The question has been asked many times by fans and pundits alike. Which is the better league, American or National?
While there is no definitive way to answer this question, simple analysis of standings and statistics would seem to indicate that the American League has the upper hand in this debate.
That being said, the National League clearly has an edge in overall pitching quality, as evidenced by the fact that the team that has allowed the fewest runs in Major League baseball, the San Francisco Giants (496), has allowed 82 fewer runs than the Texas Rangers (578), who lead the AL in this category.
Additionally, the top nine NL leaders in earned run average have ERAs under 3.00, as opposed to only three in the American League.
At the plate is where the AL begins to put some daylight between itself and the senior circuit in my mind.
The best offensive team in the NL, measured by total runs scored, is the Philadelphia Phillies with 665 runs crossing the plate so far this year. That tally would rank them fifth in the AL and fourth in the AL East alone. The Phillies have scored 79 fewer runs than the AL leader in this category, the New York Yankees.
NL apologists will no doubt argue that the presence of the designated hitter in the AL can account for the differential in offensive production. Don’t forget however that the absence of the DH in the NL, using the same logic, undoubtedly plays a role in the lower ERA’s of NL moundsmen.
One good indicator of each league’s relative strength is their overall record in inter-league play. Again, the AL is on top in this category.
Since the inception of inter-league play in 1997, the American League has posted a better record against NL teams in all but four seasons. This year the AL went 137-114, a winning percentage of .546, against their National League counterparts.
The American League has also fared better in the MLB All-Star game as of late, having not lost the midsummer classic since 1996, with 12 wins and one tie (2002) over that span.
The AL also holds an advantage in World Series wins. Since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign, the American League has gone 8-6 in the fall classic. While this certainly isn’t what I would call a decisive advantage, it is an advantage nonetheless.
As far as individual players are concerned, I will deliberately stay away from analyzing them against each other, as the steroid era has cast its long, dubious shadow over MLB in its entirety. Until I know for certain who used PED’s and who didn’t, I feel that it wouldn’t be fair to judge one player’s accomplishments against another’s when the possibility exists that I am comparing the achievements of a cheater against a clean player.
The answer to which league has the best teams is a no-brainer. As much as it gnaws at my gut to say this, no team in the NL can match up with the repugnant Yankees. Sorry Dodger fans, but they are top-to-bottom a better team. As we all know however, anything can happen in a seven game series.
In my opinion, if my beloved Red Sox, or the Los Angeles Angels for that matter, were suddenly to become NL franchises, they would instantly become the two best teams in the senior circuit (again, sorry Dodger fans).
So there you have it. The title of “strongest league” is hereby awarded to the American League. If anyone can make a better case for the NL, I’d love to hear it. In my mind at least, there is no debate.
Besides, any league that can boast a worse team than the Kansas City Royals (sorry D.C.) surely deserves this dubious honor.
All statistics from ESPN and MLB.com