Interleague matchups unfair to National League teams


Will the DH era come to an end any time soon? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

After another year of watching the American League pound the National League, it’s evident there is an unfair advantage during these interleague games. The AL finished with a 142-110 record and are 1,246-1,020 since 2004.

The fact is these leagues are different, and they have no business playing each other. They’re each assembled to win games in their respective leagues. Obviously, the National League will be constructed more on defense and utility players, and American League lineups are filled with hitters who can take one out of the ballpark.

I’ll admit, the American League currently has more talent than the National League, and that’s why they’ve dominated over the past nine seasons. But most of that is because big hitters are going to the American League where they can DH. It’s an unfair advantage and something the NL can’t compete with.

This doesn’t necessarily mean American League teams are better in a playoff series, as we’ve seen the past two years how good pitching can shut down those big bats when the weather dips down and the intensity level rises. But in the heat of the summer, these AL lineups put up some numbers and NL lineups just can’t keep up.

I saw a graphic during a game over the weekend that showed the numbers for interleague play. I can’t remember exactly what they were, but the AL was averaging nearly a run more a game and the DH spot for the AL was batting around 40 points higher. As one of the announcers said during the broadcast, the DH position has to be learned, it’s not something you just pick up during a two-week stretch in the summer.

AL lineups are suited better for these interleague matchups. Some would argue that it’s not fair when AL lineups have to play real baseball and the pitcher has to bat, but it’s not like that helps either side score more runs.

Here is what Dodger’s manager Don Mattingly said on why the AL is dominating:

“What happens to National League teams is what we’re doing today,” Mattingly said. “We’re DH-ing Ivan De Jesus, one of our guys who plays off the bench. We’re not equipped to having a DH.”

Ivan De Jesus? How do you compare a lineup that is using De Jesus as a DH with a lineup that is paying David Ortiz $14.5 million to strictly play that position?

The fact is these interleague matchups are not fair, especially when an NL team has to use a utility player off their bench in a DH role. Pitchers who are used to having an easy out in the ninth spot have to work batters differently at the bottom of the order.

I understand interleague play is a big attraction for fans, and the fact it brings in money means nothing will be done to change the current system. And with the Houston Astros coming over to the American League, and there being an interleague game every night, things are going to get very nasty for Major League Baseball pretty soon.

If they want these two leagues to meet more frequently, then they’re going to have to make both leagues equal. That means the DH has to go. I’m not even going to assert to the other option because that strictly isn’t an option.

The DH has been on a decline for years as the steroid era has come to an end, and more people realize it’s not easy to hit four times a game and not be involved in playing of the game (i.e., Adam Dunn 2011). There is no need to have the DH in baseball any more. The luster that was there when the rule was implemented is gone. In a few years, people won’t even remember what a DH is.

But before I go on a rant about the DH, the most pressing matter is to make this schedule and format of interleague play equal for both parties. It’s evident right now that the power is heavily shifted towards the AL.

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  1. Mr. Peter – Those are all great points, and I respect your opinion. As I said, we all have our own view of how we love to watch baseball. I like the fact that a manager has to decide whether to pinch-hit for a pitcher who is throwing a shutout. It becomes a huge moment in a game and something for the fans to second guess and talk about. You can say there’s strategy in the AL all you want, and maybe there is some, but I just don’t see it as frequently.

    Big bats sign with American League teams so they can use the DH at the END of their contract. Obviously Pujols and Fielder are still very capable of playing the field, but when they hit their mid-30’s they’ll become designated hitters. And while I’m a HUGE Chipper Jones fan, I grew up with the rule that if you can’t play in the field you don’t deserve to bat. And I’m sure he’d say the same thing. But that’s just how I enjoy baseball. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying it another way.

    I think right now there are enough old school baseball fans still around, including the commissioner, that we’ll always have a non-DH league. Hopefully that will last at least till the day I die.

    I appreciate your comments and sharing your view on the subject. It’s great to talk baseball and hear different opinions.

  2. Mr. Mastoianni: I respect your opinion regarding this matter, but your analysis…leaves something to be desired.

    Truth be told, I think you hit the nail on the head with this statement: “I’ll admit, the American League currently has more talent than the National League”. Since about 2003, there has been a talent imbalance between the leagues…one that I think is primarily due to a financial imbalance. But baseball is cyclical…this will chance eventually.

    Bringing up World Series results (small sample size alert!), however, is useless. It’s even more useless to make statements such as “but most of [the talent difference] is because big hitters are going to the American League where they can DH.” That is, quite frankly, not true. Prince Fielder has DH’d only a single game this year, while teammate Miguel Cabrera has only DH’d twice (Detroit uses a DH rotation, and its most used DH has been young and fairly athletic Delmon Young). Albert Pujols signed in Anaheim to play 1B, and it plays the fairly-cheaply paid Kendrys Morales at DH. These players have signed with AL teams because AL teams paid them.

    Maybe your NL focus has caused you to miss the story from the past few years, but the AL has moved away from the “high paid DH”. Paying a slugger a lot to only DH appears to be a thing of the past; the Ortiz’s and the Dunn’s are the exception, not the rule, and so make for poor and incomplete evidence. Most teams employ a rotation at DH, or use it to help guys who are banged up ease back into health. And you should look at the DHs on the low-payroll clubs; that will make you wonder why you felt the AL is full of monstrous, powerful DHs.

    Regarding the problem of what to do to balance the two leagues, I think the issue is as non-existent as baseball’s “lack of African American players” issue. It is indeed a talent difference, not an problem between two systems. And, as long as each league produces a championship-caliber representative for the World Series, I’m fine with it as it is.

    What I’m NOT fine with, however, is a fan of non-DH baseball seeking to impose the DH upon the AL. As you told Tomas below, you hate watching DH ball at least as much as he hates watching DH-less ball. Well…I guarantee you that I hate watching DH-less ball more than you hate DH ball (scratch that…I’d just hate having to watch my favorite team having to play ball in their home ballpark without the DH…I love watching NL teams play their game). There is no greater travesty than seeing a punch-and-judy #8 batter get pitched around in order to set up a rally-killing at bat against a pitcher, or having to remove a pitcher who is throwing a shutout because a pinch-hitter is needed. There is actually plenty of strategy in DH ball…it’s just a different kind of strategy.

    I love that the AL has the DH, and that the NL does not. I’d hate to see either league lose its rules, and I enjoy when my favorite team plays in an NL ballpark. But under no circumstances could I EVER stand having to see a lineup with a huge hole in it on a 162-game basis. And if you do demand uniformity across leagues, you might want to rethink that demand…given that virtually every professional league other than the NL uses the DH rule, it would likely be the NL that has to switch, and not the other way around…

    P.S. You may rue that “aging hitters [are] given a second chance” through the use of the DH, but it’s a crying shame that Chipper Jones didn’t have at least a partial use of the DH over the past decade…his at bats are beautiful to watch, and they would be of a higher quality and much greater quantity today if he didn’t have to play the field in order to bat. And would it really have been so bad to have Ted Williams batting .310 over a full season at age 46 as a full-time DH? I don’t think so…

  3. Kevin – Not sure if your comment is sarcastic, but I’m sure
    it is a major adjustment for National League pitchers. Normally they know they
    can work out of jams once they get towards the bottom of the order, and even
    though number 8 and 9 hitters in the AL aren’t that great, it still has to be
    in the back of their minds during these interleague games.

    Tomas – That’s why baseball is great, because not everybody
    agrees. Trust me, I hate watching American League baseball just as much, if not
    more, than you hate watching National League baseball. To me it’s very boring
    and bland because there is no strategy involved. And why should aging hitters
    be given a second chance when all they’re doing is blocking the development of
    younger players.

    Like I said, we all have our opinions. Thanks for sharing yours.

     

  4. Couldn’t disagree more with this statement: ” That means the DH has to go. I’m not even going to assert to the other option because that strictly isn’t an option.”
    It is, in fact, an option. 

    It is also “not fair” that AL teams have to bench their (usually well-paid) DH for these horrendous games. This speaks to the way each league builds their teams. 

    I, for one, am sick and tired of watching automatic outs every ninth batter. AL rules give aging players who can still hit a place in the lineup.

  5. maybe national league pitchers just aren’t used to facing a real batter in spots 1-9 in the lineup. must be tough when you don’t know for certain if your 9 guy is going to give you an out and bunt, swing away…

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