"The catalyst for that to change would be when we enter a down market, have a correction or a down market period. That's a situation where high quality outperforms low quality. If you have a period of rising volatility, which would happen if the Fed started to taper, there's a brief period where the high quality starts to outperform. It's like a flight to safety," Sunderland said.
Sunderland expects to see the leadership pass to higher-quality names sometime in the first half of 2014. The Fed said it would likely decide to taper its asset purchase program at one of the next few meetings.
Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, also expects to see a rotation. "The stock market cycle and the economic cycle are maturing, and as a result the Fed is looking to remove some of the stimulus, and as a result companies then have to advance on their own merits," he said.
Some of the companies in the "C" class are Salesforce.com, up 28.2 percent year-to-date; Regeneron up 63.3 percent; and Micron Technology, up 208 percent.
Most companies in the S&P 500 are average, "B " rated, and that group gained 23.6 percent through Oct. 31. Those names include Apple (down 3.1 percent year-to-date); Google (up 45 percent); Bristol-Myers (up 59 percent); Amgen(up 31 percent); Goldman Sachs (up 30 percent); American Express (up 45 percent); Boeing (up 77 percent); andCisco (up 8.7 percent).
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The true high-quality names in the "A " class includes Coca-Cola (up 11.2 percent); Procter and Gamble (up 24.8 percent); Johnson and Johnson (up 35 percent); and Exxon, up 10 percent.
"Quality ranks is an important ingredient. It's like the chicken stock factor," in soup, said Mike Thompson, head of global market intelligence at S&P. High quality-rated names are one element in a portfolio. "It's a factor that does not really generate alpha. What it does is it protects you from down markets."
Sunderland said the shift to higher-quality large caps would also come as the global economy improves. Many smaller-cap names have only domestic exposure, and the U.S. has fared better than Europe and the emerging world.
"It's not going to happen with the snap of the fingers, but it's going to happen gradually. I can see a few things causing that in the next three to six months. One of the main factors is what's going on with the Fed, but both monetary and fiscal stimulus. As that starts to wane that's going to be benefit high-quality stocks at the expense of the lower quality," he said.
James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, said he expects the stock market to be much more volatile next year, rising to as high as 2,000 on the S&P 500, before giving back some gains, and ending flattish for the year. "I think it will be a year of a big trade. You're going to have to change your ponies," he said.