Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Picking up where my previous posting left off late-night Tuesday/early-morning Wednesday, the American League won its 11th straight Major League Baseball All-Star Game over the National League (excluding 2002's tie), thanks to a 4-3, 15-inning decision.

Last Friday, in the Wall Street Journal's "Weekend Journal," Darren Everson documented the AL's dominance over the NL -- not just in the All-Star Game, but also in recent years' World Series and interleague play -- and proffered some possible reasons for this state of affairs. These include ballparks, revenues, power hitters, and innovation.

I think we can safely say that the AL is superior and that the stretch of All-Star Games has not been like flipping a coin, with each team having a 50/50 chance of winning (the probability of a coin coming up the same way 11 straight times is .5 raised to the 11th power, or .0005; and even if we assume the AL had a .60 chance of winning each time, the probability of 11 straight would be .004).

It should also be noted that the NL had its own period of supremacy, losing only once from 1963-1982.

From one perspective, a lengthy winning streak by one league over the other is quite surprising. As Jim Albert and Jay Bennett argued in their 2005 Hot Hand web chat, baseball would seem to be much less of a "domination sport" than football or basketball. To a far greater extent than in these other sports, baseball teams are limited in how often they can deploy their top players -- starting pitchers can go only once every five days, and batters can take only one out of every nine at-bats for a team.

To the extent that baseball's rules (and the wear-and-tear on pitchers' arms) create parity between the teams, this trend would seem to be exacerbated by the traditions of All-Star play. Pitchers often throw just an inning or two, and players at the other positions might only play half the game, or so. Such shuttling in and out of players would seem to create a lot of volatility, making it harder for one league to dominate. This seems like an excellent theory, except for the fact that it completely fails to explain the data!

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