Why National League Baseball is Better than American League Baseball
NL over AL
Don't get me wrong, I love major league baseball no matter who is playing, but over the years I have come to develop a strong preference for the National League over the American League. While this is of course a personal preference, I believe there are some objective reasons for it. Most of them stem from the use of the Designated Hitter in the AL, which is the main difference between the two leagues. Aside from arguments about the DH itself, which I touch on as well, the DH leads to the NL being better in the following ways:
1) More Managerial Strategy in the NL
The main reason the NL is better than the AL is that much more managerial strategy is involved in NL games. In the NL, much of the strategy is driven by trying to avoid having pitchers bat as much as possible. When trying to determine when to make a pitching change, managers must constantly way when the pitcher is next due up to hit versus how badly a pitching change is needed. In today's game, managers certainly aren't afraid to burn a reliever on only one batter even if the pitcher's spot is due up next, but if it is early in the game or the bullpen has been overworked lately, then when the pitcher must bat is a major consideration. This leads to very interesting moves such as the double-switch. In a double-switch the manager will bring in a position player at the same time as making a pitching change, inserting the position player in the pitcher's spot in the order. The new pitcher takes the spot in the order of the position player that was simultaneously removed. For instance, if the pitcher is due up first and an outfielder is due up eighth, the manager may replace the outfielder at the same time as replacing the pitcher, putting the new outfielder in the pitcher's spot in the order and the new pitcher in the outfielder's spot in the order. Deciding when to do this and which position player to put in requires a lot of strategic thought. The manager has to think about which position players are left on his bench, and whether he needs a stronger hitter to hit next or a better defensive player depending on the game situation.
All of this goes away in the American League. The AL manager's duties become most relegated to filling out the lineup card, deciding when to pull a pitcher (based solely on how he is pitching), and whether or not to pinch hit for a weak hitting shortstop or put in a defensive replacement when ahead, which is usually dictated by the game situation. Without the double-switch or having to consider the pitcher's spot in the order when contemplating when to yank him, an AL manager's job during the game is pretty easy. Maybe MLB should consider giving out two manager of the year awards in the NL and none in the AL?
2) More Complex Roster Decisions and the Need for More Versatile Players in the NL
This also relates to the disparity in strategic difficulty between the two leagues. Due to the DH, pinch hitters become much more necessary and important in the NL than in the AL. Because pitchers must hit, and aren't good at it, NL teams need pinch hitters. In addition to being forced to find good pinch hitters, needing room for pinch hitters on the roster creates less roster spots for other purposes, therefore pressing NL clubs to find more versatile backups that can play multiple positions or combine multiple different skills. In the AL, because the DH is already permanently hitting for the pitcher, pinch hitters are basically reserved for weak hitting shortstops. Teams get to choose between having a designated backup for more positions or having an extra man or two in the bullpen, which can be a huge advantage as the season goes on and bullpens get worn down. In the NL, clubs have to make much more difficult choices in picking their final rosters - the last spots on the bench can make a big difference because they will see significant action. In the AL, end of the bench guys tend to only play when injuries strike.
3) The AL has less All-around Athletes
There are really two points to be made here:
A. Players become more specialized in the AL because of the DH.
I think it is debatable whether increased specialization is good or bad for the game, but it certainly occurs as a result of the DH. The DH himself is a specialized player - he must only hit. But aside from him, other players, particularly at highly valuable defensive positions such as shortstop can also be one dimensional. Because there is an extra big bat in the lineup, the DH, and the SS (or perhaps second baseman or catcher) will hit ninth, the expectation is that he be an excellent fielder but not much of a hitter. This is also driven by the fact that he can be pinch hit for late in games because there is no need to pinch hit for pitchers. In the NL, pinch hitters must be saved to be used only on pitchers, and all position players are expected to hit for themselves at almost all times. The rare good-hitting pitcher is also wasted in the AL. Versatility on the whole becomes less important.
The counterpoint to this (from supporters of the DH and the AL) is that specialization is GOOD. It is painstaking to watch pitcher's hit, so why do it? Likewise, fans get to see more good hitters bat rather than suffering through bad ones because the DH always hits for the pitcher and pinch hitters are freed up to be used in place of weak-hitting shortstops. While I certainly don't love watching a pitcher hit, I enjoy seeing all-around good athletes play ball, and I believe the increased specialization leads to more at-bats overall from terrible hitting shortstops.
B. The DH allows for more unathletic looking Players in the AL, which makes Baseball Look Bad
While this is purely a superficial and aesthetic concern, all of us that love baseball and have had to defend to others have, I am sure, at some point encountered the argument that: "baseball players aren't that athletic, look at all the fat guys!" While we can always counter with the difficulties and insane mechanics, grace, body control, or hand coordination involved in pitching or hitting 96 mph fastballs or vicious backdoor sliders, it is just not good for the games image to have hugely obese players out there, representing the game. DHs fit this mold, because they don't have to be in shape to field... players like David Ortiz and Jim Thome come to mind. Although Prince Fielder has proven that if a guy can hit well enough they will stick him in the field regardless of his fielding ability, several borderline hitters get to let themselves go because they don't have to field.
4) Length of Games
AL games take longer than NL games. There are various theories and opinions about the causes and effects of MLB games having gotten longer in recent history. I don't personally hate a game running a little long, but in the interest of getting friends and family who aren't as baseball crazy as I am to enjoy a game with me, it is nice if they don't take forever. And since most games are played on week nights, if you have something early going on the next morning it is good to get to see the end of the game without ruining a good night's sleep over it. I admit that my empirical data supporting that AL games are longer than NL games is weak-- I was able to find to studies on it, one from 2005 and one from 2007, both of which had AL games at a mere 3 minutes longer than NL games-- my personal experience has certainly been that AL games take longer. This appears to be especially true when the Yankees and Red Sox play (which is always on national tv, perhaps influencing my perception of long AL games). In 2010, the average MLB game took 2 hours, 51 minutes; the average Yanks-Sox game? 3:38 (credit to mlb.com: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jspymd=20100613&content_id=11167658&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb). While there are several reasons for this, part of it is due to the DH. Pitchers batting in the NL get out quickly and have short at bats. Everyone is a professional in the AL and knows how to work an at bat, making the game last longer.
5) And Finally... the DH Itself!
There are nine players in baseball. Nine of them hit. Nine of them take the field. That is how the game is meant to be played. Having one man only hit and not field and one man be out in the field and not hit is just unnatural. The NL not having this abnormality makes it a better, more pure game! NL baseball is the way baseball was meant to be played.
But, Hey! Let the Controversy Continue...
There are many proponents for both eliminating the DH or making everyone play with it. This will increase with baseball expanding to interleague play all season long in 2013 (although, at most times, there will only be one interleague series happening). I advocate for neither. I say we keep it the way it is-- with the AL having the DH and the NL not. It allows for two different versions of the game, with people being able to watch the one they prefer. I for one prefer the NL, but you are entitled to your own opinion...
Thoughts? Different ideas? Please comment, and vote in the poll!