Via a great piece at Home Run Derby, I came upon this atrocious article at USA Today. (Wait a minute, aren't bloggers supposed to be the ones that can't write?)
In a column that's ostensibly about how tough life is in the American League in general and the AL Central in particular, Bob Nightengale hammers home his point by mentioning that the AL Central has produced four--count 'em, four--playoff teams in the last three years. I have no clue why the author didn't go with the more impressive "three playoff teams in two years," not that this would have been a meaningful stat either, since the division is expected to produce 1.36 playoff teams per year. I guess as factual statements go, "fourteen playoff teams in the fourteen years the AL Central has existed" wasn't as sexy.
Nightengale also argues that the AL is more competitive because it has had far more 91-win teams than the NL in the past three years. First off, it's easy to make your point when you draw arbitrary cutoffs like this. The NL has had more 100-win teams (one) over that span. Does it matter?
Furthermore, this stat is NOT automatically an indicator of tougher competition. Remember, the AL plays almost all its games against other AL teams. If a bunch of teams are winning a lot of games, it necessarily follows that other teams are losing lots of games.
If you forced Little Leaguers to play 162-game seasons, the best Little League teams would win well over 100 games, because talent is not distributed as evenly in Little League. Does this mean that it would be harder for the White Sox to win the Little League World Series than the real World Series?
Nightengale also talks about how easy it is to win in the NL--"like a preschool battle on the jungle gym at recess"--then immediately bludgeons his own point by mentioning that the big-market NL teams haven't won a World Series in 20 years. Apparently the rich kids keep getting their lunch money stolen by bullies before they can buy any championships.
The best part of the column, though, is when Nightengale lists all the high-profile players AL teams have signed this offseason: Alex Rodriguez, Torii Hunter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Jose Guillen. Then he derides the signing of Francisco Cordero because "he was in the [NL], pitching last season for the Milwaukee Brewers." Um, what? Actually, even this might be more logical than his assertion that Jacque Jones makes the AL a tougher place to win.
The article concludes with a chart of the "stars" who have gone from the NL to the AL in the past five years. The list includes Joe Borowski and J.D. Drew, neither of whom has been mistaken for a star since arriving in the Junior Circuit. It includes Jim Thome, who has arguably been less valuable since 2005 than just one of the players he was traded for, Aaron Rowand.
As you might expect, there's no mention of Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, Orlando Hudson, Chris Young, Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Lee, Barry Zito, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Phillips, or any of the other big names to cross over in the opposite direction. Hanley Ramirez is briefly mentioned as the cost for acquiring Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, as if he was the $24 the British had to surrender for the rights to Manhattan.
I also find it ironic that the article centers around the tough road faced by Kenny Williams, who put together one of the weakest World Series-winning teams of all time in 2005. That squad had exactly zero future Hall of Famers, unless you want to count 105 at-bats from Frank Thomas. They won 83 games with essentially the same cast the year before, and 72 games two years later after making some big-money moves to "improve" the team. If you want to write an article about how tough it is to win the World Series out of the AL, focus on the 2001-07 Yankees.
Let me finish by saying that I firmly believe that right now, the quality of competition is significantly higher in the AL than the NL. There are plenty of good ways to make that point without calling Joe Borowski a star or Jacque Jones an impact acquisition.