In sports, people always talk about home advantage and the impact it can have on visiting teams. Ultimately though, every arena has to follow the league’s guidelines in terms of playing area, so what are teams gaining? We’re asking whether home advantage actually means anything in baseball or not.
The idea behind home advantage really lies in the supporters in the arena, and the unfamiliar conditions. Players on the road might be staying in a hotel after being crammed into a plane for four hours. That can unsettle a player, especially when the home team stars can sleep in their own beds before the big game.
It’s all about the mental advantage, but how much does that really impact a baseball player? Crowds aren’t always upbeat during the entire contest, like they would in basketball or football, so surely the crowd can’t influence players that much. The playoffs are where home advantage counts most in football and basketball, but that’s not exactly the case in baseball.
American sports is famed for its postseason, otherwise known as the playoffs. This is where the best teams in the regular season go head to head in a knockout series to determine who gets the ultimate glory in the last game. In both the NFL and NBA, teams with home advantage got a ‘bump’ in their form, which saw them win a greater percentage of their games.
In MLB the average winning percentage for teams doesn’t change from the regular season to the playoffs, and stays at 54%. During the 2017 season, four of the ten teams that made it to the postseason actually had a better road percentage than at home. It seems that in baseball, there is more to winning than simply having a great set of fans.
By 2017, the home team in a ‘winner-take-all’ World Series game had a record of 19-19, meaning there really isn’t a home advantage in MLB.
Playing to the home advantage
There is a way for teams to play to their home advantage to make sure they keep their fans happy. Teams like the Rockies and Diamondbacks were set up for better home records because their slugging lineups worked better with their ballpark set up. Some pitchers also do a lot better at home than on the road, which can greatly affect how well a team does in front of its own supporters.
If coaches are checking the numbers of their players, they can figure out what lineup to field to give them the greatest possible home advantage. In his first 27 games in the 2019 season, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s tOPS were 117 at home and 85 on the road. It’s all down to what players are more comfortable with, and identifying that is what can lead some coaches to glory.
One thing that can really affect how a home team performs is the weather. Ideally baseball is played in the sunshine, or under the lights without any rain falling. Sadly we cannot control the weather so it can affect how certain teams fare when playing at home. Some people believe that the weather is actually pivotal in baseball games, and it can affect every aspect of a baseball game.
The season is long in baseball and played over multiple seasons which means changes in weather. Something as simple as the air temperature can affect the trajectory of a baseball through the air and the hotter the temperature, the further the ball goes. Teams who play in much cooler climates in April can see the difference of a home run or a fly ball due to the temperature of the air.
The pitcher’s grip is also affected by the weather, and there’s little they can do to make their fingers grippier, especially in the hot months. Players sweat under the heat of the sun, and with their fingers sweating it’s harder to throw the ball exactly how pitchers would like. Conversely, if the weather is too cold pitchers can’t necessarily feel their fingers which gives them less control of their throwing.
Altitude also comes into play, and the Rockies playing in Denver are always a tough test for any team because of height the games are played at. Similarly, that’s also why the Rockies can sometimes struggle to pick up victories when on the road.
The World Series
Although the ‘winner-take-all’ World Series games are won by a toss of the coin, generally speaking, the World Series is won by the home team. Since 1969 the home team in the World Series has won 60% of the time. That’s a significant advantage for teams, and a reason why no team should ever let up during the regular season and lose potential postseason seedings.
Getting to the World Series is a big achievement, but your chances of winning are increased if you are the best-ranked team in the MLB showdown. Since 2012 home advantage in the championship finals has also proven to be important, and 64% of teams have won.
Home advantage in baseball appears to be less important than in sports like basketball and football. The only time it really seems to matter is when the stakes are at their highest, the championship and World Series games. Even then, it’s still far from a guarantee that the home team are going to come out the winners.