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Intercept course

New stadiums narrow differences between leagues

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Posted: Thursday July 05, 2001 4:11 AM
Updated: Thursday July 05, 2001 4:26 AM

Closing the Gap
The differences in ERAs between the two leagues:
Year NL AL Diff.
2001* 4.44 4.52 .08
2000 4.63 4.91 .28
1999 4.56 4.85 .29
1998 4.23 4.65 .42
1997 4.20 4.56 .36
1996 4.21 4.99 .78
1995 4.11 4.53 .42
1994 4.21 4.79 .58
1993 4.04 4.32 .28
1992 3.50 3.94 .44
1991 3.61 4.09 .48
* Through July 3

By Jacob Luft,

The argument can become as heated as any political debate.

American League.

National League.

Which one is better?

The argument is based on the assumption that there is an inherent difference between the two leagues.

The AL, with its designated hitter, is traditionally seen as a haven for the plodding home run hitter who takes advantage of band-box stadiums. Station-to-station baseball with nary a baserunner advancing from first to third on a single.

The NL, with the pitcher at the end of the batting order, is supposed to be the cerebral league. The key play in any game is often an RBI groundout in the fifth inning. Double-switches force the manager to put his gray matter to work.

As the season progresses, however, it has become more apparent that the leagues have grown closer together rather than further apart.

Despite having the DH, the AL's collective ERA through July 3 was 4.52 compared to 4.44 for the senior circuit. The difference of .08 would be the lowest since 1974 when each league posted a 3.62 ERA.

What are the factors contributing to this trend?

The most obvious reason is the addition of the Colorado Rockies in 1993, where the thin air turns slappy middle infielders into sluggers.

Otherwise, statistics show that the new ballparks have quite a bit to do with the homogenizing of the leagues.

The AL lost two homer-happy parks in the Kingdome and Tiger Stadium and replaced them with the cavernous Safeco Field and Comerica Park. The NL did the opposite, replacing the barn-like Astrodome with Enron Field and County Stadium with Miller Park, where the ball carries significantly farther. (See chart, below).

For example, there were 118 home runs hit in the Astrodome in 1999. The following season, a whopping 266 homers were hit in its replacement, Enron Field. The new Miller Park is on a pace to allow more than 200 home runs; the last season at County Stadium saw 151 baseballs leave the yard.

Imploding the Kingdome (218 HR in '98) and replacing it with Safeco Field (164 HR in 2000) might have been the best thing to happen to the AL's ERA. The statistics are similar in Detroit with Tiger Stadium (235 in '99) giving way to Comerica (137 in 2000).

Another factor could be the unification of the umpires and enforcement of a single strike zone. In the past, the NL was said to have a larger and lower zone than the AL.

American League -- Then & Now

Tiger Stadium ... Comerica Park
Home runs hit and allowed by the Tigers in their final three seasons at Tiger Stadium:
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
1999  118  117  235 
1998  92  113  205 
1997  98  91  189 
 Tom Pidgeon/Allsport
Home runs hit and allowed by the Tigers since moving to Comerica Park:
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
2001  35  36  69* 
2000  69  68  137 
* Through 40 home games.
Kingdome ... Safeco Field
 Stephen Dunn/Allsport
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
1998  117  101  218 
1997  131  102  233 
1996  121  116  237 
 Otto Greule/Allsport
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
2001  38  41  79* 
2000  92  72  164 
* Through 40 home games.
Note: Mariners played in both stadiums in 1999.

National League -- Then & Now

Astrodome ... Enron Field
 Stephen Dunn/Allsport
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
1999  65  53  118 
1998  82  71  153 
1997  59  56  115 
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
2001  59  66  125* 
2000  135  131  266 
* Through 38 home games.
County Stadium ... Miller Park
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
2000  78  73  151 
1999  77  110  187 
1998  56  92  148 
Year  Hit  Allowed  Total 
2001  59  50  109* 
* Through 40 home games.

Related information
Statitudes: All-Star Game By the Numbers
2001 All-Star Game
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