11 July, 2007: Well, since the drafting of the following, the NL actually managed to win a World Series of five games or less, but the AL has won two more (close) All Star Games.
Continuing on the theme from yesterday, prompted by the White Sox sweep of the World Series, it is worth noting that the White Sox are the third different team to sweep a World Series in the last seven yearsâ€”all from the AL. In fact, the AL has swept four Series since the NL swept its last one (1990, Cincinnati), and before 1990, the last NL sweep was in 1976 (the Series that gave Bob Hope the great line about how he could see the headline in Pravda: â€œReds murder Yanksâ€).
On the other hand, the only NL teams to have won a World Series since 1990 have all required six or seven games to do so. The length of a Series that a leagueâ€™s champion requires to win is at least as good a measure of a leagueâ€™s dominance as is the number of series it wins. So, that suggest that the American League has been pretty dominant in the last 15 years or so.
To look at this more fully, it makes sense to bring All Star Games into the analysis. Whereas the World Series features (in theory) the best team each league can offer in a given year, the All Star Game (in theory) features the best players of each league, regardless of the teams they happen to play for.
In the 1960s and 1970s it was routinely said that the NL was dominant, and the usual evidence was its total dominance of the All Star Game (winning 11 in a row at one point, few of them close). But I distinctly remember AL partisans (like myself) being consoled by the fact that their league was doing pretty well in World Series during the same period. Since the mid-eighties, no one has tried to claim that the NL remains dominant. In fact, the AL has won over three quarters of the All Star Games in the last 20 years while also winning most of the World Series, many of them by sweeping.
But is the AL more dominant now than the NL used to be?
To answer this question, I looked at the All Star Games and World Series since 1963. I started with 1963 because I wanted to focus on the post-expansion era (which begins with 1961 in the AL and 1962 in the NL); I elected not to start with 1962 because that was one of the years in which there were two All Star Games (which, for the record, the leagues split).
I broke this resulting 43-year span into two roughly equal periods that approximate the periods in which one league has dominated the All Star Game. For instance, from 1963 through 1985, the NL was 21-2 in the Midsummer Classic. From 1986 to 2005, the NLâ€™s record in All Star Games has been 4-15-1. (The years right around this cut point saw neither league winning more than two in a row, so moving the cut point a year or two either way does not affect the definition of â€œdominance erasâ€ much.)
What I wanted to know was the extent to which the league that was dominating the ASG was also dominating the Fall Classic. By dominating the World Series, I mean not only winning the Series, but doing so by sweeping or winning 4 games to 1.
Here are the results, always expressed as NL-AL:
Series by length
Short series (4 or 5)
Long series (6 or 7)
In other words, not only has the AL been winning the World Series at a far greater rate since 1986 (13-6) than the NL did before (12-11), but also the AL is winning many more short series than the NL did before. The AL is 5-2 in Series decided in four or five games, while the two leagues split the eight series of these types in the earlier period.
In long series, the NL has a one-series deficit in the current period, but it did very well in long series in the previous period (9-6 NL, accounted for mainly by a 7-4 record in series that went the distance).
I would argue that the longer the series the more it can go either way. That is, a longer series is likely to feature two more closely matched teams than one that ends in a sweep or in five games. We already looked at the extent to which teams that sweep are evenly matched (not much, with 2005 an exception, based on run differentials). If teams that need seven games to win are more closely matched to their opponents, then a league whose champion is often needing seven games to take a World Series is not as strong as one that often needs only four.
To summarize: The AL has won most of the All Star Games, almost all the sweeps or five-game series, and a narrow majority of the longer series since 1986. On the other hand, from 1963 to 1985, the NL won over 90% of the All Star Games, but was as likely to lose as to win a short series, and its very narrow edge in overall Series came entirely from eking out several seven-game wins against closely matched AL teams in that time span.
Thus by either the ASG or the World Series indicators, the AL is far more dominant in the current period than the NL was previously. It is a good time to be an AL fan.
[Next post: Home-field advantage and sweeps]