Start of a trend? 2010 AL Rookies

Start of a trend? 2010 AL Rookies
Last week I noted that the National League in 2010 is enjoying a great florescence in rookie talent; indeed, the Rookie of the Year Award promises to be closely contested and crowded in the NL. Now I’m going to take a look at the 2010 rookie class in the American League, and the results are interesting, to say the least.

First, many observers have noted that the AL rookies as a group are much less distinguished than their NL counterparts. It’s basically a two-horse race between the Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Austin Jackson and the Texas Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz. The Tigers have another candidate, outfielder Brennan Boesch, but he started off like a house on fire and since the All-Star break has been struggling. Boesch and Jackson are about the only position players to have a chance, while Baltimore Orioles closer Alfredo Simon and starters Wade Davis of the Tampa Bay Rays, Brian Matusz of the Orioles and Mitch Talbot of the Cleveland Indians have carved out roles for themselves on their respective teams but none has distinguished himself statistically. If I had to pick now, it would be Feliz based on the Rangers’ winning the American League West and his critical contribution as the team’s closer.

Are we possibly seeing the beginning of a trend? After many years of AL dominance, is the balance shifting back to the NL? If enough of the impressive NL rookies pan out, and the AL is shorter on talent, wouldn’t that be an inevitable outcome? Well, not so fast on that.

If you look at Interleague play results since 1997, the AL has an overall record of 1,784-1,631; and 2010’s mark of AL 134-NL 116 isn’t much different from the recent marks of 137-115 in 2007, 137-115 in 2008, and 137-114 in 2009. In fact, since 1997 9 of the 14 AL teams have winning records vs. the NL, while only 4 of the 16 NL teams have winning records vs. the AL.

So despite the fact that this year’s All-Star Game finally resulted in an NL win, it’s not at all clear that the era of AL dominance is about to end. Baseball can move at a relatively glacial pace when we consider these trends.

Throughout the 1960’s into the 1980’s the NL seemed to have the preponderance of talent, running off long victory skeins in the All-Star Game, for example. At the time, it was attributed to some NL teams’ earlier moves towards incorporating African-American players (e.g., Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron) and superior Latin American scouting efforts (e.g., Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal); it took almost a generation for AL teams to catch up.

But two other factors served to upend the balance, both occurring in the 1970s: The AL’s adoption of the Designated Hitter in 1973, and the introduction of free agency prior to the 1976 season. We’ll discuss this further next time.

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