Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Is the American League superiority rooted solely in the DH?

This past season, the National League won the All Star game for the first time since 1996. Because of this and many other factors,one can't question the superiority of the American League: in head-to-head games, the AL holds the edge in interleague play in each of the past seven seasons, and in 2010 it bested the NL by a margin of 134 wins to 118.

But why is the American League so dominant?

The biggest difference, and forgive me those of you who are about to say “no kidding,” is that the American
League uses a designated hitter and the National League doesn’t – in the NL, the pitcher bats.

To those who aren’t avid sports fans, this may seem like not a big deal, but the difference between a .300 hitter (a DH) and a .150 hitter (most pitchers) is immense. Instead of having a batting order built around your strongest hitter – the DH – you have to basically give up an at-bat. So, every ninth batter that you send up is, nine-out-of-ten times, an out.

In interleague games, the  rules go with the league where the game is played – if the Red Sox are playing the Dodgers in L.A., then the pitcher has to bat; if the game is played in Boston, then the Dodgers need to come up with a DH. Some argue that the NL is disadvantaged by having to scare up a DH when playing in AL
parks, which is difficult because most NL teams don’t have a spare .300, 40 homerun hitters, but, the AL is also at a disadvantage by having to bat pitchers who have almost no experience batting at the major league level.

So who is at a great disadvantage in interleague games? The proof is in the numbers: In 2009, the NL went 61-65 at home; the AL went 73-53.

But is that all? Is the American League’s superiority rooted solely in the designated hitter?

No. It’s also a money game.

The 2010 team payrolls were released before the season started, and the American League averages $95.8 million to the National League’s $86 million. Imagine the difference an extra $10 million can make on the free agent market.

The AL has the Yankees and Red Sox, which have by far the highest payrolls. In fact, in the top 10 payrolls, six are AL – (1)Yankees, (2)Red Sox, (6)Tigers, (7)White Sox, (8) Angels and (10)Twins and four are NL – (3)Cubs, (4)Phillies, (5)Mets and (9) Giants. The salaries of those AL teams is $799,698,682, while the salaries of those NL teams is $521,601,654. The difference? $278,097,028.

What about the lower-end teams? In the bottom 10, there are five from each league – but the bottom two are both NL (Padres and Pirates), and the budget of the 21st team, Kansas City, is more than double that of the 30th team, the Pirates.

So it comes down to two things: DH vs. pitcher, and money. Let’s put the two together.

The American League devotes far more money to hitters, since they use a DH. In the NL, more money is allocated to pitchers, which is also much riskier (hello Barry Zito – I’m talking about you). Therefore, because the National League is spending more money on riskier free agents, and because a starting pitcher only plays
once every five days, while a DH plays in every game, the NL payrolls are far less efficient.

After all this jabbering, I've come to the conclusion that the reason the AL is so superior IS rooted in the DH – it dictates how teams spend their money. Paying big money for a bat is less risky than for a pitcher, and therefore nets results, which, theoretically, net the teams more money, which just makes the disparity grow larger. Good team = more money.

If you go by my theory, where will it end?

I personally think that one day, maybe not soon, but one day, the National League is going to throw its hypothetical hands up and give in – and pick up the designated hitter.