With the first weekend of interleague play completed in MLB, it is interesting to note that the distinctions that once defined each league are gone.
There was a time when there were presidents of the American and National Leagues. That ended in 2000 and the game’s oversight was lodged completely under the Commissioner of Baseball.
Even then, however, the American League was the two bloops and a blast league. The three-run homer was king.
The National League was known for its pitching prowess, speed, defense and low scoring games.
Seeking to exploit the apparent fan desire for home runs and offense, MLB adopted the designated hitter experiment in 1973. Ironically, that came to the AL, already noted for its offense.
The experiment has lasted. Formerly, All Star games featured a DH only when played in AL parks. With the announcement this year that All Star games will feature the DH, wherever played, it seems the DH is here to stay.
Of interest, at least this year, the DH has not brought to the AL that distinctive offensive advantage.
The AL batting average is .258. The NL is .257. The AL produces 4.52 runs per game, the NL 4.50.
The NL has actually hit more homers than the AL, 621 to 570, heading into Sunday’s games.
The AL slugging percentage, even with the DH, is .406. The NL is at .404. The AL on-base percentage is .331. The NL is .330.
It is amazing the numbers should be so close with the supposed DH offensive advantage in the AL,
The DH average is .246. That is the lowest batting average for any position in the AL.
However, the designated hitters have hit 83 home runs, the second highest of any AL position, and their RBI totals are also second by position.
Still, the overall offensive numbers are nearly identical between the leagues.
That brings us to the pitching, and as Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer said to me, “That’s the big difference. The AL pitching has caught up to the NL and that’s where the game is now.”
The NL ERA is 4.20 and the AL is 4.48. “The game is going back to pitching and defense,” says Palmer. “Whether it’s because of the steroid era ending or better development of pitchers overall, the game in both leagues looks the same.”
If that trend continues, we may hear more about teams moving from division to division, even league to league, to equalize the competition and generate fan interest in cities where teams are consistently out of the races by June.
Be conscious of how many statistical comparisons are now given with an MLB perspective rather than the NL or AL slant. That may not be an accident, as MLB may want to condition fans to thinking not of leagues, but of MLB as a whole.
As such, interleague games become less inter and more intra.