Game Six of the ALCS between the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox in Tampa Bay

I’ve had it up to here with this “he can’t hit in the AL East” crap! Even a few select members of the Red Sox brass believe in this credo – and I feel downright shame that we would support Jason Bay over Matt Holliday merely for the fact that Bay has hit in the division whereas Holliday has never had the chance.

Bogus. I ain’t buyin’ it.

Would we be saying this about Jason Bay if he came over from a blistering stint in St. Louis? Remember, he hadn’t hit anywhere other than PITTSBURGH before Boston. Needless to say, it’s become one of my pet peeves – and I don’t even like saying the word “pet peeve”. I save that for only the most appropriate of circumstances.

But, really, I’ve had it up to here. So I decided to look into the numbers and put my money where my mouth is.

First off, it goes without saying that anyone who hits in a weak division, i.e. anywhere in the NL, or some other division where half the team’s players wear a dunce cap onto the field instead of a ball cap – has an easier time succeeding because of the poor competition. No doubt, it’s easier to hit in the AL Central than the AL East. True. No argument there.

What is ridiculous is the amount of skepticism weighed against an MLB player by AL East teams because of some misinformed sense of ultimate superiority. Hubris. That’s all it is – and it’s never been worth anything other than a lot of trouble.

Think about it. Pride always comes before the fall.

Caesar thought he could take over the Republic of Rome. Brutus killed him.

General Custer thought the Native Americans were saps. He made history books for his Last Stand.

Mussolini thought he could bring fascism to Italy. The Italians hanged him!

The 2009 Red Sox thought they were light years ahead of every MLB team but the Yankees. They got swept by the Angels.

Lesson learned, right?

Apparently not.

So about that hitting environment. If the common knowledge holds (notice how I didn’t say conventional “wisdom”), then out-of-division hitters should do considerably better against in-division opponents than AL East teams. Therefore, if the pitching is in fact so tough here, we should see other teams performing considerably better against their own division than the AL East.

Accordingly, we should test for extremes, i.e. the AL Central versus the AL East.

As an aside, we won’t be using the National League just yet because there are so few interleague games to use in our comparison.

In addition, we will be looking at, arguably, the most important indicators of pitching talent – walks and strikeouts – because, according to BABIP theory and its corollaries, pitchers have little control over anything else. Therefore, other than groundball rate (which is much more difficult to calculate via, we are accounting for almost all of a pitcher’s controllable attributes.

Here we go.

According to all plate appearances for AL Central batters versus AL East opponents and AL Central opponents, there was a difference in the pitching caliber in the divisions. Not surprisingly, the AL East had the better pitchers. But that doesn’t mean that I need to put my foot in my mouth – yet.

Over 13939 inter-divisional plate appearances (AL Central v. AL Central) and 7026 extra-divisional plate appearances, the AL Central averaged a 0.08695 BB/PA against AL Central pitching, versus a 0.08576 against AL East pitchers. In addition, the AL Central averaged 0.1739 K/PA versus the AL Central, against a 0.18648 K/9 against the AL East.

Therefore, two things becomes clear: one, AL Central pitchers are easier in that they give up more walks, and, two, AL Central pitchers are easier because they strike out batters less. But the differences aren’t all that large.

To put this into perspective, an AL Central batter who faced exclusively AL Central pitching would register 56.5175 walks and 113.035 strikeouts. Against AL East pitching, this hypothetical batter would register 55.744 walks and 121.212 strikeouts.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem too substantial. One walk is nice. Eight strikeouts will probably make a difference. But, remember, these rules wouldn’t apply in reality, as the teams play against all divisions – not just their own. Each AL East team plays 72 games (44 percent) against it’s own division, against 34-39 games against the AL Central. These effects then become diluted, even further bridging the gap between the analysis of a seasonal stat line.

To make a composite stat line, let’s make two more assumptions: one, each player will play 44.4 percent of its games against its own division, 22.2 percent against this “other division”, and the remaining 33.4 percent against some average of the two, to represent the “gap” in the talent line. Here’s how this hypothetical AL Central player would perform if implanted into the AL East versus the AL Central.

Home Division – AL Central:   116.216 K, 56.2166 BBs

Home Division- AL East: 118.031 K, 56.0449 BBs

Now, that’s a tiny difference. Just under two strikeouts and one-fifth of a walk. The two strikeouts should yield about half of a hit, which will raise the player’s batting average by about a point. The one-fifth of a walk won’t do a whole lot either.

Should we even be surprised by this?

The Red Sox and Yankees don’t win the World Series every year. A National League team won last year.

The AL MVP AND Cy Young award winners both came from the AL Central (Joe Mauer and Zack Greinke, respectively). Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Mauer all play for the Minnesota, as did Johan Santana and the old Francisco Liriano.

Carlos Beltran came out of Kansas City. Miguel Cabrera hits for Detroit, while Justin Verlander throws off the Motor City mound. John Danks and, now, Jake Peavy pitch in Chicago. Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin, and Jim Thome all launched moonshots out of Windy City ballparks in ’09.

Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner both call Cleveland home. Justin Masterson will make an imprint there too.

No more of these shenanigans. Matt Holliday can play here, as Jason Bay, Pedro Martinez, and Manny Ramirez all could. It’s time to rid ourselves of this AL East Superiority Complex.

*** Technical Note: The measurements are taken from The most confusing part was to figure out how to distribute the N values versus weighting the data equally so that it reflected the composition of the division, which was further complicated by the fact that each team had a different number of plate appearances versus common teams. I settled on an N value representing the total number of plate appearances in the sample, as it made rejecting the null hypothesis (that the AL East hitting environment was systematically more difficult a hitting environment) more difficult.

For the stat nuts out there (myself included), the BB/PA are not statistically significant. The 95% confidence interval is [-.0092, 0.00686] walks per plate appearance. On the other hand, the strikeouts per plate appearance are statistically significant at the 95 % level, with a confidence interval of [0.00151, 0.02365] and a Z-value of 2.2272.