Monday, September 23, 2013

The World Series Home Field Advantage

The 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings and using every pitcher on both rosters. America was outraged, OUTRAGED, I say, and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had no choice but to instill meaning and importance to a game that is the focal point of the summer. In order to ensure that such a travesty was never again foisted upon an innocent public, Selig announced that beginning in 2003, the home field advantage for the World Series would be awarded to the team representing the winning league in the All-Star game. America breathed a huge sigh of relief, content in the knowledge that the events of 2002 would never be repeated.

To be fair, prior to 2003 World Series home field advantage rotated year by year, so never in baseball history was the "better" team awarded home field, but there's an argument to be made for arbitrary vs. stupid. To begin, this is the winning percent of home teams during the regular season from 1901-2012:

It's a fine line between winning because a team is at home vs. being better than the other team--I did some analysis for football that showed that whereas the home team won at a .569 clip, the favored team won at .676 rate--sometimes it's better to be good than at home. The home field advantage seems to have settled into the .520-.540 range, which translates into around 84-87 wins in a 162-game season, enough to at least be in the running for a wild card slot.

But it's an entirely different picture in the World Series:

It must be stated that these percentages deal with EXTREMELY SMALL sample sizes--there have only been 624 World Series games ever played. Anytime a series that can be 7 games or fewer is involved strange percentages can result, but when taken together, interesting trends begin to emerge. 

This table breaks down this data by era:

Just to be clear, the eras chosen are:
1903-1968--the pre-playoffs
1969-1993--the two-team playoffs
1995-2002--introduction of the wild card
2003-2012--the establishment of the new rule for awarding home field advantage. 

I have no ready explanation as to why the home team began winning at around a .600 clip beginning with the establishment of the playoffs other than to note that it seems persistent. 

This table shows the home winning percent for all levels of playoffs:

In the Divisional and League Championship Series, the team with the better record (unless it's a wild card team if I read this Wikipedia entry correctly) has the home field advantage, and that advantage is dampened somewhat. This is likely due to the greater number of games and is much more in line with historical home field trends.

This table breaks out home winning percent by playoff round from 1995-2012:

This table compares the idea I introduced earlier, a comparison of how often the team with the home field advantage won the World Series as opposed to the team with the better record, i.e., the "better" team:

In a 7-game series, anything can happen as baseball history has so clearly shown. The better team wins just over half of the time and the home team wins around 60% of the time, up to two-thirds of the time beginning with the establishment of the playoffs in 1969.

I have absolutely no idea if home field advantage is a real issue in World Series, but the numbers certainly suggest it plays a role. Given that, awarding home field advantage on the basis of a mid-summer exhibition game that no one takes seriously anymore borders on criminal stupidity--it almost makes me want to start a petition at We the People but I'm still licking my wounds from my last foray into those waters. It shouldn't be that difficult to award World Series home field advantage to the team with the best record, with tie-breakers established for those instances where the teams have the same record. Using World Series home field advantage as a desperate attempt to prop up a game that time has passed by is ridiculous, especially in an era in which home field plays such a pivotal role, be it by chance or other reasons.

I've got enough on my plate:
But this is simply inexcusable. No other sports awards something as important as home field advantage on something so insignificant and it needs to be changed sooner rather than later. Over time any vagaries in one league hosting the World Series more than the other will balance out to the extent it has any impact on revenues, and teams will be rewarded for their regular season as opposed to beholden to players in a game completely beyond their control. History won't be upended, records won't be sullied and diminished and an element of common sense will be restored.

This last table shows how well home teams have performed in the World Series vs. the better team. Using the 2012 World Series as an example, San Francisco was both the home team (HTw, home team won) and the better team (BTw, better team won). In 2011 the Cardinals were the home team but not the better team and won. It's pretty clear the home team won far more often than the better team.
I need to thank Twitter follower Mike Hynek (@SouthsideMike81) for pointing out the mistake I made in this table with regard to the 1906 World Series. As a Cubs fan I inadvertently changed history by fiat and accidentally listed the Cubs as the winners instead of the White Sox. This will not affect the numbers in the charts since those were calculated independently. Thanks to Mike, and I'm writing this note because it's far easier than trying to figure out where I put the original file that had this table in it. Feel free to shout out with any other mistakes, I'm sure they're in there.

1 comment :

  1. It appears that the author transposed the records of the 2008 World Series teams. The Rays had a regular-season record of 97-65 and the Phillies had a regular-season record of 92-70. Thus, the Rays were the "better team" based on regular-season performance, and also had home-field advantage in the World Series. Despite these two advantages, the Rays failed to defeat the Phillies in the World Series.