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Smarter, richer, no wonder AL is better
It has been this way for the past half decade or so, and -- as the latest round of interleague play suggests -- the American League is still the superior league by a robust margin.
The AL holds the edge in interleague play in each of the past seven seasons, and in 2010 it bested the NL by a margin of 134 wins to 118.
Take those past seven rounds of interleague play, throw in the World Series and All-Star Game results over that span, and the AL has gone 1,001-803 against the Senior Circuit in head-to-head encounters. That's a record that leaves little room for interpretation.
As for those interleague encounters, some would argue the NL is disadvantaged by having to scare up a DH when playing in AL parks, but, as pointed out on the Baseball-Reference.com blog, the AL is similarly impaired by having to hit pitchers who have almost no experience handling a bat or running the bases.
The reasonable conclusion is that what's happened in interleague play accurately reflects the strength of the two leagues. The reality is that the AL is much better than the NL.
So why is this the case? And is the National League catching up? As for the first question, it has at least a little something to do with money. AL teams have higher average major-league payrolls than NL teams do, and that's the case even after you remove the outlier Yankees from the calculus. Include the Yanks, and AL teams outspend their NL counterparts by roughly $10 million per club per season.
As well, the AL throughout recent history has spent more on draft picks than NL teams have. In fact, from 2006 to 2009, AL teams outspent NL clubs by roughly $1 million per first-round pick. Those trends -- and probably some other factors -- have conspired to make the AL the top league.
Another idea, posed by others, has to do with the "front office talent gap" that's present. Though both leagues have good front offices, bad front offices and those seemingly given to measured indifference, the most resourceful organizations are in the American League.
The Red Sox, Rays, Twins, Angels and Yankees, for instance, have achieved sustained success within a wide range of revenue streams, and there's no reason to expect otherwise in the seasons to come. And that's to say nothing of shrewd GMs like Kenny Williams in Chicago, Billy Beane in Oakland, Dave Dombrowski in Detroit and Jon Daniels in Texas.
As for the NL, you have an unfortunate number of hapless and semi-hapless operators who also happen to run the high-revenue clubs. In Chicago, Jim Hendry needs to be fired yesterday. In Philadelphia, Ruben Amaro has made several questionable moves since taking over for Pat Gillick.
Mets GM Omar Minaya might be in the midst of saving his job (though the grassroots Howard Megdal campaign continues to build momentum), but his leadership has been inconsistent and unfocused at best. Ditto for Ned Colletti in L.A. and Brian Sabean in San Fran, whose teams seem to tread water and occasionally succeed in spite of the front offices.
In Florida, you find the opposite problem -- Larry Beinfest, one of the most gifted execs in sports, is hamstrung by Jeff Loria, one of the worst owners in sports. And, of course, there's no excuse for the continued employ of Astros GM Ed Wade.
As for the other question -- is the NL catching up? -- the answer is a resounding "maybe."
In each of the past three seasons, the NL has improved its interleague record and interleague run differential, so that's a positive upward trend. And for all that's made of the NL's current losing streak in the All-Star Game, it's worth noting the past four Midsummer Classics have been decided by a total of ... four runs.
But a few things can help the NL further whittle down the AL's advantage, which still remains substantial and undeniable.
First, you can make the case the NL has more high-ceiling, pre-arbitration-eligible young players than does the AL. Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Colby Rasmus, Bryce Harper, Mike Stanton, Buster Posey, Pedro Alvarez, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew McCutchen, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake and many others belong to NL franchises, at least for the moment.
Certainly, you can come up with an imposing list of young AL players, but when it comes to prospects, rookies and sophomores, the NL has the better yield. In the coming seasons, that should make a difference.
So the NL does seem to be gradually making up ground, and the deeply impressive base of young talent means it'll probably continue making up ground. But if the NL wants to re-establish superiority after so many years, then it'll need better decision-makers, particularly within the well-heeled franchises.
It's anyone's guess whether that will happen.