What’s the Big Deal About Interleague Play?

Yes it’s that time again folks, all around Major League Baseball, teams are playing out their interleague schedules.  And it’s also that time for folks to whine non-stop about the horror that is playing teams outside of your league.  Or to debate which league is stronger.  Or to debate the DH rule.  Or to debate just about anything.  So let’s take a look at some of these aspects of interleague.

Let me start off by saying that I think interleague play is neat.  When there’s 162 games in your regular season, playing less than 15% of them against teams you don’t normally face is fine, and cool.  Variety is a good thing in the MLB.  Does it suck for fans of teams like the Cubs and Brewers, who get to play the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays only?  Sure, that’s unfortunate.  Or teams like the Indians, who get to play the Reds six times, instead of the Tigers, who get to play weaker teams like the Mets and Pirates?  Again, yeah that does suck a little bit.  Admittedly, the interleague scheduling could use some work, I’ll fully agree with that.   But that’s not a reason to scrap interleague play as a whole.  Maybe I’m not complaining as much because I think the Dodgers drew a fair interleague schedule.  They get to play 6 versus the Angels (3 Home, 3 Away), 3 in Minnesota, 3 in Chicago, and Detroit comes to Dodger stadium for 3 this year.  That’s a good mix of teams with lower records (Minnesota, Chicago), and teams with better records (Detroit, Angels).  Sure, I’d like for us to face the yearly bottom feeders like Seattle, Baltimore, and (this year) the Twins, but it has to be mixed up a little bit.  Jayson Stark wrote an article for ESPN.com talking about the perceived issues (link here), and basically said that Interleague just needs a few tweaks, especially if another Wild Card team is added (and all things seem to be pointing to that exact situation).  I really did like the idea of playing the team in the opposite league with an equal playoff seed as yours.  I’d take it a step further by playing two more teams in 3 game series that are within 1-2 seeds.  So by that system, the Dodgers would have played the Tigers (Hey look! We’re playing the Tigers!) and then two of the Angels, A’s, Blue Jays, or Indians.  I’d say that any two of those teams + the Tigers would make for an entertaining interleague schedule.  Seriously though, just tweak up the schedule like that, and I don’t see a real issue with Interleague.

Another aspect is that fools debate the strength of each league based on interleague schedules.  Which is stupid.  First off, debating whether the NL or AL as a whole is stronger than the other is impossible because all the NL teams don’t play all the AL teams, and even if they did, they’d have to play enough games to create a large enough sample size to draw a conclusion from.  I can’t just say the Dodgers were better than the Tigers because they beat them in 2/3 games last year, that’s way too small a sample size.  It would be the same if I said that the NL was worse than AL because the AL had a stronger record over the course of 15 games in a season than the NL.  Considering that we as fans don’t even judge how good a player is until he proves what he can do over the course of multiple seasons, it’s fruitless to try and prove the strength of one league over another over the course of 15 interleague games.  It’s really a pointless way to try and make that argument (which is really a pointless argument to begin with.)  Matt Klaassen over at fangraphs.com (link here) attempted to use a sabermetric statistic to show the relative strength of the hitters of each league compared to each other, which I guess would work, except that you also have to consider the strength of each league’s pitchers (and why one league’s pitchers are better than another, which brings up the whole DH/Pitcher debate, and then there’s also the fact that the big spenders (Yankees/Red Sox) are both in the AL, and it’s all just a huge mess), and it all just comes back to the realization that it’s pointless to compare both leagues.

Lastly, the DH argument always comes up during interleague play.  Fans of AL teams always argue for it, fans of NL teams always argue against it, and like debating league strength, it’s just a huge mess.  For me, Baseball is Baseball.  And you can’t sit there and say that having a DH is or isn’t Baseball, because besides that one rule, it’s still entirely the same game.  Pitchers still pitch, hitters still hit, managers still manage, etc.  And both leagues are far too rooted in their traditions to take out or add a DH into their leagues.  It makes for an interesting dynamic during interleague play, as well as for The World Series.  And if you really wanted to debate the merits of having a DH, the best time to do it would be during the offseason (specifically the Winter Meetings), not during Interleague play, because nobody is going to change anything mid-season.

The bottom line is that Baseball is fun.  It’s fun to watch teams play against other teams, whether or not they happen to be from a different league.  Just because interleague play is here, doesn’t mean it’s time to start whining about what’s wrong with it.  Save that for the offseason.  Enjoy the fact that your team is playing against teams it doesn’t normally play against, and that the league isn’t, oh I don’t know, in the middle of a lockout or something.

If there’s something I missed, feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think!

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