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The NL is beating the AL in interleague play. Here's why it doesn't matter

May 24, 2010, 10:12 AM EDT has a story with a rather misleading headline today: “NL makes a statement on Interleague weekend.”  Big statement: it was 22-20. They could have drawn game results out of a hat and gotten the same results. I’d ask anyone who reads significance into that record to immediately walk down to the nearest community college and sign up for an introductory statistics class before you hurt someone.

But hey, a statistically insignificant sign of league parity is better than nothing, right?  Bah.  As I said the other day, I find the comparison of the AL and the NL to be a dreary exercise. I must admit that this is partially because I’m an NL guy and I get tired of hearing people disparage the senior circuit.  But it bothers me far more because it’s a comparison that easily leads people to unwarranted conclusions based on an ignorance of baseball history. News flash: disparities, even great disparities, are nothing new.

While the Yankees got their titles, most people agree that the NL was the superior league — some people would argue far superior league — from the 1950s through the 1970s. Indeed, one reason the Yankees got so many titles in the 50s and early 60s was because they didn’t have to face much in the way of strong competition to win the pennant in the first place, what with pushovers like the Senators, Athletics, Browns/Orioles and others hanging around.

The NL, in contrast, was much stronger top-to-bottom, with far more teams breaking through to win pennants.  A lot of this had to do with the fact that the NL was much faster in integrating. A lot of it also had to do with the fact that the NL had smarter front office people than the AL (which explains the integration thing too), managers who utilized the speed game, thus diversifying offenses and owners who seemed less focused on the bottom line than on winning (key word being “seemed”).

Due to the lack of interleague play back then we can’t really quantify how much better the NL was than the AL, but it’s hard to argue that the NL wasn’t a better league during those years. Now we can quantify such a thing, and we have pretty clear evidence that the AL is superior to the NL.  Rather than just let it be, however, we get people wringing their hands and using such information as the basis for crazy suggestions like radical realignment and what not.

It’s one of the rare instances where more data, rather than less, is likely to lead people astray.  Let it be people.

  1. Skids - May 24, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    The AL integrated about as fast as the NL, that had nothing to do with the NL being a “superior” league in the 50’s. Not a great comment.

  2. Craig Calcaterra - May 24, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    On a team-by-team basis, sure, the color line was broached at around an equal basis. But NL teams — notably the Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers — had far more players of color on their roster throughout the 50s and 60s than did many AL teams — such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers — who had one or two token minorities at best.

  3. Professor Longnose - May 24, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    Although there isn’t enough data to make any statements about which league is superior this year, it is interesting to note that hitting in the AL is way off this year. The two leagues have about equal OBPs and slugging percentages so far, for instance, despite the DH in the AL. That may just be a glitch, too, but we don’t know yet.

  4. JBerardi - May 24, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    Possibly relivant to this discussion: the AL East as a whole is currently playing .573 (a 93 win pace) against the rest of baseball.

  5. oh Hal - May 24, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Its a near constant for fans of AL teams, to refer to the NL as AAAA or go on and on about how easy it is for pitchers to go to the NL yadda, yadda, yadda. I say take out the Harlem Globetrotters AKA the Yankees and things look a lot more equitable, but hey they lost to the Washington Generals who are wounded as well.

  6. The Rabbit - May 24, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    Anecdotally, my son and I just finished our weekly “What was I thinking when I put that bum in my lineup last week?” analysis of our respective fantasy teams.
    Although we don’t compare leagues, we do look at individual players within the leagues.
    Last year, our position players were heavily American League. This year, our teams are much more balanced and reflect the more equal OPS.
    We discussed whether it’s a combination of regression, improved AL pitching, injuries, or other factors.
    I’ll leave it to the saber experts to sort it out.

  7. Old Gator - May 24, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    “A lot of it also had to do with the fact that the NL had smarter front office people than the AL (which explains the integration thing too), managers who utilized the speed game, thus diversifying offenses and owners who seemed less focused on the bottom line than on winning (key word being “seemed”).
    It also goes a long way towards explaining why the dumber GMs in the American League thought a regression to a dumbed-down style of play (ie, designatedhitterbal) would appeal to those who preferred their games dumbed down too.

  8. tom briggs - Jun 9, 2010 at 5:50 AM

    Some of your points are good. All star games and interleague trades were an indicator of NL superiority in 60’s and ’70’s.
    However, do you realize that the NL has won the WS more than AL in only one decade- (1900-09 NL won) the 60’s?
    To show how biased media was towards NL in 70’s, they constantly rated ‘Big red machine” as best of decade. did someone forget that Oakland won Three straight WS titles in that decade?

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