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Fan Confidence and Interleague Play

AL teams don't expect NL teams to carry an actual designated hitter.
AL teams don't expect NL teams to carry an actual designated hitter.

Really, it is a year round thing. We hear it in the offseason every time a player switches leagues via free agency or trade. It inevitably comes up every October (November?) in the World Series. The reminders at the All-Star Game are an annual occurrence, and it only gets forced down our throats more during interleague play in June. Via subtext or outright accusation, the mantra is consistent:

The American League is far superior to the National League, and don't you ever forget it.

Interleague is a time for all fans of the National League to get down on their team, with nearly all NL teams finding themselves in a losing lull. Except for some reason, the Rockies don't seem to buy into this at all. Let's leave the World Series and All-Star games alone (though Rockies have a very good run in the ASG of late) and focus strictly on interleague play. Rox Girl stole and enhanced my thunder a bit this morning, so I'll just quote her:

The Rockies have the best NL Interleague record since 2006, with a winning percentage of .619. What makes that more outstanding is that the typical NL team in that span has won at just a .430 clip, meaning that on average they'd have 16 fewer wins than the Rockies against AL opponents

We are talking about a period that goes back to a roster whose only holdovers are Todd Helton and Aaron Cook. That reverse counter-intuitive advantage the Rockies have enjoyed is extremely large, and it has continued into 2011, taking series from Cleveland (40-33) and Detroit (40-35). How might an NL team fare better in interleague play than the rest of their Senior Circuit brethren?

  • A Ready-made DH: AL squads certainly enjoy a home field advantage when they can utilize David Ortiz at DH while an NL team has to scramble and throw a Jay Gibbons or Aaron Rowand out there. The Rockies have a DH, and he is 4-for-12 with 3 extra base hits as a DH this season.
  • Very Good Hitting Pitchers: The home advantage already exists when Justin Verlander has only held a bat for one week since Spring Training. Colorado's pitchers drove in the go-ahead runs in both wins vs. Detroit, but since 2006, the Rockies' pitchers are mediocre with the bat at best.
  • A Weak Interleague "Rivalry": It is pretty nice for the Cardinals to draw the Royals and the White Sox face the Cubs yearly. The Rockies have no such annual punching bag, not that they'd necessarily use it if they did. They are just 3-6 vs the Royals since 2006.
  • Geographic Proximity of Interleague Series: This sure doesn't explain it. Other teams go from Los Angeles to Anaheim, or San Francisco to Oakland, or Chicago to Chicago, or New York to New York. As the most geographically secluded team outside Seattle, the Rockies should have the biggest road disadvantage in terms of travel in all games, let alone interleague games.
  • Advanced Scouting: Every Rockies fan knows what pitches Brian Wilson throws or that Juan Uribe chases sliders. The scouting advantage is mostly gone in divisional games, and that extends to a lesser degree to other intra-league match-ups. However, advanced scouting against an unfamiliar team can add a great deal in preparation. Whereas the talent of advanced scouts are mostly washed away in familiar match-ups, it can provide the small advantages necessary to be competitive against unfamiliar teams.

Are there reasons that the Rockies might be legitimately better than their NL peers? Perhaps, though it is difficult to say. They need to go just 4-5 in their remaining games against AL teams to guarantee a winning interleague record for their fifth time in six seasons, the only outlier being a 7-8 effort in 2008.

The sample is getting to be legitimate, with 82 interleague games (more than a half season) since 2006? So I'm curious: