We spend a lot of time fretting about how well a pitcher is going to adjust to a change in leagues. We treat the AL and the NL like two separate animals when we consider such a switch, and with good reason. The two leagues are two separate animals.
In the age of the unbalanced schedule however, doesn't it make as much sense to pay attention to the difference in divisions as well? Each team plays their division mates 19 times each year. In the case of the AL East that means 76 intra-divisional games or nearly 50% of the schedule. The NL Central plays 95 games in their division, well over 50% of their schedule.
If we looked optimistically at Bronson Arroyo moving from the AL to the NL last season, we could have been positively giddy if we took the time to realize the full truth of it. Bronson moved from the AL East, where hitters hit .274 last year with a .441 SLG% ... where pitchers gave up 4.78 runs per 9 innings ... to the NL Central where hitters were 14 points worse (.262), the worst among baseball divisions in fact.
NL Central hitters were the most bereft of power among divisions as well, slugging just .419 (with Arroyo's own Reds teammates, whom he doesn't face, accounting for quite a few of those points). NL Central pitchers gave up just 4.53 runs per 9 innings, a quarter of a run difference.
His 2006 success is somewhat less mysterious now isn't it?
Here is a look at the divisional offensive breakdowns in MLB in 2006:
Batting AB BA SLG R HR RBI
ALE 27950 .274 .441 4016 955 3834
ALC 28109 .279 .441 4118 902 3935
ALW 22438 .271 .427 3128 689 2974
NLE 27825 .266 .440 4052 984 3849
NLC 33136 .262 .419 4402 1062 4199
NLW 27883 .267 .426 3883 794 3700
What's interesting here is that going into this exercise we would have probably guessed that the AL East would be the most powerful offensive division ... and we wouldn't be wrong ...exactly. But the AL Central holds its own quite nicely in this comparison, posting the highest AVG. and tying the AL East for the lead in SLG%. And that's despite the fact that the AL Central hit 53 less homeruns in 159 more ABs.
The NL East checks in as the most "AL"of the NL divisions. Of course with pitchers hitting we can excuse a dip of 8 points in AVG. in comparison to the AL East. In fact that difference is surprisingly small. But the NL East slugs with the best of them and hit 30 more homers than their AL counterparts in 125 less ABs.
Pitching G W L Sv ERA K/9
ALE 810 401 409 199 4.78 6.49
ALC 810 421 389 191 4.49 6.30
ALW 648 340 308 193 4.36 6.55
NLE 810 410 400 196 4.55 6.72
NLC 971 453 518 227 4.53 6.91
NLW 809 404 405 195 4.37 6.48
On the pitching side we see that Barry Zito isn't moving far geographically when he trades in his white cleats for a cream uni, and he isn't making much of a move statistically either. AL West hitters hit just 4 points higher than NL West hitters and the typical ERA and K/9 among AL West pitchers (4.36/6.55) and NL West pitchers (4.37/6.48) is virtually a wash. Of course NL West pitchers probably won't face the AL East and AL Central all that often either, so that's something to be happy about if you are a Zito owner.
Elsewhere, it appears that those good AL Central hitters seem to be taking advantage of the other divisions because AL Central pitchers post a better ERA than both the NL East and NL Central. Curious ...
And the NL Central could be called the NLK as NL Central pitchers fan hitters at the highest rate in baseball.
While watching a NL Central starter move to the AL East is certainly cause for concern, there's nothing here that constitutes a "deal breaker"with a pitcher on its own. There's nothing here that rises to the level of a pitcher being traded to Colorado circa 2000. Still, we pay more attention to other factors that are a lot less subtle than which division your starter will be playing half of their schedule against. It's another factor to consider, another nudge of a pitcher's value, another brush stroke in the big picture.
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