Baseball is chock full of debatable topics. Arguments go back and forth over who was the best hitter of all time, the best left handed pitcher or whether steroids made baseball better. The list of questions could potentially go on and on forever. For today, let's talk about pitchers. More specificially, does a pitcher gain or lose an advantage moving from the National League to the American League?
AL vs. NL
The Designated Hitter [DH] makes general managers in each league build their teams differently. The American League is built for power with a few fielders on the bench. In the National League, teams stock up on utility players so they can pinch hit for pitchers late in the game. In the AL, pitchers are tasked with having to pitch against nine pure hitters; whereas in the NL, pitchers have a tentative break once every nine batters as they face the opposing pitcher. The style of play is also a factor in pitching.
When a a pitcher goes from the NL to AL, they will have higher numbers across the board with ERA being highest. Batters in the AL will be more aggressive than what that pitcher faced in the NL. Small ball is essentially non-existent in the AL. Bunts are few and far between and so are sacrifice hits. Let's take a look at Josh Beckett's last season with the Florida Marlins (2005) against his first season with the Red Sox (2006). The numbers, in this example, don't lie.
- 2005 ERA: 3.38 Runs: 75 HR: 14 WHIP: 1.181
- 2006 ERA: 5.01 Runs: 120 HR: 36 WHIP: 1.295
Those numbers are just a sample of what may happen. There are a number of reasons for the big jump in numbers, but facing a gauntlet of aggressive hitters is an important part. Baseball Reference lists the average numbers of Beckett's 5 years of pitching in the National League and his 4 years, so far, of pitching in the American League.
- NL (5 yrs) ERA: 3.46 Runs: 266 HR: 55 WHIP: 1.235
- AL (4 yrs) ERA: 4.11 Runs: 314 HR: 77 WHIP: 1.226
It's a small sample size but the numbers show that Josh Beckett pitched better when he was in the National League. Beckett did win a World Series in both leagues, as well as having just about equal time in both leagues. Was he a better pitcher in the NL, or is the AL just that much tougher for pitchers?
This topic will be constantly debated but I'm sticking to the side that a pitcher's numbers will increase when they switch from the NL to the AL. That's not to say that a pitcher won't be able to help the team because that's also up to the team's offense, but there will be a change aside from the adjustment to seeing unknown hitters.