THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HOME FIELD IN MLB BASEBALL
We’ve been looking at the significance of home venue advantage in the major North American professional sports. So far we’ve concluded that home advantage is minimal in the National Hockey League but extremely important in the National Basketball Association. Now we’ll look at a sport that anecdotally appears to have the least significant home field advantage—Major League Baseball.
Before we look at the specifics of team home field performance in baseball it’s important to understand the differences between MLB action and the other sports leagues. In the NHL and NBA, teams play 82 game regular seasons. In Major League Baseball, the regular season is 162 games long. That means we can get a good estimate of how MLB compares to the NHL and NBA in terms of home venue advantage by dividing the baseball home field data in half.
It’s also important to understand that the nature of baseball is less conducive to a home venue advantage. Baseball is more of a longterm ‘process’ than hockey or basketball. With 162 games it’s just not possible to put an ’emphasis’ on an individual game here and there. For better or worse, hockey is a more intense and physical game than baseball while basketball is more athletically demanding. That still doesn’t explain the disparity between home venue advantage significance in hockey and basketball—sports that have a good deal in common—but it can help explain why home field advantage in baseball is something of an ‘apples and oranges’ comparison with the other sports.
BASEBALL HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
Furthermore, as any baseball fan knows there is at least one significant difference between the National League and American League—the designated hitter rule. We’ll break down the data in both leagues as well as combined to see if there’s any differences in home field value between the leagues. Logically, it doesn’t seem like having a pitcher bat for himself or not would make a huge difference in home field performance.
What we’ve been doing in other sports is looking at the differential between home and road wins. In baseball, the number is relatively small. In the American League, the average team had 5.8 more wins at home than on the road. In the National League it was 7.4 more wins at home than on the road. Overall for all 30 MLB teams it was 6.6 more wins at home than on the road. Keep in mind that this is over a 162 game schedule. If we divide these numbers in half they’re right in line with hockey’s home/road differential of 3.3 for playoff teams. Non-playoff teams had a smaller home/road differential.
In baseball, however, there are some significant extremes. These extremes aren’t specific to performance level or league. In the American League, the Houston Astros made the playoffs as a wild card team and won 20 more games at home than on the road. In hockey, no playoff team had more than a +6 home differential. In the National League, the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers won 18 more games at home than on the road. The Atlanta Braves finished in fourth place in the NL East and won 17 more games at home than on the road. Four teams won more games on the road than at home with two teams having identical home/road win totals.
This is by no means an exhaustive or ‘scientific’ study as we’re only looking at a single season. It would take further research to determine if these trends hold up over multiple seasons. It would also be interesting to drill down into individual team performances and see if there are any commonalities between teams with a large home/road differential and teams with a low or negative differential. For years, the Colorado Rockies had a much better home record than road record due in large part to the unique characteristics of their micro environment playing at a mile above sea level. Last year, however, the Rockies only won 4 more games at home than on the road. That being said, certainly ballpark characteristics play a part in the equation. As a corollary to that, some teams are ‘built’ to leverage the characteristics of their ballpark such as a team with a strong starting rotation playing in a ‘pitchers’ park’.
In future articles, we’ll consider some of the more ‘micro’ components of the home venue advantage in baseball as well as looking at how the numbers we came up with above hold up in postseason play.