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.
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.
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.