I'm always amused when two media stories report more or less the same story, in two contradictory directions:
AZCentral: Hall doubts team would switch leagues
So, which is it? A bit of both, to tell the truth. After the jump, we'll get to the facts, and see whether the Arizona Diamondbacks need to start looking into this "designated hitter" thing.This all started with a Tweet from Bob Nightengale: "The Diamondbacks are the team most likely to switch leagues if there's realignment, going to AL WEST." Of course, this is Nightengale, who also told Arizona fans we weren't going to pick up Webb's option and were going to trade Stephen Drew and Justin Upton, so I've learned to take his rumors with enough salt to trigger high blood-pressure. There was more detail in the USA Today story, though again, I'd probably have more confidence in it if the first word of the headline was not "Realingment" But the gist remains the same, with emphasis heavily on "could be."
So what was the team's reactions to this possibility? Firstly, here's what Hall told MLB.com's Steve Gilbert
"If asked, we will look into it if it's in the best interests of baseball. However, we have to balance it against what is in the best interest of our fans... We would certainly gauge the interest of our fans, our season-ticket holders, to see if this is something that we should look into if asked. I think if we polled our fans, it might be a 50-50 result. Half our fans would probably say they would like to see the Yankees and Red Sox each year, while the other half would like to see the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants more frequently."
O RLY? Put me in a third category, because personally, that last sentence is the baseball equivalent of being asked how you would like your death penalty carried out. More games against the Yankees and Red Sox? Isn't that what ESPN is for? Or we get to face the Cubs and Giants. Joy. It's just like Alien vs. Predator - "Whoever wins, we lose.". Can I vote we move to re-instate the Federal League, in which we only play teams without an obnoxious fanbase? I'm thinking Twins, Angels, Cardinals and us as a start. We'll let the Rockies come visit now and again.
But I do think Hall has perhaps misjudged the opinion of the fanbase on this one: I have yet to hear from anyone who thinks it's a good idea, and the comments on the story suggest that "50-50" appears to be wildly optimistic. Let's face it, if you support a move to the American League, just so that you get to see the Yankees more often, you were not really much of a Diamondbacks' fan to begin with. Sure, getting the Yankees here every year might pull in a few more bucks at Chase, as their fans crawl out from underneath the desert rocks for three games. But true D-backs fan opinion is so strongly against it, the team would lose more than it gained.
I do know that moving the Diamondbacks to the American League was previously suggested, back in the early days of the franchise. However, that discussion abruptly ended when the team won the World Series in 2001, and now we're a decade later, it feels to me like that ship has sailed. The fanbase is now a National League fanbase, imbued with a deep, ingrained loathing of the DH, and one which takes pleasure in the hitting exploits of the team's pitchers. And with good reason, for Arizona's pitchers have been among the best at the plate in the league every year recently. Here are the numbers since 2007:
And that's not bad, considering those numbers included rabbits like Doug Davis (.154 OPS in 2007) and Rodrigo Lopez (.183 in 2010). If only the same could be said for our 1B and LF... In Micah Owing's 2007 and Dan Haren's 2010, the Arizona Diamondbacks proudly own the two best seasons by OPS for a starting pitcher (min. 50 at-bats), since the DH rule was instituted. This year, Daniel Hudson leads the pack, with a .610 OPS that is 88 points better than Melvin Mora, and only fractionally behind frequent lead-off hitter, Willie Bloomquist. As noted yesterday, Zach Duke has as many home-runs this season as Derek Jeter.
Head for the AL and kiss it all goodbye. It would require some shifting on the roster certainly, and it's not as if the team has a long, storied history of DHing. [Trivia question: which five D-backs have the most appearances as DH? Answer at the end]. Those who have filled the role for Arizona in the past include such illustrious names as Jeff DaVanon, Alan Zinter, Matt Kata, Andy Green and Tony Abreu. Seems more like a procession of backup infielders than the powerful mashers you would expect. However, looking at our upcoming prospects, having a slot that doesn't require fielding might not be an entirely bad idea.
I'm not entirely averse to the shift on a personal level either - I certainly have time for the likes of the Angels and A's, and am largely neutral to the Rangers and Mariners. Plus, as noted, seeing the Cubs only twice a decade or so at Chase is undeniably a positive to the move. And I can't speak for the baseball angle, but in terms of blog realignment, the SnakePit feels a lot more of a kindred spirit to Halos Heaven and Athletics Nation than Gaslamp Ball and McCovey Chronicles. I guess we'd have to figure out which of our writers would fill the DH spot though.
Let's turn to Hall's comments in the Republic, who apparently took the same press-conference statement, but ended up with these quotes instead:
"Naturally, we would look into it if asked about it. But I'm not sure we'd ever get to that point because I think other teams make more sense geographically than we do. I personally am a National League fan -- from the pace of the game and from the strategy that is involved without the designated hitter."
In other words, "Houston, you have a problem..." They don't seem any more enamored over the idea of moving to the Amerian League at The Crawfish Boxes. However, the main edges the Astros have over the Diamondbacks are perhaps less geographical, e.g. they a) currently suck, and b) are in the process of being sold to a new owner, both of which are likely to reduce the degree of opposition to a move. Buster Olney suggests that the latter means "MLB could make shift a condition of approval, if it wanted." The main arguments for the Astros moving to the AL West is it would take care of there being six teams in the NL Central, and it'd give them a rivalry with the Texas Rangers.
I can see the issue of fairness here - it's appreciably harder to make the playoffs from the NL Central, than the four team AL West. But I would be more inclined to resolve the situation by adding two more franchise to the American League, to give sixteen teams in each league. Re-organize them into four divisions of four, and there you go. If you still want a wild-card, the best second-placed team plays the divisional winner with the worst record in some kind of play-in. No-one needs to move, and there are two additional sources of income for MLB and the players' union. Sounds like a plan to me.
[Trivia answer. The five D-backs with most DH appearances are: Erubiel Durazo (13), Chad Tracy (10), Greg Colbrunn (9), Carlos Baerga (8) and Tony Clark (7)]