Monday, April 30, 2012

Making The Playoffs With A Losing Record At Home

While listening to Steve Stone on WSCR, 670 AM in Chicago on Monday morning, he made the following statement (which can be found here beginning at the 3:16 mark on the podcast):
"You very rarely, if ever, win a division under .500 at home. I can't remember a team that did that."
Easily enough checked, and guess what--as he is on most baseball-related matters, Steve Stone is correct. This first chart shows the winning percent of all teams from 1901-2011 during the regular season:

The average winning percent is .542, or the equivalent of a 88-74, which will put teams in the running for the wild card in almost every year. It would be fun to measure, and I have the data for the NFL (but not the NBA), but I suspect that baseball has the smallest home-team advantage of the three, but that's a post for another day. This next chart shows the home winning percent for the playoff teams during the regular season:

If it isn't obvious, the playoff teams have spectacular winning records at home during the regular season--the average is diminishing over time (as parity between the teams increases), but it's still .655, or the equivalent of a 106-56 record, a record that has a pretty good chance of getting a team in the playoffs.

To take it to the next step and test Stone's statement, he is essentially correct. There is ONE team that made the playoffs with a losing record at home--the 1981 Royals. However, the 1981 year was a strike year that introduced divisional playoffs between the winners of the two halves of the season, and as such it wasn't a traditional playoff format. Other than that, NO TEAM has ever made the playoffs with a losing record at home during the regular season.

Let me state this another way. Since 1903, of the 370 teams that have made the playoffs since 1903, ONE didn't have a winning record at home--and 369 did. As is typically the case, Steve Stone was correct and adds another marker to look at to see how good a team's chances of making the playoffs are. For all you young broadcasters out there, the career of Steve Stone would be an excellent one to emulate.

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