Jim Leyland made some news this week for his point of view that interleague play “has run its course.”
While pointing out that NL-AL rivalries are scarce, Leyland’s main argument against interleague is that it puts the AL at a disadvantage because of the unavailability of one of their weapons, the designated hitter, in NL parks
“Whether you like it or not, we play by the DH rule — that’s our rule — so a lot of teams keep a guy like a Jim Thome, Adam Dunn or, in our case, Victor Martinez,” Leyland said. “You’re talking about possibly nine games a year where those guys don’t even play. And those guys normally are making big salaries.”
We’re in full agreement with Leyland that interleague play is unfair, but hardly for the reason he cites. Where the unfairness comes in is in the inequities created by scheduling. Everybody knows the big prize in baseball is a spot in the playoffs. That’s the Holy Grail. At the end of every team’s season, that’s all that matters: did you make the playoffs, or not.
The playing field is already not level in that pursuit because of an unbalanced schedule within divisions. Is it harder for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs, playing 54 games a year against the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees than it is for, say, the Twins who only play those three teams 23 times?
When you throw in 18 games against randomly-selected NL teams, it skews the division results even more. In the hotly-contested NL Central, the Cubs have to play both the Yankees and Red Sox while the Cardinals are able to avoid both those AL East teams.
There are dozens of similar inequities if you study the various interleague skeds. The only way to make it a level playing field is to go to a totally-balanced schedule and scrap interleague play.
Neither of those things is going to happen. The reason? Money. The perception in the commissioner’s office is that interleague play makes money. That may be right when the Mets play the Yankees or the Cubs play the White Sox.
But the Astros against the Blue Jays? Not so much.
AL DOMINATES, AT A COST
There is no argument to be made regarding the AL’s dominance over the NL in the new millennium. It is a fact. Over the last six years, the AL has won 56% of the interleague games which, rated on a 162-game schedule, works out to be the difference between a 91-win season and 71-win season.
Why has this happened?
The short answer is, once again, money. Money spent in major-league payrolls. Money spent on scouting and player development. Money spent on signing draft picks.
And why does the American League spend more money? Because the two richest teams, in the two most demanding markets, reside there. The Yankees and the Red Sox have huge resources and even larger expectations. Either you get left in their dust or you do whatever you can to stretch your own resources to compete.
The pressure to be better is heaviest within the AL East, but it also permeates the AL Central because the wild card seldom leaves the East.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the average American League payroll during the last two years was $102.8 million, while the average National League payroll was $91.1 million.
Where the big difference occurs is in the amount of money spent on premium draft picks. Without the presence of two dominant franchises within their own league, NL teams feel less pressure to go over slot because they still have a reasonable shot at a playoff spot.
According to research done by Matt Swartz, of Baseball Prospectus, “the AL East spends nearly $1 million more per first-round pick despite picking, on average, around the 21st slot in the first round. As a result, the AL Central spends way more than the NL teams, too. The AL West teams still only have three other teams to compete with for a playoff spot, so they are better able to achieve cooperation than the AL Central it seems, but this draft spending in the AL East and AL Central is the source of the discrepancy.”
Seven games were rained out this week, bringing the total to 30 for the season through Thursday. In the entire 2010 season, there were 20 rainouts. ... For those who lack faith in Toronto’s bullpen, a relief corps that has limited opponents to a major-league low .203 batting average, chew on this: in the Astros first 16 save opportunities of the season, they have 11 blown saves.
RECENT INTERLEAGUE PLAY RESULTS
(AL vs. NL)
Year AL NL
2005 136 116
2006 154 98
2007 137 115
2008 149 103
2009 137 114
2010 134 118
Total 847 664
Pctge .561 .439