Monday, September 21, 2009

AL and NL

A lot of people (including myself) make jokes about the National League, calling it Quadruple A and saying it's not close to as good as its American counterpart. NL fans disagree, pointing to the fact that almost half (four- Arizona '01, Florida '03, St. Louis '06, Philadelphia '08) of this decade's World Series winners are teams from the Senior Circuit. This may be the case, but I'm not arguing that the best team(s) in the NL couldn't stack up against the best in the AL, but rather the league as a whole is not at the same level.

TANGENT: While we are on the topic of World Series, baseball has finally decided to do something to draw more viewers to the Fall Classic. For the first time in 38 years, weekday WS games are scheduled to begin before 8 p.m., so kids can watch them and adults can get a decent amount of sleep after the last out. Unfortunately, they have no control over the level of competition as the last five Champs have a record of 20-2 (three sweeps). In the five year stretch prior to this recent run, the winners' record was 20-9 (including a Yankees sweep in 1999).


A better way to look at the level of competition here is see what guys do when they switch leagues. Since it is even more glaring when it happens in season, we can take a look at five guys who made the leap (actually the fall) from AL to NL in 2009.

Example A: Jason Giambi
One of my favorite Yankees of the decade, the Giambino was deplorable in the AL this year, having the lowest BA in the world (.193) when he was released by Oakland on July 19. After five weeks off, the Rocktobers picked him up and in 15 ABs he has 11 RBIs after driving in just 40 runs in 269 ABs. The sample size here is clearly small, but taking five weeks off in the middle of the baseball season after being one of the least effective players in the game, then knocking in almost a run per at bat is something to look at.

Example B: Matt Holliday
OK, the first thing that jumps out at you when examining the biggest leap in stats is that Holliday also benefited from having Pujols protect him. While The Machine has a lot to say about Holliday's production increase, he can't solely be responsible for the jump from 11 HR, 54 RBI and .286/.378/.831 in 346 ABs to 13 HR, 49 RBIs and .355/.413/1.058 in just 197 ABs. If he were to have equal ABs in the NL his power numbers would soar to 23 HR, 86 RBI in 346 ABs. His OPS is second only to Pujols in the NL (he doesn't qualify because of playing in the AL for the first two-thirds of the year). Pujols can help a hitter out, but this is astronomically better and a decent amount of his success has to be attributed to the league change.

Example C: Cliff Lee
The reigning AL Cy Young winner is obviously a very good pitcher, but became Cy Young himself in his first handful of starts for the Phils and has settled in to great. Lee improved his K/9 IP from 6.3 to 8.2 and cut his walks per nine innings nearly in half from an event 2.0 to 1.2. His ERA is a half-run lower and he cracked his WHIP from 1.3 to 1.07.

Example D: Jon Smoltz
The long-time Brave was unemployable in the AL (b)East going 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA and just pitching well enough to win one time (5 IP, ER, 7K vs. KC on July 11). He was released, took a couple of weeks off to refresh and landed in St. Louis to go 1-1 in five starts with a 3.21 and a 70% lower WHIP. He was able to improve his strikeout to walk ratio from 3.7-1 to 7.9-1.

Example E: Brad Penny
Mr. Not Worth a Penny had a Smoltz-ian 8.31 ERA over his last four starts for Boston in August, then went West to the Bay and has taken the ball four times to go 3-1 with a respectable 4.01 ERA. His WHIP has plummeted from 1.75 to 1.01 but interestingly enough, his Ks and K to BB ratio have both dropped.

More Evidence: Interleague Play
This season, the AL is 138-114, good for a winning percentage of .547. Overall the AL is 1,674-1,534 and went an astonishing 154-98 (.611 W%) in 2006, the most lopsided year of interleague play. The NL has just four teams over .500 in interleague play to the eight clubs the AL boasts.
And I'm sure you've heard the NL hasn't won an All-Star game since 1996. I didn't even have hair in my pits yet.

Video of the Week (thanks to Josh): So your son wants to take ballet?



  1. Another example. Not sure of the numbers but I think I saw something recently that KC has a winning record in interleague play. They, clearly, are not competitive in the AL.