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AL vs. NL : The Success of Regular Season Champions

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AL vs. NL : The Success of Regular Season Champions

This article comes from the blog 90% is Half Statistical and to read the other posts of this blog go to http://ninetypercentishalfstatistical.mlblogs.com

In the previous blog post, I talked about how the Phillies' regular season dominance does not guarantee that they will be successful in October. However, is the lack of success among National League teams that finished with the best record mirrored by the American League? Let’s see what the numbers say.

Team with the Best Record in the MLB:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 36.4% 63.6%
1969-1993 44% 56%
1995-2010 43.8% 56.2%

Team With the Best Record in the MLB Winning the Pennant:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 100% 100%
1969-1993 54.5% 78.6%
1995-2010 28.6% 44.4%

The Team with the Best Record in the MLB Winning the World Series:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 41.7% 64.3%
1969-1993 27.3% 28.5%
1995-2010 0% 33.3%

These numbers show that historically an AL team who finishes with the best record in the MLB has been more successful than their NL counterparts in winning the pennant and the World Series. This also holds true for each era.

While the introduction of Championship Series in 1969 and Divisional Series in 1995 have reduced the likelihood that the team with the best record will win the pennant and/or World Series, the AL still maintains an advantage.

What could be the source of this disparity? Well, let’s look at what the numbers would look like if we took the achievements of the New York Yankees out of the equation.

Team with the Best Record in the MLB (w/o Yankees):

Era National League American League
1903-1968 54.5% (+18.1) 45.4% (-18.2)
1969-1993 47.8% (+3.8) 52.2% (-3.8)
1995-2010 58.3% (+14.5) 41.7% (-14.5)

Team With the Best Record in the MLB Winning the Pennant (w/o Yankees):

Era National League American League
1903-1968 100% 100%
1969-1993 54.5% 83.3% (+4.7)
1995-2010 28.6% 40.0% (-4.4)

The Team with the Best Record in the MLB Winning the World Series:

Era National League American League
1903-1968 52.6% (+10.9) 55% (-9.3)
1969-1993 27.3% 27.3% (-1.2)
1995-2010 0% 33.3%

First, understand the method that was chosen was not perfect and it will be described at the end of the blog. However, the presence of the Yankees has given the AL an advantage over the NL when it comes to having teams that succeed in both the regular season and the playoffs.

The Yankees may provide the AL teams with external pressures to innovate and build rosters. And in the attempt to catch up with the Yankees the AL has had a motivating factor the NL did not have.

While that is a speculation, here is what is not. The Yankees give the American League dominant teams. Dominant teams are something the National League has not often had. The National League has only 13 teams that have had the best record in the majors and won the World Series. The Yankees have 20 teams who have accomplished such a feat.

One could look at lists made about the greatest teams in the history of baseball and two things are certain. The list will be AL-dominated and the Yankees will have by far the most representatives of any other franchise.

For example, Tom Verducci’s list of the 10 greatest baseball teams includes five Yankees teams (’27, ’39, ’98, ’61, ’32) and only two NL teams from the World Series era (’75 Reds and 1907 Cubs). The Sporting News’ list contains five Yankee teams (’27, ’39, ’98, ’61, ’53) and three NL teams (’75 Reds, ’55 Dodgers, ’42 Cardinals). Roger Weber’s list for Baseball Almanac had four Yankees teams (’27, ’39, ’32, and ’98) and three NL teams from the World Series era (1907 Cubs, 1905 Giants, and 1906 Cubs)[1].

There may be another reason behind the success of these teams when they come from the AL. For example, the end of the Dead Ball Era coincides with the dominance of AL teams. Could it be possible that National League teams did not adjust to the changing times and clung onto players, managers and a philosophy of playing the game that was anachronistic?

I myself have no clue no being a baseball historian. But, we all know the legends that have played on so many great Yankees teams, that it is hard to dispute that the gap between the AL and NL is not, at the very least, the fault of the New York Yankees.

 

1. The team that was left out of Verducci and Weber’s list was the 1902 Pirates who were the last NL pennant winner in the pre-World Series era.

Verducci: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/1003/mlb.verducci.top.10.teams.all.time/content.1.html

Sporting News: http://aol.sportingnews.com/125/baseballs-10-greatest-teams/gallery/10/1953-new-york-yankees

Weber: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/best_major_league_teams_ever.shtml

In years that there were ties for best record, half of a time was assigned to each team. This occurred in 1949, 1958, 2003, and 2006.

For best record: I removed all the years the Yankees had the best record in baseball. That is what caused a zero-sum effect on the NL and AL numbers. The 18.2% change and the 18.1% change are byproducts of rounding. Had nothing been rounded, then the numbers would have shown to be the same.

For the pennant winners: I removed the years in which the Yankees won the pennant or had the best record in baseball. From 1969-1993, the Yankees had the best record twice and won one pennant in those two seasons. That (along with the omission of the 1977 Royals because of the Yankees winning the pennant that season) caused the rate to actually increase.

For World Series winners: I removed the years in which the Yankees had the best record, won the pennant, or won the World Series. This is why you see a change in the National League numbers as each Yankees World Series victory now becomes a loss that never happened to the NL. This also caused the sample size for the wild-card era to shrink to three.

I understand the flaws of the method I used. The problem is that removing the Yankees from the record books creates a vacuum that is difficult to fill. One just can’t fill it with the team that came in second in the regular season record, pennant or World Series because that may not have been the case had the Yankees been an average baseball team or not existed.

This I felt was the best way to look at the Yankees impact without some kind of simulator where I could get a better idea about what would have happened in those seasons I removed.

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