Free Agents Shifting Leagues

Cliff Lee spent all of 2010 in the American League earning 7.1 WAR. Now in the National League, Lee swings a lot of value from the AL to the NL. If you thought an American League team was, on average, say five wins better than a National League team in 2010 then Cliff Lee could have lessened that gap to four wins all by his lonesome had he spent the year in the NL.

That thought got me thinking about the rest of the transactions this winter concerning players switching leagues. At this time the free agents who have moved (and their relevant 2010 WAR) are:

To the National League:
Lance Berkman 0.0
John Buck 2.9
Randy Choate 0.5
Matt Guerrier 0.2
Orlando Hudson 3.1
Gerald Laird -0.2
Cliff Lee 7.1
Dustin Moseley -0.4
Dioner Navarro -0.1
Lyle Overbay 1.5
Carlos Pena 1.0
J.J. Putz 1.5
Ryan Rowland-Smith -1.6
Javier Vazquez -0.2
Ty Wiggington 0.3
Kerry Wood 0.1

To the American League:
Adam Dunn 3.9
Pedro Feliciano 0.8
Russell Martin 2.1
Joel Peralta 0.7
Hisanori Takahashi 1.6
Yorvit Torrealba 2.4

All told the NL gained 15.7 2010 WAR and the AL 11.5 2010 WAR.

Note well that I specifically state 2010 WAR. Obviously, this is not a substitute for an actual projection of what the talent gap between the leagues will be in 2011. It ignores that these players will not perform identically, that players not switching leagues will develop and decline and that teams will import some players from elsewhere entirely. To work out how 2011 might look, we would need to utilize real projections. What this can show is how 2010 might have been different if played with these new rosters.

And that is in fact not much change. Despite an overwhelming majority of players shifting to the National League, many of them were not valuable in 2010. Even though the AL has poached just four players from the senior circuit, all four were solid players.

There is still time for that difference to widen. Most of the top remaining free agents – Adrian Beltre, Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Rafael Soriano, etc – were AL players in 2010. Also, we just saw Zack Greinke change leagues. These alone will not close the gap between the two leagues, but it’s worth remembering that league strength is always fluctuating and that the National League looks like it is making inroads against the American League for next season.




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


24 Responses to “Free Agents Shifting Leagues”

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  1. Humza says:

    Adrian Gonzalez?

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    • KyleL says:

      The article was specifically about free agents, it would have been worth a mention when talking about the Greinke trade however.

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      • Humza says:

        True story. Let’s include Greinke and Gonzalez as well, then, as an addendum since they are notable fluctuations, though as you noted, not free agents. =)

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  2. Ryan says:

    Miguel Olivo is missing. Even though he technically was “traded” from the NL to the AL and then signed with an AL club, the reality of the situation is that he’s going from the NL in 2010 to the AL in 2011.

    Given that he was good for 3.2 WAR in 2010, adding him to the NL –> AL group makes things even tighter than they already were, at least within the methodology used for this piece.

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  3. Shoeless says:

    Am I missing something here? I don’t see how this can tell us anything about how 2010 would have played out. This analysis doesn’t say anything about who these players replaced, or who is replacing these players. It appears to me that one can’t draw any conclusions as to whether one league improved more than the other simply from this data. For instance: Takahashi (1.6 WAR) is coming to the AL, but he’s replacing Hardy, Casilla, Punto, et al. that combined for at least 3.5 WAR at that position (Hardy 2.4 on his own). So even though Minny is getting 1.6 WAR at that position, they actually would have done worse last year with Takahashi. They’re worse off. To really get an idea as to which league improved more, one would need to look into the players replaced (and the projections for those that replaced them) and also include the players that were traded. In other words, a much more in-depth and time consuming enterprise.

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  4. Nick says:

    Also take a look at the NL rookie class of this year compared with the AL. Massive differnces.

    You have 3 blue chippers alone with Posey, Heyward, and Stanton.

    The shift in power is coming

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Possibly a good point.

      It’s likely more than just coincidence that the AL dominance started about the same time they had all that SS young talent (ARod, Nomar, Jeter, Tejada)

      Not sure where Strasburg/Harper would fit into that.

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    • gnomez says:

      Stanton gets blue-chipper status over Jaime Garcia and Gaby Sanchez?

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      • Humza says:

        He didn’t say those were the only ones, but hitting 22 homeruns in 2/3 of a full season at age 20 (Stanton), .393 OBP at age 20 (Heyward), and establishing himself one of the best hitting catchers in baseball as a rookie (Posey) are impressive. Sanchez, Garcia, and Ike Davis are good and could be very good but nobody would be surprised to see the first three in the HoF in 20-25 years.

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      • bill says:

        Yeah, because Stanton is better than Garcia and way way better than Sanchez.

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      • Brian Fawcett says:

        Yes., he does. Particularly over Sanchez.

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  5. CubsFan says:

    I’m biased, but I would add Starlin Castro to the list of NL rookie blue chippers.

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  6. Dr. Bingerloo says:

    “All told the NL gained 15.7 2010 WAR and the AL 11.5 2010 WAR.” – Its meaning is clear but still this sentence really made me wince, having both ‘gain’ in an article about players switching leagues. Leading it with ‘all told’ is just rubbing in the salt. If give you $10 and you give me $20 & etc… All told the NL gained 4.2 and the AL lost 4.2.

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  7. OremLK says:

    Bill Hall?

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  8. Jon says:

    Christian makes an interesting point. Castro didn’t tally up many WAR by some standards, but he did hit .300 while fielding a premium position for a full season at the big-league level at the tender age of 20, and I had thought this boded well for projecting an extraordinary career. However, apparently Castro had been in a homosexual relationship with Mr. Cortez, and now Mr. Cortez is very angry because Castro cheated on him with then-Manager Lou Piniella. You never want to make assumptions about players’ performance based on their personal lives, but maybe this lack of faith betrays a lack of focus and diligence in Castro’s life, and perhaps this means he is the sort of player who will flame out without ever fulfilling his potential, more Garry Templeton than Ozzie Smith.

    Thank you for your unique personal insight into this issue, Mr. Cortez.

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    • MetsKnicksRutgers says:

      I really thought for a second you were referring to the hated Scott Templeton from season five of the wire. I’m 25 I should know who Gary Templeton was. Otherwise, rec’d

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  9. Derek says:

    Cliff Lee is the big one to me. I keep seeing more pitchers going from the AL to the NL. I don’t blame them but I think it is helping the change in power.

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  10. Andrew says:

    Do non-tenders count here? If so, then add (subtract) Melky to the AL.

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  11. GT says:

    Jose Lopez 2B COL

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  12. shthar says:

    Any chance for some #’s on how hitters and pitchers have done after switching leagues?

    Might help judging if we knew how people have done going from NL to AL and vice versa.

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