A Tale of Two Leagues
Every American professional sport has two major divisions that act as a mechanism to facilitate separate brackets when the season reaches its elimination stages. Both the NBA and NHL have Eastern and Western conferences while the NFL and baseball have leagues that have no geographical separation creating many mini inter-league rivalries between teams playing in the same vicinity. In the majority of these leagues, the range of talent is similar and the caliber of the teams varies from the elite to those franchises that have never left the basement. This trend is being bucked and becoming more and more exaggerated in Major League Baseball, as the only sport with a significant rule difference between its leagues – the designated hitter.
At this point you might be thinking that this is another one of those countless articles that bemoans the fact that most of the hitting talent is migrating to the American League – it’s not. The evidence is irrepressible, the stacked 9-hitter lineups in the American League have begun to produce significantly more runs that their National League counterparts. With only three of the top ten teams in both the home runs and runs produced categories being from the national league, the hitting gap is definitely widening.
On the flip side of the ball, although the American League has its Verlanders and Weavers, the National League pitching staffs are much deeper and stronger. The National League has five pitching staffs with a team ERA of under 3.50 which is baseball is enough to earn a starting pitcher a 5 year contract.
The American League only has one – the Oakland Athletics who everyone knows is a National League team in disguise. Having established the significant difference in brand of play, it is easy to say that this phenomenon is not seen in any other major professional sport.
Yes, Football may have the west coast offense but that is merely a paradigm for offense and has not caused a huge parody in output amongst its adopters, which are mainly teams in the NFC. The All-Star game is a perfect microcosm of this general trend, as the NL suffered a lopsided loss in the home run derby but came back strong with pitching in the actual All Star Game. As a result, we are presented with a very interesting time in baseball as two different styles clash and managers in both leagues need to prepare for the oppositions pitching and hitting. This year’s interleague play favored the AL who ended up with a 142-110 record, a fact that is statistically indifferent from 2011’s AL advantage of 131-121 showing that the teams match up almost evenly.
For development purposes, this rift at the top may also be beneficial to farm systems who will now have better defined goals and developments paths based off of the league a major league team is in. Many National Teams have taken to drafting strategies similar to Giants’ draft director Dick Tidrow, who believes that hitting talent in the NL is fleeting but pitching talent can be grown and used as currency.
This recent drift to the extremes has given fans a greater sense of rivalry between the leagues, because it’s simply much more – it’s a rivalry between forms of the game. It has also helped to streamline development and might be the dynamic change baseball needs to keep on attracting new people to all levels of the sport.
One thing that is for certain is that if it comes to a game 7 in the World Series, it will be placed in a National League ballpark with no designated hitter. Does that mean the visitors will be at a disadvantage or is it now offensively a level playing field? Only time will tell.
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