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Saturday, June 01, 2013

Bill James Mailbag - 5/29/13 - 6/1/13

From 2005-present, the AL is .553 (2106 games) [against the NL]...

This is an issue that I was just completely wrong about.    For years, asked about the relative strength of the leagues, I would say that I didn’t see how there could be a significant disparity between them.  The teams in the two leagues draft players from the same talent pool.  They send players to the same minor leagues to develop them, and they play against each other in those leagues.  They trade players between the leagues, and they sign free agents from the same pool of talent.  In those circumstances, how can a significant talent disparity develop?

But obviously I was wrong; once they started playing head to head the American League, over a space of thousands of games, has beaten the National League as consistently as a championship team beats a .500 team, which is a tremendously significant disparity.

What is your theory as to why or how the American League has become superior to the National league, despite all the reasons you cite as to why this shouldn’t happen?...

When the Yankees in the late 1990s developed such a fantastic team, the rest of the American League East had to run harder to keep pace.  The strength of the division was a result of the other teams undertaking the necessary effort to stay close to the Yankees.

isn’t the AL operating at a disadvantage in the differences in the rules? For games in AL parks, the AL team doesn’t do anything different than usual, and the NL team gets to use an extra hitter (well, assuming they HAVE one) who’d otherwise be riding the bench, which I’d count as an advantage. For games in NL parks, the NL team doesn’t do anything different than usual, and the AL team has to GIVE UP their DH, which I’d count as a disadvantage…

Why is it that I imagine that if both teams had to give up their second baseman for interleague series, you would argue that was an advantage for the National League teams as well?

...I found a 2011 article that states the AL’s winning percentage in interleague play was 52.3% until that time, but 57.8% in AL parks. If I have the math right, that suggests a 46.8% winning percentage in NL parks. In other words, the disparity is the result of the AL’s home field advantage greatly outstripping the NL’s home field advantage, and that would seem to have to do mostly with the DH. No?

No.  First of all, you get the 52% by using ALL interleague games going back to the mid-1990s, which includes several years in which the leagues were about even.  Second, a much more sustainable interpretation of that data would be that the home field advantage was the same for both leagues, but that the American League just had better teams.

The District Attorney Posted: June 01, 2013 at 11:30 PM | 77 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill james, sabermetrics

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   1. zachtoma Posted: June 02, 2013 at 06:26 AM (#4458185)
This is an interesting topic. I think another factor could be that the NL organizations with the largest markets/most resources (ie the ones that should be headlining the league) have been exceptionally dysfunctional over the last 10 years - see: Dodgers, Cubs, Mets. Sort of the opposite of the Yankees and Red Sox dynamic in the AL.
   2. McCoy Posted: June 02, 2013 at 09:07 AM (#4458200)
I think part of the problem was that the NL for years had two extra teams and those two extra teams were god awful. I remember looking at payroll and the Yankees were obviously in a class of their own but the AL 2-14 was actually outspent by the NL 2-14.
   3. BDC Posted: June 02, 2013 at 10:06 AM (#4458223)
It's a notable disparity, but it may also be just one of those things. There could be lots of little temporary factors, all of them per se uninteresting, that magnify one another for a little while, and in a few years the situation will even out or reverse, and the whole phenomenon will be forgotten. I'm not really claiming that, just suggesting it's possible.
   4. Rennie's Tenet Posted: June 02, 2013 at 10:19 AM (#4458229)
think another factor could be that the NL organizations with the largest markets/most resources (ie the ones that should be headlining the league) have been exceptionally dysfunctional over the last 10 years


I always thought it was a good tradeoff for the Pirates to be in a six-team division, since the benefit was being in a division where the Cubs had the big money.
   5. McCoy Posted: June 02, 2013 at 10:22 AM (#4458230)
Yeah but then you had to play against the Cardinals and Astros who for the longest time were two of the best run teams in the league.
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: June 02, 2013 at 10:33 AM (#4458242)
It's very simple, captured by James in the excerpt and Zach in post 1. The AL's big-market teams (the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels) spent money excessively and at least effectively, forcing other AL teams to be better run to compete. The same issue did not exist in the NL with its big-market teams. MOst other things offered (the DH, the size of the leagues) is a non-factor.
   7. McCoy Posted: June 02, 2013 at 10:45 AM (#4458254)
Except that isn't really true. The Angels spending money is a rather recent phenomenon and the Red Sox spending wasn't so out of this world as compared to the top NL teams. Nor did the other teams in the AL suddenly become spenders or become better teams because of them. The Rays didn't get better because the Yanks and Red Sox spent money but because the Rays have no money at all and the only way to compete is to play smarter. The entire AL Central hasn't gotten better because of the AL East and are probably just a bunch NL teams in quality.

The Yankees effect one division and probably a grand total of one other team, the Red Sox, and that is probably it.
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: June 02, 2013 at 11:00 AM (#4458259)
Except that isn't really true. The Angels spending money is a rather recent phenomenon and the Red Sox spending wasn't so out of this world as compared to the top NL teams. Nor did the other teams in the AL suddenly become spenders or become better teams because of them. The Rays didn't get better because the Yanks and Red Sox spent money but because the Rays have no money at all and the only way to compete is to play smarter. The entire AL Central hasn't gotten better because of the AL East and are probably just a bunch NL teams in quality.

The Yankees effect one division and probably a grand total of one other team, the Red Sox, and that is probably it.


The Angels won the World Series in 2001, and have been pretty good since then. They weren't throwing money around like the Yankees and Sox, but they have been pretty well run and willing to spend some cash to keep top talent. The Sox have mostly been good the entire decade, often No. 2 in payroll and pretty much always Top 5. It's the combination of having money to spend and putting together good clubs that differentiates these AL clubs from some NL comparables (Chicago, New York and LA).

The fact the Yankees and Red Sox were both expected to compete annually for the postseason meant the wildcard was not as much a fallback position for the AL's other teams, driving teams like Oakland, Minnesota and, later, Tampa, to be run better to compete. Not all teams followed suit (the Royals and M's most notably). But there really weren't any NL teams in that time span, other than the Cards, that were truly well-run for the entire decade. The big market teams were inefficient and the others bounced along here and there but none could be considered smart and efficient.

Couple that with any smaller factors (luck involving injuries or prospect development) and you have a significant AL edge. But there's nothing structural at work. The DH isn't an advantage. The 14-16 league split wasn't an advantage. Even recognizing the Yankees' edge in the biggest market, the NL probably has a slight overall market edge (based on both size and franchise's history in the market).
   9. TerpNats Posted: June 02, 2013 at 11:40 AM (#4458274)
The Angels (who won the Series in 2002, not 2001) are somewhat similar to the White Sox (who won the 2005 WS) in that they are the #2 team in their market and neither has been able to repeat its earlier success (though the Angels are certainly more aggressive in pursuing talent than the Sox have been; Reinsdorf well remembers what happened with Albert Belle).
   10. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: June 02, 2013 at 11:51 AM (#4458280)

Wouldn't throwing to third be the major disadvantage to a left handed catcher?
Asked by: Florko
Answered: 6/1/2013
Are right-handed catchers able to throw to first? Which is more common: Throws to first, or throws to third? I don't know, but I would guess throws to first. Thus, it would seem to me, this argument would argue IN FAVOR OF the left-handed catcher, not against him.


Is it harder for a catcher to throw to first with a left handed batter vs a right handed one? I don't know, but if so, wouldn't a left handed catcher be equally disadvantaged WRT throws to 3rd and a RHB? And since there are a lot more RHB than LHB, and since throws to third are higher leverage than throws to first, I don't think it would be an argument for a lefty catcher as Bill says. Assuming the answer to the initial question is yes.

edit: and since steals of third with a LHB are rare (or at least that's the CW: you don't steal third with a lefty at bat), that's an even bigger point against.
   11. BDC Posted: June 02, 2013 at 12:00 PM (#4458289)
I think a large factor in the absence of left-handed catchers is sheer convention. There may have been slight advantages to RH throwers many years ago that don't really exist in a tactical environment where runners get bunted over to third less and less, but nowadays no lefty catches because lefties don't catch. And since they work with different pitchers, the advantage of having a uniform product who always looks the same behind the plate is perhaps a tiny advantage, too.

Much more bothersome is the disappearance of left-handed closers. That's becoming my personal crusade against irrationality in baseball :)
   12. Mike Emeigh Posted: June 02, 2013 at 12:10 PM (#4458294)
The main advantage for a right-handed catcher is that it's easier for him to make a throw to second on pitches that are down and away to right-handed batters. A left-handed catcher has to move toward his glove side to block the pitch, and then move *back* toward his throwing side to transfer the ball and make the throw - a right-handed catcher's momentum carries him in the same direction both to block the pitch and to make the transfer to throw. Since most batters are right-handed, and most pitchers work the outer half of the plate, that is where the right-handed catcher's advantage comes into play.

The right-handed catcher's throw to second on outside pitches is, also, from a better angle for the fielder receiving the throw; it's coming from the same side as the runner. The left-handed catcher's throw is coming from the opposite angle.

-- MWE
   13. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 02, 2013 at 12:18 PM (#4458295)
Much more bothersome is the disappearance of left-handed closers. That's becoming my personal crusade against irrationality in baseball :)


You'll be happy to know that the Rockies have put Rafael Betancourt on the DL and promoted Rex Brothers, who has been the closer-in-waiting for a couple of years now, into the ninth-inning role.
   14. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: June 02, 2013 at 01:53 PM (#4458350)
I think part of the problem was that the NL for years had two extra teams and those two extra teams were god awful.

What? Why were the Pirates and, I dunno, the Brewers the 'extra' teams and not the Cards and Astros? Also, has anybody but the Pirates been consistently bad for the entire interleague era? Or is the theory that the NL's just got two additional 'bad team' slots and the teams inhabiting the slots rotates?

You'll be happy to know that the Rockies have put Rafael Betancourt on the DL and promoted Rex Brothers, who has been the closer-in-waiting for a couple of years now, into the ninth-inning role.

Glen Perkins has been doing it for about a year now. The last one I can think of before that was Brian Fuentes. The last good one was, of course, Wagner.
   15. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: June 02, 2013 at 02:05 PM (#4458358)
Glen Perkins seems to be doing pretty well, leading the Twins in strikeouts despite being 12th in innings pitched. How on earth the Twins constructed this sort of rotation in our age of record-breaking strikeout totals everywhere, I have no idea.
   16. McCoy Posted: June 02, 2013 at 02:09 PM (#4458363)
Pirates and pretty much any team touched by Loria at one point or another.

There are only so much large market slots to go around so that any extra slots are quite naturally going to go to lesser markets. It is entirely possible that the two extra slots produce two extra good to great teams but more likely than not the 15th and 16th teams are going to be godawful.

To me the biggest difference between the AL and NL is that in the AL the few large market teams were run well while the few large market teams in the NL were not. So the disparity between those teams is great but I don't think the disparity between say the 8th best team in the AL and NL are as great.
   17. VoodooR Posted: June 02, 2013 at 05:48 PM (#4458591)
Also, has anybody but the Pirates been consistently bad for the entire interleague era?


Royals.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: June 02, 2013 at 05:57 PM (#4458595)
I lay most of it in the dysfunctionality of Cubs, Mets and (to a lesser extent) Dodgers. The Phils are the only NL team to try to run with the big boys and do so competently (for a while).

But also ... it's the Yanks and Sox. Yes, the AL dominated the NL ... and those two teams dominated the AL. The Yanks and Sox were practically guaranteed to win 95 games every year.
   19. Tippecanoe Posted: June 02, 2013 at 06:46 PM (#4458626)
In the NBA, the western conference has won the majority of inter-conference games for 13 of the past 14 seasons, and is something like 800 games over .500 during that time. Whether for NBA or MLB, I'm not sure we need any big explanations beyond one conference/league having a greater number of franchises that have their act together.
   20. SoSH U at work Posted: June 02, 2013 at 06:59 PM (#4458634)
There are only so much large market slots to go around so that any extra slots are quite naturally going to go to lesser markets. It is entirely possible that the two extra slots produce two extra good to great teams but more likely than not the 15th and 16th teams are going to be godawful.


Let's compare the leagues market by market:

The shared markets
New York Market: Big edge New York AL (due to history). NL club has worked hard to widen the gap.
Chicago: Big edge to Chicago NL as a market, though NL team has done little with its advantage.
Los Angeles: Big edge to NL, but Arte has worked hard to close gap.
Baltimore vs. Washington: Slight edge to AL due to history, though Washington might have stronger potential.
Bay Area: Huge edge to the NL team - better stadium, better history, better everything, really.

Other obvious comparables
Boston vs. Philly: Historical edge to AL team, though Philly is NL's other big market club (besides SF) that didn't shoot itself in foot over past decade.
Florida: Should be a big edge to Miami - they established squatting rights in Fla., won two titles, play in a new park vs. the worst venue in baseball. And it remains a better market, but ownership has done everything possible to piss away those advantages.
Ohio: Solid edge to NL franchise. Better history, better position among locals (the Reds being Cincy's team, the Browns being the same in NE Ohio). Tribe does have the stadium advantage.
Missouri: Biggest landslide on the board. Cards have tremendous history of success and the franchise did wonders taking advantage of its westernmost status to build what amounts in many ways to a large market team out of a small market city. KC has been a nice breeding ground for interesting baseball writing.
Texas: Comparable market sizes. NL team had history (both in terms of time and performance) on its side, but Rangers have closed gap considerably (with help from Lisa's pals).

And the rest
Detroit vs. Pittsburgh - Paired by being two Rust Belt* original 16s. Solid edge to the AL franchise, though PNC does its best to elevate the Pirates.
Minnesota vs. Milwaukee - Looks close enough to call a push. Good solid baseball towns.
San Diego vs. Seattle - the interleague rivals. Healthy edge to the AL, I think, by virtue of SD's popular NL neighbors to the north and Seattle's solo status in the Pacific NW.
Toronto vs. Atlanta - Good matchup. Canada's only club vs. the first (and some would say still-only) Southern franchise. I can see arguments either way (I'd lean toward Atlanta, but I'm not convinced).

That leaves, conveniently two of the newest NL franchises, Colorado and Arizona. Both strike me as solid mid-market franchises, getting back what each loses in history with a little more upside.

Like I said earlier, that looks like, all things considered, the NL has a pretty solid edge on the AL in terms of the markets the league is in (assuming the Yankees being the Yankees doesn't dwarf everything else). And the additions shouldn't have weakened the league at all (though the only new AL franchise in the last two decades was surely a downgrade for the Junior Circuit, marketwise).
   21. Ok, Griffey's Dunn (Nothing Iffey About Griffey) Posted: June 02, 2013 at 08:03 PM (#4458681)
Much more bothersome is the disappearance of left-handed closers. That's becoming my personal crusade against irrationality in baseball :)


I know that everything thinks that Aroldis Chapman should be a starter, however, until such time, he's handled being a left-handed closer well. :)
   22. Chris Fluit Posted: June 02, 2013 at 08:32 PM (#4458691)
It's been a few years but BJ Ryan made a successful transition from loogy to closer.
   23. Dan Posted: June 02, 2013 at 08:47 PM (#4458697)
Sean Doolittle might be the A's next closer. Jake McGee could be the Rays' next closer. Brothers is almost certainly the Rockies' next closer. I think over the next few years we may have more lefty closers than ever.
   24. Monty Posted: June 02, 2013 at 09:13 PM (#4458710)
Los Angeles: Big edge to NL, but Arte has worked hard to close gap.


So have the McCourts, but from the other side.
   25. Chicago Joe Posted: June 02, 2013 at 09:37 PM (#4458725)
I think part of the problem was that the NL for years had two extra teams and those two extra teams were god awful.


The two worst teams each year in the NL had an aggregate record of 118-226 in interleague play from 2002-2012. That's about half the total gap between the AL and the NL.

Interesting trivia question: can you name the only team among those to have a winning record in interleague play for the season?
   26. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: June 02, 2013 at 10:13 PM (#4458748)
Much more bothersome is the disappearance of left-handed closers. That's becoming my personal crusade against irrationality in baseball :)

Watch for Sean Doolittle / A's, starting next year.
   27. bobm Posted: June 02, 2013 at 11:56 PM (#4458792)
Interleague records and differential from league records
1997-2012

Sorted by largest positive winning percentage differential in interleague play

Team   WPct  I-WPct  L-WPct     I-L
 DET  0.465   0.537   0.457   0.080 
 MIN  0.497   0.557   0.489   0.067 
 CHW  0.519   0.576   0.512   0.064 
 SEA  0.496   0.539   0.491   0.048 
 ANA  0.538   0.577   0.533   0.045 
 FLA  0.480   0.519   0.475   0.044 
 KCR  0.419   0.452   0.415   0.037 
 WSN  0.451   0.482   0.448   0.035 
 NYM  0.509   0.529   0.506   0.023 
 TBD  0.454   0.474   0.452   0.022 
 TEX  0.507   0.525   0.505   0.019 
 BOS  0.553   0.569   0.551   0.018 
 OAK  0.527   0.542   0.525   0.017 
 COL  0.471   0.475   0.470   0.004 
 NYY  0.603   0.603   0.603   0.000 
 BAL  0.456   0.445   0.457   -.012
 STL  0.544   0.532   0.545   -.013
 MIL  0.472   0.459   0.474   -.015
 CHC  0.478   0.460   0.480   -.020
 CLE  0.504   0.484   0.506   -.022
 SFG  0.537   0.512   0.540   -.028
 TOR  0.499   0.466   0.503   -.036
 PIT  0.431   0.397   0.434   -.037
 ARI  0.498   0.464   0.502   -.038
 ATL  0.570   0.529   0.574   -.045
 HOU  0.503   0.461   0.507   -.046
 CIN  0.489   0.443   0.493   -.051
 SDP  0.484   0.437   0.489   -.052
 PHI  0.521   0.453   0.529   -.076
 LAD  0.524   0.453   0.532   -.079


WPct = Winning Percentage
I-WPct = Winning Percentage in Interleague Games
L-WPct = Winning Percentage in League Games
I-L = I-Wpct minus L-WPct
   28. Sunday silence Posted: June 03, 2013 at 01:29 AM (#4458818)
that cant be right, the bottom 8 teams are all from the NL.
   29. bjhanke Posted: June 03, 2013 at 01:32 AM (#4458822)
Huh. I always thought the disparity was due to the DH, but Bill seems quite sure that it is not. My reasoning was that the DH forces AL teams, or at least many of them, to make sure they have two slugging "first basemen", allowing them to 1) cover better for injuries to their mid-lineup bangers, and 2) justify paying starter money to players who can still hit but who can't get that money form NL teams, because they can't play 1B except in an emergency. - Brock Hanke
   30. alkeiper Posted: June 03, 2013 at 02:47 AM (#4458832)
What's the story with Doolittle? His minor league stats look like a guy who you wouldn't say failed as a hitter. You don't typically see prospects with elite arms playing first base either.
   31. zachtoma Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:37 AM (#4458835)
With DET, MIN, CHW on top, and HOU, CIN in the bottom 5, disparity in the Central divisions also appears to be a factor... interesting wrinkle. The Yanks and BoSox haven't really been beating up on the NL more than they do the rest of the AL, it's the middle of the pack teams where the gap is widest.
   32. steagles Posted: June 03, 2013 at 04:14 AM (#4458837)
The right-handed catcher's throw to second on outside pitches is, also, from a better angle for the fielder receiving the throw; it's coming from the same side as the runner. The left-handed catcher's throw is coming from the opposite angle.
that's it, i think. when a RH catcher throws a ball to second base that tails, it tails into the path of the runner, whereas when a LH catcher throws that same ball, it'll tail towards the 3rd base side of 2nd base and it makes for a much tougher tag.

...I found a 2011 article that states the AL’s winning percentage in interleague play was 52.3% until that time, but 57.8% in AL parks. If I have the math right, that suggests a 46.8% winning percentage in NL parks. In other words, the disparity is the result of the AL’s home field advantage greatly outstripping the NL’s home field advantage, and that would seem to have to do mostly with the DH. No?


No. First of all, you get the 52% by using ALL interleague games going back to the mid-1990s, which includes several years in which the leagues were about even. Second, a much more sustainable interpretation of that data would be that the home field advantage was the same for both leagues, but that the American League just had better teams.
that strikes me as wrong precisely because of the DH. when the phillies played the redsox in boston last week, the redsox had david ortiz at DH, whereas the phillies had john mayberry, and that is a huge structural disadvantage for an NL team in an AL park.
   33. Sunday silence Posted: June 03, 2013 at 04:15 AM (#4458838)
Huh. I always thought the disparity was due to the DH, but Bill seems quite sure that it is not. My reasoning was that the DH forces AL teams, or at least many of them, to make sure they have two slugging "first basemen", allowing them to 1) cover better for injuries to their mid-lineup bangers, and 2) justify paying starter money to players who can still hit but who can't get that money form NL teams, because they can't play 1B except in an emergency. - Brock Hanke
t

But to do this, dont they have to give up a pitching slot in the roster? That should be some disadvantage yes? Or if it was no disavantage to give up a pitching spot and replace it with hitter, then NL teams could do that just as well. Basically there should be some sort of trade off here, yes? And one would think it would wash out when they go to NL park or vice versa. Why would having a DH slot help them in a NL park? Is it easier to call up replacement level pitchers for a 3 game series than it is to call up replacement level sluggers? hard to imagine..

But I am open to suggestions. like you, I keep looking at the DH and thinking maybe that does make for a better team for interleague play, but it's hard to identify an objective reason. Maybe I am misunderstanding your argument though.
   34. steagles Posted: June 03, 2013 at 04:30 AM (#4458839)
But to do this, dont they have to give up a pitching slot in the roster? That should be some disadvantage yes? Or if it was no disavantage to give up a pitching spot and replace it with hitter, then NL teams could do that just as well. Basically there should be some sort of trade off here, yes? And one would think it would wash out when they go to NL park or vice versa. Why would having a DH slot help them in a NL park? Is it easier to call up replacement level pitchers for a 3 game series than it is to call up replacement level sluggers? hard to imagine..

But I am open to suggestions. like you, I keep looking at the DH and thinking maybe that does make for a better team for interleague play, but it's hard to identify an objective reason. Maybe I am misunderstanding your argument though.
AL teams can actually carry more pitchers than NL teams because they don't have to worry about pinch hitting or double switching.

that does give the NL an advantage in NL parks, in that they should be more capable of using all 25 men on their roster, but if you're an AL team and you're only playing 3 or 4 games in a row without the DH, all you really have to do as a manager is not screw up so badly that you wind up with 3 starting pitchers playing in the outfield in the 11th inning.
   35. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 03, 2013 at 09:31 AM (#4458887)
29/brock: i have and do consider(ed) that a structural advantage for the al (not that all teams fill that spot with an extra 1b-type bat, but the dh incentives paying for a decent position player)
   36. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 09:34 AM (#4458890)
The AL's advantage on the field isn't much of a mystery. For most of this period, the AL has had higher payrolls on average, and this allowed them to buy more talent. IIRC, the payroll disparity matches the AL win% pretty closely.

The question of why/how the AL has spent more is perhaps an interesting one, if it is true that they have no natural population/economic advantage.
   37. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 09:38 AM (#4458895)
MWE/12: Interesting theory on LH catchers. Is there any evidence for it? For example, do RH catchers allow more SBs on inside pitches than on outside pitches (to a RHH)?
   38. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 03, 2013 at 09:44 AM (#4458901)

I think part of the problem was that the NL for years had two extra teams and those two extra teams were god awful. I remember looking at payroll and the Yankees were obviously in a class of their own but the AL 2-14 was actually outspent by the NL 2-14.


Which two are the two "extra" NL teams?
   39. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:03 AM (#4458911)
Also, we don't need to speculate about the impact of the DH. We know that it has little or nothing to do with the AL's advantage. In MGL's 3-part study at THT, he measured the level of talent in the two leagues by looking at what happened to league switchers, and also by examining performance in inter-league games. It's quite clear that AL players (at least as of 2006) were better on average than NL players.
   40. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:12 AM (#4458916)
37: I can't speak to your follow-up or how the #s might look with the broader question, but as a terrible (though strong armed) lefty catcher in LL, Mike's logic makes sense.
   41. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:19 AM (#4458920)
29/brock: i have and do consider(ed) that a structural advantage for the al (not that all teams fill that spot with an extra 1b-type bat, but the dh incentives paying for a decent position player)


But that's a cost the AL team is absorbing that an NL team could as well.

If the AL teams are voluntarily paying more money to stock their rosters, that's an issue, but it's not a structural one. The NL teams (which, as I think 20 shows, are not disadvantaged by market), could choose to pay a similar amount for a different distribution of players. If they are opting not to, or spending that money inefficiently, that explains the league difference, but it shouldn't be pinned on the DH.

As far as I can tell, the DH was never considered a competitive advantage until the AL became the superior league. No one talked about it that way for the first 30 years of its existence.

   42. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:29 AM (#4458931)
But that's a cost the AL team is absorbing that an NL team could as well.

but the roi is different.

having said that, i don't think the added value is anywhere near the difference in winning percentage.
   43. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:33 AM (#4458934)
The main advantage for a right-handed catcher is that it's easier for him to make a throw to second on pitches that are down and away to right-handed batters. A left-handed catcher has to move toward his glove side to block the pitch, and then move *back* toward his throwing side to transfer the ball and make the throw - a right-handed catcher's momentum carries him in the same direction both to block the pitch and to make the transfer to throw. Since most batters are right-handed, and most pitchers work the outer half of the plate, that is where the right-handed catcher's advantage comes into play.

I wonder how often righthanded catchers successfully throw guys out on the down and away pitch anyway. That's not exactly a prime situation for gunning down a baserunner.

There is at least one edge for the lefty catcher. He has a better throwing angle to first base on bunts and squibs (the throw to second on bunts is a wash, the throw to third an edge for the righty, though that probably happens less frequently).

I still think a huge issue for lefty catchers is equipment. Many youth teams don't have lefthanded catcher's mitts, so lefties don't get early exposure there.

I think the structural issues are surmountable, but I'm not sure there's significant incentive to do so. It's not an advantage to be a lefthanded catcher (like it is to be a first baseman or pitcher), so the 10 percent of the population that throws from the funny side is shepherded into positions where their southpaw wing is actually beneficial.
   44. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:37 AM (#4458937)
but the roi is different.


I don't see why it necessarily would be. Obviously, an NL team isn't going to sink $10 million on a nonfielding hitter, but it can take that savings and plow it into the starting staff, or a better bench, or a better starting outfield, all of which, if spent efficiently, should yield similar results from an overall competitive standpoint.
   45. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:45 AM (#4458948)
I still think a huge issue for lefty catchers is equipment. Many youth teams don't have lefthanded catcher's mitts, so lefties don't get early exposure there.

This is definitely a big barrier. On the other hand, the complete extinction of the LH catcher early in the last century strongly suggests some structural disadvantage for LHs, at least at that time. The question is whether the same disadvantage would exist today.

It's not an advantage to be a lefthanded catcher (like it is to be a first baseman or pitcher), so the 10 percent of the population that throws from the funny side is shepherded into positions where their southpaw wing is actually beneficial.

Well, it's an advantage to hit LH, so we should see a bunch of lefties at any position where being LH isn't a defensive liability. And how do you think being LH a plus at 1B?
   46. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:58 AM (#4458962)
44/sosh: you're able to concentrate opportunities (pa) in a single player, in a way you can't with relievers or bench. to be clear, i think this effect is small.
also, do you agree with the notion that having the dh increases payrolls?
45/guy: glove is field-side - makes handling throws easier (espec. pickoffs), also get to throw across your body more often than righties can.
   47. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: June 03, 2013 at 10:58 AM (#4458963)
Bay Area: Huge edge to the NL team - better stadium, better history, better everything, really.

Isn't this a rather recent sort of thing, though? I would say until Giants Park (I just decided to name it that, I know it is AT&T) was opened, the stadium was a push. And I would guess when you put the old Coliseum (pre Mount Davis) up against the Stick, the Coliseum probably had a slight edge.

As for history, there is no doubt that the A's have had a much better track record of success than the Giants up until the last couple of years. It does hurt the A's that their last WS title was in '89. The Giants certainly hold the edge in recent history, but the A's have been the better franchise for most of the time that both teams were in the Bay Area.

Oakland Athletics (3757-3460 W-L, 1968 - 2013) - 4 World Championships, 6 Pennants, and 16 Playoff Appearances
San Francisco Giants (4579-4231 W-L, 1958 - 2013) - 2 World Championships, 5 Pennants, and 10 Playoff Appearances
   48. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:00 AM (#4458965)
Well, it's an advantage to hit LH, so we should see a bunch of lefties at any position where being LH isn't a defensive liability. And how do you think being LH a plus at 1B?


As we discussed earlier, most lefty hitters are actually righthanded throwers*. Lefthanded throwers just aren't a big part of the baseball-playing package, so it's not surprising if we only see htem in places where their handeness is a specific advantage.

Being lefthanded is a huge plus at first base due to the throws the first sacker makes. Throws made clockwise on the diamond are an advantage to the righthander (the primary reason why short, second and third are all better for righties). A first baseman's main throws are to second base, where he can simply throw across his body (picture vintage Keith Hernandez). A righthander has to reverse pivot to make that same throw (which, more often than not, is at a slightly worse angle in relation to the baserunner than the lefthander's toss). This advantage is magnified on any ball the first baseman has to charge (in this case, picture a third baseman charging a slow roller, fielding it barehanded and making the quick throw to first all in one motion. Now try to imagine a southpaw trying to execute that same move).

* By the way, in reference to that previous thread, I am currently engaging in study at my son's little league on the origin of the lefthanded hitting, righthanded throwing ballplayer. I'll bump that thread back up when I've got the full results (it's the Stan Musial faced a lot of lefties thread).

   49. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:04 AM (#4458971)
also, do you agree with the notion that having the dh increases payrolls?


Only as a matter of choice, not because it must. Teams don't have to employ a full-time DH, and many opt not to.


Isn't this a rather recent sort of thing, though? I would say until Giants Park (I just decided to name it that, I know it is AT&T) was opened, the stadium was a push. And I would guess when you put the old Coliseum (pre Mount Davis) up against the Stick, the Coliseum probably had a slight edge.


Bearing in mind that my knowledge of any of the dynamics of any of these markets but a few is severely limited, I wouldn't think so. The Giants, by virtue of arriving much earlier, should have had a significant headstart in building the brand than the A's. And while the A's had more team success (though also some real lows), it always struck me as the weak sister in that particular shared market.

As for the recency, sure. But I was trying to explore the way the markets are in the last 10 years or so, which incorporates their history but also accounts for more recent developments.
   50. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:07 AM (#4458972)
Only as a matter of choice, not because it must.

Well, sure - that's always true with payroll.
That the AL has been better because they spend more - sure. I'm just suggesting that the causation isn't entirely one-way.
   51. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:16 AM (#4458988)
I'm just suggesting that the causation isn't entirely one-way.


Maybe you're right. I just don't see it. If this value the DH is bringing to a team is a competitive edge, then that team is turning around and losing an equal amount of that value when it must forego the DH in NL stadia.

I just can't see any argument for the DH that isn't balanced out by something on the other side of the ledger.
   52. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:23 AM (#4458996)
"As we discussed earlier, most lefty hitters are actually righthanded throwers*."

I'm too lazy to look it up, but I think it's about half, not "most" -- right? In any case, nearly every LHT also hits LH (or switches). So it should still be the case that we will see some LHT at any position where it isn't an actual defensive liability.

I look forward to hearing your report on the genesis of RHT/LHH players.

Being lefthanded is a huge plus at first base due to the throws the first sacker makes. Throws made clockwise on the diamond are an advantage to the righthander (the primary reason why short, second and third are all better for righties). A first baseman's main throws are to second base, where he can simply throw across his body (picture vintage Keith Hernandez)
No, his main throws are to 1B, like other infielders. Last year the average team had 19 assists from 1B to 2B, but 70 assists from their first baseman to 1B. It's true that many assists to 1B are easy throws, and so even a LHT can make them. Still, the throws to 2B just don't happen enough (once every 8 games) to make a big difference.

Is having the glove field-side a big deal? I guess the pickoff tag is slightly easier. But again, not a big deal (average team has 11 pickoffs/year, and on at least a few of them the tag is made at 2B). Seems to me LHT have a tiny advantage, if any.
   53. Mike Emeigh Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:31 AM (#4458999)
For example, do RH catchers allow more SBs on inside pitches than on outside pitches (to a RHH)?


I haven't checked. Catchers will tell you that it's easier to throw out a hitter on a pitch away to a RHB than on a pitch in, but there are likely a lot of reasons for that which have little or nothing to do with the catcher's throwing hand - usually on an outside pitch neither the batter nor the pitcher impedes the catcher's line of fire, for one, and there are usually more pitches away in stealing situations than there are pitches in. I presume that one could verify using Pitch F/x data; I haven't taken the time to do much of anything with the pitch-level detail yet.

Has anyone used this package, by the way?

-- MWE
   54. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:37 AM (#4459007)
No, his main throws are to 1B, like other infielders. Last year the average team had 19 assists from 1B to 2B, but 70 assists from their first baseman to 1B. It's true that many assists to 1B are easy throws, and so even a LHT can make them. Still, the throws to 2B just don't happen enough (once every 8 games) to make a big difference.


The throws to first are a non-issue. They're too short, at made from a relatively easy angle, to matter at all.

As for the throws to second, no they don't happen all to frequently (except for maybe the aforementioned Hernandez), which is why there are plenty of righthanded first basemen (well, that and sheer numbers). But make no mistake, it's better to be a southpaw than a righthander at first.


I'm too lazy to look it up, but I think it's about half, not "most" -- right? In any case, nearly every LHT also hits LH (or switches). So it should still be the case that we will see some LHT at any position where it isn't an actual defensive liability.


You are correct. 42 percent, though I'm not sure how many are pitchers vs. position players (if that matters).

   55. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:37 AM (#4459008)
51: if we looked only at how al players who move to the NL and v.v do in intraleague games and compare that to inter league results, would that tell us something?
   56. Mike Emeigh Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:47 AM (#4459023)
I still think a huge issue for lefty catchers is equipment. Many youth teams don't have lefthanded catcher's mitts, so lefties don't get early exposure there.


If there were a good reason for youth teams to use left-handed throwers as catchers, there would be left-handed catchers' mitts available.

-- MWE
   57. Russ Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:51 AM (#4459026)
Has anyone used this package, by the way?


Mike, I haven't seen this before. I just installed and ran it. Very interesting.
   58. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 11:54 AM (#4459030)
If there were a good reason for youth teams to use left-handed throwers as catchers, there would be left-handed catchers' mitts available.


I mostly agree. I'm not faulting leagues for failing to stockpile lefthanded catcher's mitts since lefthanders in general are scarce, but I've seen the issue in my son's league where southpaws wanted to catch and were not able to.

Like I said, I don't think the structural obstacles for a lefthanded catcher are insurmountable. There are a few advantages, a few disdvantages, which is kind of natural when the position is located in the dead center of the diamond with everything in front of the player in both directions. But the absence of structural advantages that exist at other positions, combined with this pesky expense and the small percentage of the population lefties represent all reduce the chances for a lefty to develop at the position.

   59. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:00 PM (#4459037)
[25] The two worst teams each year in the NL had an aggregate record of 118-226 in interleague play from 2002-2012. That's about half the total gap between the AL and the NL.

And what was the aggregate record of the two worst teams in the AL each year? Why would it surprise anyone that specifically cherry-picking the worst teams would come up with a bad record? Why does this argument keep getting trotted out with zero reasoning behind it? AG#1F asks the same question in [38] that I did in [14].
   60. zack Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:03 PM (#4459043)
In the NBA, the western conference has won the majority of inter-conference games for 13 of the past 14 seasons, and is something like 800 games over .500 during that time. Whether for NBA or MLB, I'm not sure we need any big explanations beyond one conference/league having a greater number of franchises that have their act together.

The Western Conference in the NHL has consistently beaten the Eastern in interleague play between the lockouts, to the tune of .600 points percentage. The stupid extra point rule makes unpacking that record difficult, but it's something like a 98 point team vs. the East while a 92 point team overall.

-There are no structural differences like the DH
-There is a hard cap limiting payroll differences
-The East has the bigger markets
-The East has outspent the West during that time (though not by a lot).

What does that tell us, other than some teams are just better than others?
   61. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:05 PM (#4459047)
If there were a good reason for youth teams to use left-handed throwers as catchers, there would be left-handed catchers' mitts available.

-- MWE


I caught for a while when I was a kid and the league did have a left handed catcher's mitt. I had a couple of friends that were also left handed and caught, so it wasn't a totally unheard of thing.

My dad eventually bought me a LH catcher's mitt that I ended up passing on to another kid after I was done with the catching thing.

if my boys ever decide that they want to throw, I will be scouring the internets looking for a LH catcher's mitt. After doing a quick google search, they do still exist.

From what I have seen at the lower levels of youth baseball, the most important thing a young catcher can do is actually catch the ball because throwing out runners just isn't going to happen anyways. Handedness shouldn't matter at that point in time.
   62. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:12 PM (#4459054)
Just did a quick comparison of RHT and LHT first baseman since 2004 (the DRS era). Players with at least 300 games, 75%+ at 1B. There are 12 LHT, with an average Rfield of +1.8 per 600 PA. There are actually more RHT (17), and they are equally proficient in the field (+1.3 Rfield). The RHT are also much better hitters on average, so if anything we should expect them to be worse fielders. Hardly a comprehensive study, obviously, but it doesn't appear that lefty 1B have been systematically better, at least for the last decade.
   63. bjhanke Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:13 PM (#4459057)
On the DH effect, if any: Sunday Silence (#33) has "Why would having a DH slot help them in a NL park? "

To me, this is the point that is hardest to internalize. The advantage I see is that, when an AL team goes to a NL park, they essentially get to choose which of their starting "first basemen" (the actual 1B and the DH) they want to use. The NL team has to use their starting 1B, even if he's having a bad year, unless he's so injured or playing so bad that they've had to go to their backup 1B, whereas the AL team, in that scenario, just gets to play the DH instead of the backup 1B. Since 1B are usually mid-lineup hitters, this, I thought, could be significant in why AL teams win more interleague games - their mid-lineup core is, in the long run, going to be better, because they get to choose their 1B from a stronger pool of candidates. Several posts here have pointed out very good counters, and all the data seems to not support this. I was just brainstorming, when I realized that the "choice of 1B" thing was never mentioned. You don't tend to think of it that way. But if the Bosox are going to a NL park, they're probably going to use Ortiz as their 1B, lousy though his defense is, because Ortiz will generally be a better hitter than the starting 1B. If they don't just play Ortiz at 1B, he's probably a better hitter than any pinch hitter the NL team has. - Brock
   64. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:17 PM (#4459064)
From what I have seen at the lower levels of youth baseball, the most important thing a young catcher can do is actually catch the ball because throwing out runners just isn't going to happen anyways. Handedness shouldn't matter at that point in time.

Actually, I don't think the disadvantage for LH (it it exists) is about base stealers at all. I suspect that it's about passed balls. I think it's easier for a RH catcher to stop the low/outside pitch (RHP to RHH) by dropping/extending his glove (left) arm, vs. a LH catcher who has to rotate his glove arm to make that same play.

BUT, I've never caught, and have no evidence to back this up.
   65. if nature called, ladodger34 would listen Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:26 PM (#4459078)
Actually, I don't think the disadvantage for LH (it it exists) is about base stealers at all. I suspect that it's about passed balls. I think it's easier for a RH catcher to stop the low/outside pitch (RHP to RHH) by dropping/extending his glove (left) arm, vs. a LH catcher who has to rotate his glove arm to make that same play.

BUT, I've never caught, and have no evidence to back this up.


Well, for a low outside pitch to a RH hitter, all the LH catcher has to do is drop his glove. An outside pitch to a RH hitter is quite literally on the glove side of a LH catcher. A low inside pitch to a RH batter might be tougher for a LH catcher (might have to backhand, etc).

As someone who has spent quite a bit of time behind (and getting hit) catchers as an umpire, I can honestly say that the most important assets that a catcher from the 9-12 level (and maybe even a little higher) are (1) not being scared of the ball (2) being able to catch the ball.

I think you are getting too technical with some stuff. Catching at the lowest levels of baseball isn't rocket science and it doesn't get that way until you get up into your teen years.
   66. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 12:38 PM (#4459087)
From what I have seen at the lower levels of youth baseball, the most important thing a young catcher can do is actually catch the ball because throwing out runners just isn't going to happen anyways. Handedness shouldn't matter at that point in time.


My 10-year-old has just started catching a few games ago (I think the lack of hitting in our league this year has left him looking for more to do on D). He's OK with the glove, but he's absolutely going to gun down runners trying to steal/advance on PBs/WPs (he had one dead to rights in his first outing, but the 3Bman lost control of the ball before making the tag). But he's very much an outlier in that he's got a strong and supremely accurate arm.
   67. SandyRiver Posted: June 03, 2013 at 02:42 PM (#4459255)
Though it involves a small sample, I find a disconnect with folks using Ortiz as the DH-advantage example, since Boston's interleague advantage is so modest. Or has their IL record been much better 2003-on than prior? And citing the best long-term DH since Edgar sort of biases the picture, no?
   68. GuyM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:01 PM (#4459270)
I think you are getting too technical with some stuff. Catching at the lowest levels of baseball isn't rocket science and it doesn't get that way until you get up into your teen years.

Right. I was talking about the question of why no LH catchers at the professional level. I assume the lack of LH catchers at the youth level is a "trickle down" effect from higher levels -- surely some LH kids can handle the position adequately for their level. My point was just that I disagree with the assumption that handedness can impact throwing but not receiving.
   69. AROM Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:15 PM (#4459279)
Is having the glove field-side a big deal? I guess the pickoff tag is slightly easier. But again, not a big deal (average team has 11 pickoffs/year, and on at least a few of them the tag is made at 2B). Seems to me LHT have a tiny advantage, if any.


From my experience, the toughest part about playing 1B for a RH thrower is the footwork. I've been a shortstop up to the last year, but I've had a lot of foot problems that have forced me to move to the old man position for softball.

When I go to the bag, I want my left hand facing the infielders, so as I move to first, I need to spin around and get my right foot on the base. If I run straight to the bag my instinct is to put my left foot on the bag, but doing so means my glove hand is opposite where it should be and makes it tougher to receive throws. Also making things a bit tougher is that I have to look at the bag and make sure my foot gets there, the base is just a rubber mat instead of something I could feel with my foot.

I thought 1B would be be easy, but Wash was right. It's incredibly hard.
   70. Nasty Nate Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:19 PM (#4459282)
Or has their IL record been much better 2003-on than prior?


My memory might be wrong, but I think they had a terrible IL record in the first few years of it's implementation.
   71. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:20 PM (#4459285)
My memory might be wrong, but I think they had a terrible IL record in the first few years of it's implementation.


That's my recollection. Now let's go see...

Edit: 13 games under .500 during the six seasons it was played before Papi came aboard.
   72. BDC Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:30 PM (#4459291)
when an AL team goes to a NL park, they essentially get to choose which of their starting "first basemen" (the actual 1B and the DH) they want to use. The NL team has to use their starting 1B, even if he's having a bad year, unless he's so injured or playing so bad that they've had to go to their backup 1B, whereas the AL team, in that scenario, just gets to play the DH instead of the backup 1B

This effect is somewhat muted, though, because (as often comes up in DH-related threads) so few AL teams (at the moment) use a true regular DH. In 2012 there were only six guys who qualified for the batting title and played over half their games at DH, which is a pretty weak standard for "regular" to start with. It includes Jesus Montero, who started only 77 games at DH, and it includes Delmon Young, whom you don't want in your lineup anyway :) I believe Young and Billy Butler were the only two men to start more than 100 games at DH last season.

IOW, my sense is that NL and AL teams play the DH in similar ways, oddly enough: they just stick somebody there, whether a regular or a bench player, and adjust the rest of the lineup accordingly.
   73. Sunday silence Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:42 PM (#4459309)
handling pick off throws should be quite easier for Left handed 1B. Imagine not if your on the bag, but fielding your position a few steps off the bag. You have to move toward the bag, if you get your left foot there first, then you have to come back all the way for the tag. or if you get the right foot there, then you have totally rotate your body as you get the throw,that has to be awkward either way. But can be done.

I think if you're holding the runner at first, you can turn your body to face the pitcher, but then that has to make fielding awkward. Or maybe not if you are already leaning toward second.
   74. Sunday silence Posted: June 03, 2013 at 03:52 PM (#4459313)
Seems like left handers have more than their share of good fielding 1b. Hal Chase for one. Willie Montanez, Bill White, and Ted Kluzewski led NL in assists and/or DPs at various times.
   75. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: June 03, 2013 at 04:49 PM (#4459369)
My 10-year-old has just started catching a few games ago (I think the lack of hitting in our league this year has left him looking for more to do on D). He's OK with the glove, but he's absolutely going to gun down runners trying to steal/advance on PBs/WPs (he had one dead to rights in his first outing, but the 3Bman lost control of the ball before making the tag). But he's very much an outlier in that he's got a strong and supremely accurate arm.

Shouldn't he be pitching, then?
   76. SoSH U at work Posted: June 03, 2013 at 04:52 PM (#4459371)

Shouldn't he be pitching, then?


Oh yeah, he pitches too. In fact, he'll take the bump in about 90 minutes.
   77. Walt Davis Posted: June 03, 2013 at 06:51 PM (#4459435)
Long thread, not time to read it all but this ...

when the phillies played the redsox in boston last week, the redsox had david ortiz at DH, whereas the phillies had john mayberry, and that is a huge structural disadvantage for an NL team in an AL park.

For the Sox/Ortiz this is probably true. But for the entire history of the DH, about half of the AL teams rotate players through the slot and you are rather likely to find a Mayberry DH'ing on any given night. Yesterday's DHs were:

Pena, Pujols, VMart, Chris Dickerson!, Scott, Santana (day off from C, Yan Gomes), Morales, Willingham (day off from LF, Chris Hermann), Ortiz, Hafner, Viciedo, Chris Young, Butler, Berkman.

That's not too impressive, especially if you include Gomes and Hermann as the guys added to the lineup.

Back to Bob's interesting table. The dominance of the AL Central is interesting and it would be interesting to see if that's held up since the move away from division vs. division interleague matchups.

But don't discount the Yankee effect. OK, they didn't win at a higher rate. But that 600 win % is (if I rmember the IL set up correctly) 24 extra wins over 16 years and the AL would have been expected to win 1880 total at 500. That alone boosts the AL to a 513 win %age from 1997-2012. Still plenty of an edge left to explain but that's a lot.

As Bill James himself quipped, the only way to achieve competitive balance solution is to contract the Yankees.

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