The Talent Gap
Criminy, there is a great article today in the Hardball Times about the "talent gap" between the National and American Leagues. We already knew last year that the American League teams were much better overall than their National League counterparts. The American League has dominated the All-Star Game for several years now, and two straight World Series sweeps indicates a bit of a talent imbalance.
But I was surprised by the article's argument that the National League has gotten a lot worse compared to the American League this offseason:
I hadn't considered how much worse the National League was in figuring out how the Nats would do. We know that the Nats' pythagorean record was 77-85 last year, meaning they were +12 in the luck department. [Note - in the Hardball Times Baseball Annual (p. 138), the Nats are said to have a 69-93 Pythagorean record based on runs scored and runs allowed. This is just a flat out mistake - based on 639 runs scored and 673 runs allowed, you just can't get to 69 wins].
[Trades of players from the NL to the AL account for] a net transfer of 100 Win Shares (209 Win Shares to the AL, 109 going back to the NL). Add in the 103 gain through free agency, the AL has
sucked 203 Win Shares, about 68 wins, of talent out of the NL this offseason. That's about five wins per AL team, and that means that your typical AL team will need to be about five wins a year better (in terms of talent on hand) just to keep pace.
That's a lot. That's a major shift in the playing field; and it doesn't count the fact that a number of the new American Leaguers are coming off
of down seasons. I'm pretty confident that Jim Thome, Milton Bradley, LaTroy Hawkins and Corey Patterson aren't going to combine for 22 win shares again.
Conversely, if you're an NL team's fan despairing of the hemorrhage of good players your team
has suffered, keep the faith. The water level's a lot lower than it's been in the past. You'll probably contend yet.
So my estimate was that the Nats were probably 12 games off their pythagorean record last year of 77-85. I think that I'd have to adjust that upwards by 5 games, meaning that my new prediction for the Nats is 70-92. Still a poor team and a poor record, but not flirting with 100 losses territory.