For years now it has been established wisdom that most of the top-shelf talent in baseball eventually gravitates to the American League, due to the presence of big spending teams such the Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers. This dominance of the AL over the NL has also been perceived in the AL’s recent maulings of the NL in the All-Star Game, the AL’s manhandling of the NL in Interleague Play, the perceived superiority of the recent AL World Series representatives, and the lists of big-name free agents who defect from the NL to the AL each season.
But even the most cursory of glances at the leaderboards this season yields the surprising impression that most of baseball’s biggest starts currently play in the National League, while most of the big name players in the American League are aging, injured, or both.
- The top five MLB leaders in batting average are all in the National League, as are 7 of the top 10.
- The top five MLB leaders in home runs are all in the NL, as are 7 of the top 10. Fourteen players in the NL have at least 7 or more homers, compared to a mere 4 players in the AL.
- The top eight leaders in OBP are all in the NL.
- All ten qualified players in the majors with an OPS over 1.000 are in the National League (and that is not even counting non-qualified Micah Owings). In fact, the AL only has 11 players with an OPS that is even over .900, compared to 23 in the National League.
While it is still early in the season and it is still possible that we could be seeing some sort of statistical fluke here, I think we may be seeing the beginning of a trend in which power begins to shift back toward the National League.
The way the American League has sustained its dominance in recent years was by significantly outspending the National League in the offseason free-agent market. But with the new trend which has emerged in the past two or three years of teams locking up all their good young players through their peak years by buying out several arbitration years, the free agent market has become thinner and thinner each offseason, making it harder and harder for the rich AL teams to pilfer all the NL’s hottest young stars by luring them with bigger contracts.
So now the AL teams are stuck with the aging, declining superstars they lured away five years ago, while the NL continues to produce the hot new young stars of tomorrow.