AL vs NL: MLB All-Star Game Tries to Answer Burning Question, But Fails

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJuly 17, 2008

By now you should know that the AL defeated the NL 4-3 in the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night.  Michael Young's walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 15th won it for the American League.  The result of the All-Star game would, presumably, indicate which league is better. 

But just how telling is the result of one game when deciding if the AL or NL is better?  Not very, but let's see if a closer look at the two leagues' histories tells us anything.

Since 1988 the AL has won all but four All-Star games.  The AL lost three of those contests (1994-96) and tied one (2002).

AL 1, NL 0 

Why such lopsided results?

The easy answer would be that the AL has simply been much better.  But I don't think that's the case.  Twelve All-Star games since '88 (excluding the tie) have been decided by two runs or less. 

But let's jump back to this year. 


Let's compare the best teams in both leagues side-by-side. 

The three best teams are, from best to worst, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers. 

The three best teams in the AL are, from best to worst, the Red Sox, Angels, and White Sox. 

First let's match the Cubs and Red Sox up. 

The Cubs' rotation is composed of Rich Harden (5-1, 2.19), Carlos Zambrano (10-3, 2.84), Ryan Dempster (10-4, 3.25), Ted Lilly (9-6, 4.68), and Jason Marquis (6-5, 4.40) - and they have Kerry Wood (24/29 SVO) closing out games. 

The Red Sox' rotation features Josh Beckett (9-5, 3.94), Daisuke Matsuzaka (10-1, 2.65), Jon Lester (7-3, 3.38), Tim Wakefield (6-6, 3.60), and Clay Buccholz (2-4, 5.70).  Closer Jonathan Papelbon has converted 28-of-32 save opportunities this season. 

Both teams obviously have great pitching, but especially with the recent addition of ace Rich Harden, the Cubs beat out the Red Sox in this regard. 

The Red Sox, as a team, have the second highest average and third most RBI in the majors  at .282 and 468 and the sixth-most homers with 108.  Boston's hitters are also some of the most patient in the MLB -- they've drawn 361 walks (tied for 4th).

Chicago's batters have hit .281 this season (3rd in the MLB) with 107 homers (8th) and 478 RBI (2nd).  Chicago's hitters are even more disciplined than the Red Sox' lineup.  The Cubs have waited out 384 walks, tops in the bigs.

The Cubs have the edge due to their superior pitching and the fact that their lineup has 23 more walks and 10 more RBI, even though their team average and home run output is one behind the Red Sox.

AL 1, NL 1

Next: Cardinals vs Angels

The Cardinals' rotation (as of right now) -- Kyle Lohse (11-2, 3.39), Braden Looper (9-7, 4.25), Todd Wellemeyer (7-4, 4.04), Joel Piniero (3-4, 4.52), and Mitchell Boggs (3-1, 6.59) - is good, but not great. 

The Angels' staff consists of Ervin Santana (11-3, 3.34), John Lackey (6-2, 2.46), Joe Saunders (12-5, 3.07), Jered Weaver (8-8, 4.03), and Jon Garland (8-6, 4.20).  Los Angeles has a great starting rotation.  The Angels have the edge in pitching. 

If you hadn't followed baseball very closely this year, at first glance the Angels appear to have the superior lineup. But that's not the case. 

The Cardinals have the fifth-best team average in the MLB (.275), tenth-most homers (102), and 11th-most RBI (425).  They have also drawn the second-most walks, 372.

Los Angeles, on the other hand,  only has the 18th best average (.257) and the 22nd most homers (83) and RBI (386).  The team has walked 270 times, bad enough for second-worst in the majors. 

Clearly St. Louis's hitting is much better than the Angels -- at least this year.  But LA's pitching is obviously better.  I think I have to give the nod to St. Louis because their pitching isn't as far behind the Angels' as LA's hitting is behind St. Louis'.

AL 1, NL 2

Now for the Brewers and White Sox.

The Brewers' rotation includes Ben Sheets (10-3, 2.85), CC Sabathia (8-8, 3.67), Manny Parra (8-2, 3.78), Dave Bush (5-8, 4.39), and Seth McClung (5-5, 4.16).  Sheets started the All-Star Game, and Parra is surprisingly good, but Sabathia seems to be an overhyped trade acquisition -- for now.  McClung is average and Bush is sub-par (except for when he sees the Braves, somehow).  Salomon Torres closes games for Milwaukee; he's made good of 15-of-18 save opportunities.   

The White Sox starters are Mark Buehrle (6-8, 3.68), Javier Vazquez (7-7, 4.61), John Danks (7-4, 2.67), Jose Contreras (7-6, 4.60), and Gavin Floyd (10-5, 3.63).  Chicago doesn't have a true closer, and no one in their bullpen has more than one save. 

The Brewers definitely have better pitching. 

Chicago's team batting average, .265, is tied for 8th in the league, and they rank 3rd in homeruns (124) and 5th in RBI (455).  The White Sox are 14th in walks, of which they have 327. 

Milwaukeeis hitting .254 as a team (23rd in the MLB) and they've registered 124 HR (4th) and 425 RBI (15th).  Plus they've recorded only 302 free passes (20th). 

Chicago certainly holds the offensive advantage. 

All in all, it doesn't matter if you score 10 runs a game if your opponent scores 11 - which is what the White Sox have set themselves up for.  Edge: Milwaukee

AL 1, NL 3

Even though the NL's top three teams fared better against their AL counterparts, that still leaves most of each league's teams. 

The AL has nine teams at or above .500 this season -- the NL has six.  And the NL has two more teams.

AL 2, NL 3 

Plus the AL owns the NL in interleague play.  The American League has a 1528-1204 record in interleague play all-time.

AL 3, NL 3 

The AL has also won 4-of-7 World Series titles since the inception of interleague play in 1997.

AL 4, NL 3 

Okay, so the NL's top three teams look better than the AL's top three teams when matched up with each other.  But the AL is better in every other area.  It looks like the All-Star game was no fluke. 







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