Lessons Learned From Interleague Play
by Trevor Whenham - 06/27/2007
Interleague play has finally and mercifully ended. Hallelujah. There's nothing in sports more tired, unnecessary and painful as the three weeks of random match-ups and substandard baseball we are subjected to in the heart of each baseball season. It's nothing more than a novelty, and like any bad idea the charm has decidedly worn off. There are only a maximum of five games a year in which I think it is acceptable to see an American League pitcher hit - the All-Star Game and up to four World Series games. That's it.
I'll be spending most of my interleague energy hoping and praying that Bud Selig comes to his senses and scraps the whole thing (highly unlikely since a new interleague attendance record was set this year), but it also makes sense to look at what happened to see what we can learn from what we saw. I'm of the opinion that there isn't a whole lot to be learned - teams are playing against pitchers they have never seen in parks they have never been to and against teams they don't know or care about, so it's not a very good test of the true make-up of a team. Despite that, here are seven lessons from this year's interleague play:
1. Atlanta isn't as bad as they looked - The Braves limped through interleague play with a 4-11 record. It would be easy to assume they were exposed as a poor team, but I don 't think that that is entirely true. They are definitely incomplete and likely won't do any real damage this year, but their schedule was absolutely brutal - Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota and Boston twice. Except for the Angels there are no better teams in the AL. Rivals Philadelphia had an 8-7 record, but they escaped Detroit and Cleveland and played Kansas City and the White Sox instead. The Braves shouldn't be punished for the ridiculous scheduling. It's those unbalanced match-ups that make interleague play a farce.
2. The Yankees are not back in form - The Bronx Bombers showed an early return to form (a series against Pittsburgh will do that for you), but then they were swept by Colorado and lost two of three to the Giants. The Yankees are better than they were earlier in the year, but the Red Sox sure don't need to lose any sleep.
3. Cleveland fans should be concerned - This Indians got off to a surprisingly strong start, but they threw away a 2.5 game lead to the Tigers during interleague action, and ended up two back. Their 9-9 mark was far from disastrous, but if they really were as good as they looked early then they would have done better while playing Cincinnati twice, Florida, Atlanta and Washington. They were only 5-4 at home, which is odd given how dominant they were in Cleveland through May.
4. The AL dominance is real - Last year the AL had a .611 winning percentage in the interleague schedule. That was ridiculously lopsided, and it couldn't be sustained. The AL still managed to show that they were boss, posting the third best record in interleague history at 137-115, or .544. Five of the six best records were held by AL teams - Detroit, the Angels, Boston, Minnesota and Texas. Surprisingly, it was the Cubs that were the lone NL representative at the top. Conversely, four of the six worst records were held by NL teams - Atlanta, the Dodgers, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
5. The Angels owe the schedule makers - The team formerly known as Anaheim is very good, and they took advantage of interleague play to solidify their place as the best team in the AL West, but their success was a bit of a mirage. They were a very impressive 14-4, but the list of teams they faced couldn't have been more pathetic - St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston and Pittsburgh. Only the two series against the Dodgers provided a real challenge. The fact that they got swept Kansas City since interleague ended dulls their interleague accomplishments a bit. On the other hand, you can argue that Seattle and Oakland didn't face a tougher schedule, and they didn't do nearly as well as the Angels.
6. You don't have to hit well to win - In 2006 the AL hit .283 in interleague play, and the NL hit .261. This year, the AL dipped down to .268 and the NL rocketed up to .281. The NL improvement helped them win a few more games, but the AL was still strong enough in other areas to win much more than they lost. No one enjoyed interleague action more than Ichiro Suzuki. He batted .486 to improve to .368 overall.
7. Justin Verlander loves interleague play - No pitcher loved playing against their opposite league more than Verlander. He was 4-0, only allowed six runs in 30 innings, and had a no-hitter against Milwaukee. Dan Haren was almost as good, with four wins and seven runs in 28 innings. Jeff Weaver enjoyed the change, too, posting three increasingly impressive interleague performances to wash away some of the stink of earlier in the season.