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THE HOT CORNER: Pacifists maintain domination

by Jim Allen (Jun 17, 2010)

With the conclusion of last night's makeup game between the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Chunichi Dragons, this season's interleague campaign came to a close, with the Central League taking its worst beating ever.

Going into the finale at Nagoya Dome, the Pacific League teams had already gone 81-58-4 against the other league. The best the CL could do was .500: The Yomiuri Giants' 12-12 record allowed them to pick up a half-game in their league over the second-place Hanshin Tigers. Every PL club was over .500 against the CL.

Since interleague play was introduced in 2005, the PL leads 508-476 with 23 ties. Although the CL led the series a year ago 70-67-7, it is still waiting for its first interleague champion.

Does interleague superiority mean one league is tougher than the other?

Pundits love to talk about the large quantity of quality pitching in the PL, and the last five Sawamura Award winners have all been from that league.

Most players will tell you that the first time a pitcher and batter meet, the pitcher has the advantage. Both leagues' pitchers strike out batters more often in interleague, but while the whiff rate by PL pitchers increases by 1.6 percent, the CL hurlers' rate jumps by 4.9 percent.

Then there's the idea that CL pitchers are better hitters. Every autumn before the Japan Series, some analyst will give CL pitchers extra credit for their familiarity with the bat. Although they get more practice in the regular season than their PL counterparts, that really just means Centralist hurlers are more used to looking inept with the wood than the Pacifists.

While the impact of pitchers' batting is insignificant, using a designated hitter makes a huge difference. Since the start of interleague, PL DHs have scored 48 more runs and driven in 44 more. They've reached base more often and hit for more extra bases.

This year, because PL DHs only batted .191 through Tuesday's games, their CL counterparts have better on-base percentages and slugging averages this year. Despite that, the PL guys lead where it counts most: in runs and RBIs.

No wonder that when the leagues discussed the interleague format in the winter of 2004-05, the Central League didn't want to employ the DH rule at all.

Because PL teams can keep one non-fielding slugger on the roster at no cost, they will tend to have an advantage over CL squads when the DH rule is being used.

In the first 1,007 interleague games, PL clubs have had a .581 winning percentage at home, .453 on the road. The PL entered Wednesday's finale with a chance for identical 41-29-2 records home and away.

Another advantage the PL might have is their ability to hit the road running. When asked about the biggest difference faced in the PL after four years as the skipper of the Hiroshima Carp, Marty Brown said: "The travel."

With the exception of flying to sporadic games in Hokkaido, Tohoku, Hokuriku, Shikoku and Kyushu, CL squads usually take the train. PL clubs, on the other hand, often fly to Sapporo, Sendai and Fukuoka and might be more accustomed to the hectic travel the interleague schedule imposes.

This schedule, even more than the argument over the DH, has been the biggest interleague issue. Because it costs just as much for a team to travel to a city and play three as two, the PL would like a return to a more efficient plan of playing 12 three-game series, split into two 18-game phases.

Because interleague improves PL attendance, it's perfectly reasonable for them to want more.

Average interleague attendance has grown every season for both leagues, but the Giants are the only CL club to see attendance rise when PL teams are visiting. There is not a lot of incentive for the Central side to go back to 36 games.

One PL executive recently told The Hot Corner that simply dealing with some CL teams over interleague made some in his league question whether the games are worth the hassle at all.

For the time being the answer appears to be "yes."

There is a best answer to this solution, but it will probably require the kind of cooperation and creative thinking for which PL clubs have shown more flair.


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