Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Return of the Deadball League. Relatively Speaking Anyway.

Last week David Pinto made a case for the rise of the NL. Today William Burke and Joe Sheehan break it down and conclude that what we're really seeing is the fall of the AL. They throw a lot of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, but this strikes me as a pretty satisfying explanation:
I think there may be some selection effects happening here. I’ve written about this when it comes to playoff baseball. Playoff games are generally lower scoring than regular-season games. However, part of the reason for that is that managers play as if they will be lower scoring, using more one-run strategies than they normally would and emphasizing defense to a greater extent. It becomes, if not a self-fulfilling prophecy, one that gets helped along.

Over the last year or so, we’ve heard a lot about teams getting away from the style of baseball played during the peak of the high-offense era, and trying to play better defense. Personnel decisions along the lines of playing Tony Pena Jr. or Asdrubal Cabrera add up, and they start to impact the league’s statistics. Teams have been choosing defense over offense, and that is probably the biggest reason for the drop in offense in the AL: personnel selection. Managers and GMs are putting lesser hitters on the field in an effort to prevent runs, and they’re getting just that result—for themselves and the opposition.
Well, that and the fact that a lot of the big names in the AL are old and declining.


Alex said...

NL up, AL down...whatever shuts up Rob Neyer about the superiority of the AL.

tadthebad said...

I haven't investigated this at all, so I'm just throwing it out there: is it possible that the pitching in the Al is getting better?

Osmodious said...

Hmmm...I think there are a lot of teams in the AL that DE-emphasize defense. For every Twins (that do emphasize it), there is a Yankees (that definitely don't).

As to the pitching, it's a tough one to figure based on stats, since a decrease in ERA might be just as likely to be caused by a decline in hitting as an increase in pitching. So how do you figure which is which?

Anecdotally (is that a word?), it seems that pitchers have developed some new pitches. OK, I know that there really isn't much truly new, but they seem to be mixing things up more, and many pitchers have more pitches in their arsenal from which to choose. In the past, guys like David Cone, El Duque and Glavine would just make up pitches as they went...I think more guys are trying, or at least approaching, that strategy (maybe not 'on the fly', but by having 5 strong pitches to use (Mussina is an example of this).

In a game as complex as this, I don't think there is a single cause of the shift...there's a confluence of variables that are making it happen.