Difference Between American League and National League in Baseball

Uncovering the unique characteristics: comparing the American and National Leagues in baseball
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

In 1876, the first rendition of the MLB was formed. The National League was the only league in the MLB at the time. The first name for the MLB was actually the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs.

In 1901, the American League was created and adopted a two-league format. While baseball is a beloved American pastime, there are significant differences between the American League and the National League in terms of rules, teams, and player statistics.

  • The MLB was originally formed as the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs in 1876.
  • The American League was created and adopted a two-league format in 1901, creating the current Major League Baseball (MLB).
  • Significant differences between the American League and National Leagues include rules, teams, player statistics, and strike zones/umpire calls.
  • In terms of rules: The AL has designated hitters who only bat but do not play defense; NL pitchers are forced to hit the last spot in the batting lineup when they’re playing at home.
  • Over the past 20 years, NL pitchers have had a lower Earned Run Average compared to AL pitchers; however, AL hitters have been producing more efficiently recently.

Rules and regulations

In the American League, teams are not forced to have their pitcher be in the batting lineup. Each team is granted a designated hitter, who will only bat and not play defense. These are usually guys who are great hitters but poor defenders.

The National League does not have a designated hitter. Instead, the current pitcher must hit the last spot in the batting lineup for each team.

Things get a little confusing when an American League team plays against a National League team. In this case, the home team would be the deciding factor in the designated situation.

For example, let’s say the Yankees are playing the Mets. Since the Mets are the home team, National League rules will apply, and the pitcher will be forced to hit. If the Yankees were the home team, each team would be granted a designated hitter.

Strike zones and umpire calls stay consistent across both the National and American Leagues. With the difference in DH and pitchers’ hitting, each league must take a different approach to each game.

A player on an American League team will have better opportunities with positions like designated hitter available. That spot is not an option for a player on a National League team. Pitchers on a National League team must also incorporate hitting and bunting into their everyday routine. While he practices occasionally, a pitcher in the American League has a much different daily routine.

Teams and players

Besides the designated hitter rule, not much separates the American League from the National League. Over the past 20 years, National League pitchers have had a lower Earned Run Average compared to American League pitchers.

However, American League hitters have been producing at a much more efficient rate over the last handful of years. Justin Verlander is one of the newest players to have played in both the American League and the National League. He has spent time with the Detroit Tigers and the Houston Astros, who are both American League teams. After a recent trade, Justin will be joining the New York Mets in the National League in 2023. Verlander will now need to work on his hitting since he will be forced to hit every game he is pitching. This can affect a pitcher’s daily routine.

Free agency and player trades are all nearly identical across both leagues. Teams may have different strategies, such as a National League team looking for pitchers that can also hit or bunt. An American League team doesn’t have to worry about that. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the National League play the American League in baseball?

Yes, these games are called Inter-League play. Every year, each team will face at least one team from the opposite league.

Do pitchers bat in the American League or National League?

Pitchers bat in the National League. No pitcher is forced to hit in the American League unless they play at a National League team’s home field.

Who has more World Series, the American League or the National League?

As of last year, the American League had won 67 World Series championships. The National League has only won 51 World Series championships.


The American League and National League were created to form a bigger league. After the expansion, there were ultimately 30 teams in the MLB. They are split evenly among the two leagues.

While there are some differences, both leagues are nearly identical. The main difference is that the designated hitter is used in the A.L. but not in the N.L. Instead of a designated hitter, pitchers are forced to hit in the National League.

With two leagues, there can be an All-Star game between the two leagues every year. The American League has dominated the All-Star game over time. They have also won many more World Series in comparison to the National League. It seems like the American League is holding the top spot.

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