-bats, respectively. Like Danny Betancourt, Cepeda had a long career with the Cuban national team, winning the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and playing on the 2006 WBC team.
#5 Trea Turner – 2023
Many of us cheered when Trea Turner drilled a grand slam in the eighth inning against Venezuela on March 18, which gave the USA team the lead and a trip to the semi-finals. Turner then hit two more dingers against Cuba the next day and added another in the final against Japan. His power display this year was remarkable:
As mentioned earlier, Turner’s five HRs tied Seung Yuop Lee for the most in tournament history. Unsurprisingly, he made the all-tournament team and probably would have won the MVP had the USA prevailed against Japan.
#4 Kenta Maeda – 2013
The most dominant pitching performance in WBC history has to go to Kenta Maeda, who mastered the competition in 2013. Maeda started three of Japan’s seven games that year, winning two and losing one despite only allowing one run. Here are his statistics from the tournament:
Maeda’s 15 innings pitched led the field that year, and his 18 Ks are the second-highest in WBC history behind Yu Darvish’s 20 in 2009. Japan lost in the semi-finals that year, and Maeda returned to Japan. In 2016, he jumped to the states, signing with the Dodgers. Now with the Twins, Maeda will partake in his seventh MLB season this year after missing all of 2022 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
#3 Ken Griffey Jr. – 2006
Ken Griffey Jr. put up video game numbers in the six games the USA played in 2006. The future Hall-of-Famer, who was already 36 years old, was coming off one of his best seasons as a Red in 2005 and carried that momentum into the WBC:
Griffey’s ten RBI tied Seung Yuop Lee for the tournament high, and his 1.631 OPS is the second-highest in WBC history for players with 20 or more at-bats. Despite the USA bowing out in the second round, he was named to the all-tournament team. Griffey played five more MLB seasons after the 2006 WBC, retiring in 2010.
#2 Wladimir Balentien – 2017
As amazing as Griffey’s numbers were in 2006, they were not the best in WBC history. That award goes to Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands, whose offensive production in the 2017 tournament was ridiculous:
Balentien led the tournament in hits, runs, home runs, RBI, BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS (minimum ten plate appearances). His totals are also the best in tournament history in many of those categories. Balentien was a big reason why the Netherlands, not exactly known for their baseball prowess, made it to the semi-finals in 2017. He was obviously named to the all-tournament team but did not win MVP, though he probably should have.
Balentien, who hails from Curaçao, is not known to most baseball fans, but he had a brief MLB career with the Mariners and Reds from 2007 – 2009. Following his time in the states, Balentien played for several years in Japan.
#1 Shohei Ohtani – 2023
We’ve come full circle and ended up where we began with Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani’s 2023 performance wasn’t the most outstanding pitching performance in WBC history nor the most remarkable offensive show. However, he ranks high on the list in both categories, which no other player can claim. Let’s begin with his pitching statistics from the tournament:
While not the greatest WBC pitching line of all time, Ohtani’s performance was the best of the tournament. Ohtani’s nine and two-thirds innings and two wins led the event. His ERA, WHIP, and average against were the best among pitchers who threw eight or more innings. He also earned a save by shutting down the USA team in the ninth inning of the finale.
Here’s what he did on offense:
Ohtani tied for the tournament high in hits, walks, and runs and ranked among the leaders in doubles and RBI. Not too shabby from the best pitcher! Ohtani is the first player to make the all-tourney team at two positions, pitcher and DH. Enjoy this guy while you can, baseball fans; we may never see another player like him.
If you enjoy listicle articles like this, check out my archive for other Top Tens, All-Franchise Teams, and other great content. In addition, you can always find great baseball content in the We Love Baseball section.
Photos from Icon Sportswire | Adapted by: Chris Corr (@Chris_Studios on Twitter)
“Following his time in the states, Balentien played for several years in Japan.”
Oh come on now lol, you can’t just not mention that the guy holds Japan’s single-season home run record (beating *Sadaharu Oh’s* mark with 60 HR in 2013). He didn’t just “play for several years”, over the decade he played in the NPB the guy was an MVP, 6-time all-star, 3-time Central League HR king, and a Japan Series champ. His 2017 WBC run didn’t just come out of nowhere—the man is a Yakult Swallows legend.
Thanks for the update!