Dan Rosenheck has an article in the Times proving what we’ve all long suspected: the NL is much weaker than the AL. (So much weaker, in fact, that without interleague play last year, my Red Sox would’ve been a sub-.500 team. But that’s another story.) Rosenheck marshals a lot of evidence to show not just that the AL is stronger, but why the AL is stronger (hint: it’s not all about the designated hitter):

Some variation in league strength is not uncommon in baseball history, but the magnitude of today’s imbalance is remarkable. The cause is straightforward: A.L. teams have spent more money on players than their N.L. counterparts. In 2005, the average N.L. team had a $71 million payroll, while the average A.L. team’s was $75 million. Since then, N.L. spending has increased only slightly, to $74 million a team, while salaries in the A.L. have soared to $93 million a team.

Must be a fan of the Senior Circuit

Surprisingly, the Yankees cannot be directly blamed for this trend. They are one of only two A.L. teams that have reduced their payroll since 2005. The Red Sox, often accused of imitating the Evil Empire, are not the primary culprits, either — their $20 million increase in spending over the past two years is right around the A.L. average.

Instead, it is the small and midmarket A.L. teams that have pumped up their payrolls. The leader, believe it or not, is perennially cellar-dwelling Kansas City, which has more than doubled its $30 million payroll of 2005. The Chicago White Sox and Toronto have also added more than $30 million in salaries over the past two years.


It may be just as fair to finger the N.L. owners for their parsimony as it is to criticize the A.L.’s titans for their largess. Fans certainly don’t factor in league strength when deciding whether to go to the ballpark or how much to spend. According to Forbes magazine, N.L. teams earn just as much revenue on average as A.L. ones do, despite their smaller payrolls, which makes them more profitable: the average N.L. franchise posted an operating income of $19.9 million in 2006, compared with $12.7 million for the A.L.

And if you’re one of those NL partisans out there who is still clinging to the misguided belief that the NL is still just as good as the AL?

At a team level, an average A.L. squad would probably improve its record by about 10 games if it could face N.L. competition, meaning that last year’s Yankees probably would have been a 107-win juggernaut if they had played the Mets’ schedule. The same is true in reverse: if the 2006 Mets had played in the A.L., they would have won only 87 games and missed the playoffs. This is about the same difference in league strength as the gap between today’s N.L. and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Eek. Ouch.

Why do I like this article? Because it shuts the door on all this moaning from Coley (and, for that matter, Nick—the other NL fan on UmpBump! aha!) about how the Red Sox are evil. We’re not evil. You national leaguers are just darn parsimonious.

10 Responses to “Thrifty NL too cheap to win it all?”

  1. That pants story is priceless. I love reading the reasoning behind players’ “superstitions”…

    Although I must say I think the baggy pants look is ruining the game. Go back to the knee-high socks people!

  2. Sarah Green says:

    Zvee. I am totally with you on the socks thing.


  3. Paul Moro says:

    I wish Manny would write a book about hitting – like what Ted Williams did with “The Science of Hitting”. He can call it “To Swing or Not to Swing: How to Ignore Everything A Hitting Coach Tells You While Wearing Another Man’s Underpants”.

  4. Sarah, all that article proves is that the Red Sox haven’t increased their payroll dramatically in the last two years. But the Boston payroll is still the second highest in baseball. The reason teams like the Royals are spending more lately is b/c they need to spend more to keep pace with the free-spending Sox.

    Also, these things are cyclical. Right now, a lot of NL teams are cheap. But when the Nationals open their new stadium, they’ll increase their payroll. And when the Marlins get their new park, they’ll start spending, too.

  5. Nick Kapur says:

    No. This article doesn’t prove that the Red Sox are not evil. It actually proves that the entire AL is evil.

    A $20 million increase in average payroll in just two years??? That’s far outpacing inflation.

  6. Yeah I agree with Nick on this one…Sarah, all you did in this post was damn your ENTIRE league. You know what it’s called when the AL outspends the NL by 20% and still LOSES the World Series…it’s called sad. Very sad.

    The Tigers lost to an NL team that won 84 regular season games…which, according to your magnificent calculations, should result in 74 NL wins (if they played in the all-mighty AL).

    Sad. So sad.

    I can’t wait until the Sox win the World Series again…in 2088. Let the countdown begin!

  7. Sarah Green says:

    No, Nick, I think it shows that evil teams like the Marlins would rather make a profit than actually win anything. AL teams plow revenue back into the team, picking up better players. NL teams just horde it. You guys are getting scammed, but you’re so deep in denial you can’t even admit it. Sad. Very sad. As for suggesting, Coley, that the Royals need to “keep pace with the free-spending Sox”? Puhlease. We all know that the spending in the AL all started because of two evil, evil people: George Steinbrenner and Scott Boras. When the Red Sox changed ownership, they just finally admitted that the rules of the game had changed, and to win, they would have to play by the new rules. But National League teams still selfishly keep your hard-earned money and stick it under the mattress. What would you rather have, exciting players to watch at your home ballpark, or a team owner who’s fattening his own coffers?

    As for last year’s World Series win by the Cards, Zvee, that was a fluke and you know it. Generally, of late, AL teams have won the World Series. And the AL All-Star team has regularly beaten the NL All-Star team. Since 1986, the AL has won the ASG 16 times. (And they haven’t lost since 1996.) In the same 20-year span, the AL has a 12 and 8 record against the NL in the World Series. (In the past 10 years, the AL has won 7 times.)

    Face it. Your greedy owners are keeping all for themselves!

  8. Nick Kapur says:

    Wait, let’s just think for a minute, who is getting scammed? The Red Sox have the highest ticket prices in baseball. It’s not like these spendthrift AL owners are just philanthropically pouring money back into the franchise…they are taking that money right out of the pockets of the fans.

    At least in NL parks you can still get a ticket for less than $10, and an average American family can still afford to take their kids with them to the game. Compared to most NL parks there are very, very few children at Fenway, and there is a reason for that.

    And as long as we are bringing up Scott Boras, for the nth time let me say that he is not evil – he just does his job really, really well and their is nothing wrong with that. The evil ones are the owners and GMs who buy what he says and give out these ridculous contracts to his clients and then take it out on the fans with higher ticket prices. Nobody is putting a gun to their heads. And Exhibit A has to be the Red Sox and the $70 million they gave to Boras client J.D. Drew, he of the 20 home runs last year.

  9. Paul Moro says:

    I’d rather have an owner who understands the limits of their spending capabilities while keeping the franchise afloat than one who allows his GM to overspend on mediocre free agents so that the GM could save his job.

    Sarah, the Marlins aren’t being cheap. They understand full well that with the talent they have now, they cannot realistically compete for at least a couple more seasons. What’s the point in spending money on veterans now when their yound nucleus isn’t ready to pull their slack? You need to pick and choose your spots to spend. The Royals are not doing their fans any favors by doubling their payroll now. Gil Meche is not the answer. Mark Teahen, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon – those guys will be the answer, but not yet. They’re just throwing money down the drain at this point.

    It’s not a matter of good and evil, it’s a matter of fiscal responsibility.

    As for the disparity in AL & NL teams, it’ll even out again. Once the NL teams begin spending again, there will be a shift. And it’s not like the AL West is a powerhouse division either. The AL Central is stacked, however (which again makes the Royals spending now absolutely moronic), this can’t be argued. The AL East is just two contenders.

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