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American League dominating interleague play … again

Jun 20, 2011, 12:16 PM EDT

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After the first set of interleague series it looked like the American League’s dominance over the National League might finally be coming to an end, but the AL went 29-13 over the weekend and is now 47-34 overall against the NL the season.

That works out to a .580 winning percentage, which is a 94-68 pace when converted to a 162-game season and fits right in with the AL’s long-running superiority:

YEAR     ALW%
2011     .580
2010     .532
2009     .548
2008     .591
2007     .544
2006     .611
2005     .540
2004     .504

The last time the National League had a winning interleague record was way back in 2003, when the Jack McKeon-led Marlins beat the Yankees in the World Series, Dontrelle Willis and Angel Berroa were the Rookie of the Year winners, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were the MVPs, Eric Gagne and Roy Halladay were the Cy Young winners, I was 20 years old, and Calcaterra still had some hair (that last one is pure speculation, but “hey Craig, did you have any hair in 2003?” seems like an awkward question to ask).

On average during that eight-year span the AL has won at a .556 pace, with is a 90-72 record per 162 games.

  1. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Jun 20, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    So red eagles are tougher than blue eagles.

  2. halladaysbicepts - Jun 20, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Yeah, I don’t get it. In the last few years, there has been somewhat of a talent shift from the American league to the National league, and yet the NL continues to struggle.

    Having the extra bat helps the AL. I also suspect that because the NL has an extra (2) teams, the pool of talent is thinned out a little by them having 50 extra players in the league to dilute it.

    But, besides that, it certainly is an enigma. I don’t believe anyone can say it’s an abberation at this point.

    • Kevin S. - Jun 20, 2011 at 12:53 PM

      It’s not an enigma at all. The Yankees (and to an extent, the Red Sox) have created an arms race that’s lifted all ships. The Rays, Jays, and now the Orioles were all forced to spend smarter, which has largely led to an increased, long-term focus on the draft. Other American League teams, in danger of being frozen out of the Wild Card, have been forced to do the same. They mostly all spend more and spend better these days. AL teams tend to invest more in their front-office analysis (stat-oriented or otherwise – Minny in particular has been very successful doing it the old-fashioned way), they tend to invest more in the draft, busting slot far more often than NL teams do, and they tend to invest more in payroll (though I believe the difference is spent almost entirely on the DH). For the NL, the lack of a really, really heavy hitter financially has meant they haven’t had to do these things – getting waxed in interleague play doesn’t provide enough of an incentive to spend like the AL does.

      • Kevin S. - Jun 20, 2011 at 12:55 PM

        I should add that another reason is probably that other than the Phillies, all of the NL’s big-ish spenders have done so poorly. If the Mets, Cubs and Dodgers had spent the same amount of money, but spent it wisely, you’d probably be seeing a similar effect on the Senior Circuit.

      • normcash - Jun 20, 2011 at 3:01 PM

        The old “yankees/red sox-spending-lifts-the-AL” argument has a surface plausibility, but doesn’t bear analysis. Teams outside the AL East don’t think about the wild card, they think about winning their own divisions, where NYY and Boston spending is irrelevant.
        Furthermore, spending doesn’t necessarily translate into winning—just ask the Cubs
        and Mets. It’s also hard to believe the DH is responsible. After all, the DH was introduced in the early 70s and yet the AL dominance didn’t really begin to emerge until @ 2000.
        When the NL dominated the ASG from 1960 through 1985, one could surmise that the greater embrace by NL teams of minority players was a key reason. That can’t explain today’s AL dominance. It may just be an inexplicable cycle at work

      • Kevin S. - Jun 20, 2011 at 3:40 PM

        Disagree, completely. The Wild Card is still a path to the postseason, and the AL East teams are still a significant part of the schedule for teams in the Central and West. If you want to argue that it wasn’t solely the Yankees and Red Sox spending money that spurred the other teams, fine, but AL teams busting slot and spending more money in general absolutely bears out in analysis. And yes, of course it’s significant that the AL big spenders have spent it well. I noted below that one of the big reasons this phenomenon hasn’t occurred in the NL is because the NL’s big spenders haven’t forced the rest of the league to catch up.

        And yes, the NL’s dominance back in the day absolutely had very much to do with their earlier embrace of minority players. Cutting yourself off from the best parts of the talent pool is the quickest way to obscurity. It happened to the AL back then because they were a bunch of inveterate racists. It’s happening to the NL now for the reasons I mentioned above.

    • takemytalentstosoutheuclid - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:02 PM

      The extra 2 teams diluting things may be a valid point, however, you could argue that this is offset by 2 of the weakest NL teams playing each other this weekend, and thus not adding additional wins to the AL tally..

    • halladaysbicepts - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:07 PM

      Kevin, you make some good points. Hard to argue with you.

      • Kevin S. - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:13 PM

        I should say there is some hope for the NL catching up. The Nationals and the Pirates in particular seem to have caught on to the fact that the draft is still a market inefficiency they can exploit in the NL. Eventually, they should get better, and once that happens, other teams will be forced to mimick them to keep up. The downside is that the dynamics of this process will take years to manifest, so we could still be in for years of dominance, but the gears are (slowly) turning on a return to relative parity between the two leagues.

      • halladaysbicepts - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:23 PM

        Well, Kevin. At least the AL dominance seems to be limited to regular season interleague play and All-Star games. However, if you look at the World Series as a barometer over the last 10 or so years, it seems to be fairly balanced (each league goes back and forth with WS wins), which indicates that the top 3 or so teams in each league, talent-wise, are somewhat on par with one another.

        Then, after that, the drop off happens…

      • Kevin S. - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:30 PM

        I’m not sure either the ASG or the World Series is a fair measure of league dominance, though, because both lack robustness. The ASG is a one-game affair that only considers the contributions of the top thirty or so players from each league, and the World Series on considers the contributions of a single representative of each league. Inter-league play does a much better job of telling the story about relative league strength because it comes from a much larger and more inclusive sample.

      • Kevin S. - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:37 PM

        Ack, that’s what I get for not reading your post fully. In terms of a drop-off, I think I’d have to say that only the Phillies have consistenly been at the same level of the elite AL teams. The Cardinals never would have gotten a chance to play if they weren’t in such a god-forsaken division that year, and the Marlins and Giants were good-not-great teams that caught lightning in a bottle in October. In the past ten years, every AL team to win the World Series had at least 96 regular-season wins – they were truly great teams. Only the Diamondbacks could say that from the National League. Even the Phillies win came in a year when they weren’t as dominant as they later became.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 20, 2011 at 2:52 PM

        However, if you look at the World Series as a barometer over the last 10 or so years, it seems to be fairly balanced (each league goes back and forth with WS wins), which indicates that the top 3 or so teams in each league, talent-wise, are somewhat on par with one another.

        It’s a 7 game sample each year (at the most), anything can happen and it’s far too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from.

  3. b7p19 - Jun 20, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    What ever happened to Jack McKeon? It seemed like him and the Marlins had something good going.

  4. philly56 - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    Here’s an actual mystery: how is it that porcupines can mate without killing one another?

    • halladaysbicepts - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:55 PM

      I actually know this. However, my response would violate the decorum of this blog, as it is a very graphic answer.

    • Jonny 5 - Jun 20, 2011 at 1:56 PM

      Parthenogenesis?

  5. bigbbfan - Jun 20, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    The major reason for AL dominance is financial….and the reason for that is tha the AL brand of
    baseball has been embraced my greater numbers of fans. NL people will defend their small ball approach, but the truth is that the fan has voted with their pockebooks and embraced the type of ball played by the top AL teams and in the final analsis money matters. For that reason I do not see the NL resurrercting itself (yes it is dead in this instance) anytime soon.

    • normcash - Jun 20, 2011 at 3:03 PM

      The problem with this argument is that it isn’t factually accurate….avergae NL attendance has been consistantly and significantly higher per game than the AL throughout the period of AL dominance.

      • simon94022 - Jun 20, 2011 at 4:06 PM

        And in the 4 markets where AL and NL teams go head to head, the NL team is clearly dominant in 3 — Chicago, LA, SF/Oakland. Even in NY, the Yankees’ edge there has more to do with 27 world championships than New Yorkers’ desire to watch Jorge Posada DH.

    • simon94022 - Jun 20, 2011 at 4:24 PM

      You really want to talk attendance?

      Of the 3 teams currently averaging 40K+ per game, two are in the NL. And while the Phillies and Giants numbers reflect sellouts of every game, the Yankees have failed to sell 13 percent of their tickets.

      Each league currently has 5 of the top 10 leaders in attendance. But all 5 of the NL teams have been perennial attendance leaders for a decade or more, while the AL leaders include the Twins and Rangers, both coming off division titles and neither likely to crack the top 10 in 2012.

      A majority of the teams in the AL (8 of the 14) are among MLB’s 10 weakest franchises by attendance.

      So where is this evidence that fans are flocking to see the DH version of baseball?

  6. normcash - Jun 20, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    I believe Aaron missed some games…the interleague record this year is actually AL 50; NL 34
    for a .595 winning percentage. During the “rivalry weekend” round a few weeks ago, each league won 21 games. This past weekend, the AL won 29 and NL13.

  7. psousa1 - Jun 20, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    There has to be a reason why the Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Angels would mop the floor with most NL teams but I don’t know why……………

  8. natstowngreg - Jun 20, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    IMHO, in the modern area of MLB, the whole idea of one league being better is becoming obsolete, if it isn’t obsolete already.

    Decades ago, leagues really were separate. Player acquisition was done by the teams (ex., NL teams taking advantage of the new African-American talent pool in the ’50s and 60’s, the Yankees stockpiling young talent). Player movement between leagues was more limited (ex., restrictions on trading between leagues), Even the umpiring staffs were separate, and used different types of chest protectors.

    Now, there is one organization with two leagues. They acquire young talent through a draft and international signing period, regardless of league. The main restrictions on interleague trading are gone. Teams generally play one-ninth of their schedules against teams from the other league. The umpires work games in both leagues.

    It’s interesting to discuss which league is better, just as it’s interesting to discuss whether the AFC is better than the NFC at a particular time. But I tend to look at individual teams. For example, it’s true that the Nats and Pirates have spent a lot on kids recently, but so have the Royals.

    Meanwhile, I think the argument about big-market teams being mismanaged is valid, and it does seem those teams are in the NL. Eventually that can change, if the underperforming teams get the right new ownership.

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