The great paradigm shift in Major League Baseball could mean a lot for the results of the annual All-Star game. Specifically, how all the young impact talent in the National League sets it up for a big run of success in the Midsummer Classic.
But is there really a greater talent disparity, at least among the new wave of players, that makes the NL better than the American League?
Certainly there is a lot more publicity surrounding the NL right now. You can't turn on a highlight show without hearing analysts wax rhapsodic about New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller.
When you add those players to the mix with "old" All-Star stalwarts like Mets third baseman David Wright, Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, there are a lot of reasons to like the direction the NL is headed.
There was a time, from 1997-2009, where the American League rolled over the National League in the All-Star Game every year. The Junior Circuit went 12-0-1 during that 13-year span and outscored the Senior Circuit 76-48.
If you were to just look at the standings in baseball right now, you can see that there is still a clear divide between the AL and NL in terms of depth. I could make a very real argument that five of the six best teams in baseball are in the AL. (St. Louis would be the lone NL club.)
But if we are just looking at the cream of the crop talent that both leagues have to offer, who is to say that the NL can't reel off a winning streak like the one we recently saw from the AL?
One could justifiably say that it has already started to happen, with the NL winning the last three All-Star Games by a score of 16-2.
Instead of going 36 players deep like they do in the real All-Star Game, because, frankly, so much of these rosters are comprised of small, inaccurate sample sizes of the first half and managers often feel the need to put the always-volatile relief pitchers—more than one is too many—on the roster that we can't accurately measure all of the All-Stars in the future, we will pick what we perceive to be the stars likely to be fixtures in this game for years to come.
Rosters will include a starting lineup and six pitchers (five starters and one reliever).
For the record, prospects have not been included because we have no idea what they are going to do upon being called up. We are keeping this list limited to players currently in the big leagues.
|AL ROSTER||POSITION||NL ROSTER|
|Joe Mauer, Minnesota||C||Yadier Molina, St. Louis|
|Chris Davis, Baltimore||1B||Joey Votto, Cincinnati|
|Dustin Pedroia, Boston||2B||Matt Carpenter, St. Louis|
|Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay||3B||David Wright, New York Mets|
|Manny Machado, Baltimore||SS||Ian Desmond, Washington|
|Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland||LF||Giancarlo Stanton, Miami|
|Mike Trout, Los Angeles||CF||Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh|
|Jose Bautista, Toronto||RF||Bryce Harper, Washington|
|Miguel Cabrera, Detroit||DH||Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona|
Quick thoughts about the two rosters. First, catching in the American League is so specialized right now that Mauer figures to remain the best all-around player among that group for a long time. Cleveland's Carlos Santana is the only one close to Mauer offensively, but is not in his class defensively. Baltimore's Matt Wieters is the best defensive catcher in the league, but doesn't bring much on offense except power.
Second, we put players at a position where they will provide the most value even if it isn't the spot they normally play. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter on the planet, but I don't want him anywhere near the field with a glove. Manny Machado is a shortstop playing third base. Bryce Harper probably could play center field with reps, but his arm and athleticism are best served in right field, though you could also switch him and Stanton with no argument from me.
Third, there really isn't a lot of separation between the two leagues as far as age is concerned. The average age of the AL lineup is 27; the NL is 26.9.
Now we look at the pitching rotations that will make up the All-Star Game for the foreseeable future.
|AL PITCHERS||NL PITCHERS|
|Felix Hernandez, Seattle||Matt Harvey, New York|
|Max Scherzer, Detroit||Shelby Miller, St. Louis|
|Yu Darvish, Texas||Jose Fernandez, Miami|
|Chris Sale, Chicago||Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles|
|Clay Buchholz, Boston||Adam Wainwright, St. Louis|
|Greg Holland, Kansas City||Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati|
Here is where you can start to see a little separation between the sides and moving in favor of the National League, though you could certainly do worse than building pitching staff around Hernandez, Scherzer and Darvish.
But the biggest difference is youth. With the exception of Wainwright, every pitcher on the NL staff is 25 years old or younger. Miller and Fernandez have a combined age of 42, one year younger than Mariano Rivera.
Which is the better league right now?
That's not to say the starting crop in the AL is over the hill—far from it. But as far as having mileage on their arms, it is much easier to see the NL starters maintaining their peak performance for the next five to seven years.
And as we have seen in recent years, pitching is going to be more critical to All-Star success. The game has shifted from an offensive-driven sport to one dominated by hard-throwing strikeout artists.
Even though there are still great pitchers in the AL—and more on the way—it is clear that the National League has caught up to them in terms of elite arms.
In fact, the results show in the overall stats between leagues. Since the start of the 2011 season, the AL has worked its way up to a 4.08 ERA through the break.
On the other hand, the NL ERA hasn't been as consistent as the AL but has moved lower this season, going from 3.81 in 2011 to 3.97 in 2012 to its current level of 3.77. And that factors in the Houston Astros, owners of the worst record in baseball and the third-worst offense at the moment, moving from the National League to the American League this year.
And finally, to illustrate the change in power at the top of the two league rosters, all you need to know is that the All-Star Game has been highlighted by streaks. Before the AL ripped off its 13-year unbeaten streak from 1997-2009 in the midsummer classic, the NL won three straight times from 1994-96 after the AL won six straight from 1988-93.
We could easily be in the midst of the next great streak in the All-Star Game. The National League certainly has all the ingredients to put together that kind of run, which currently stands at three straight.
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