Does Home Field Advantage Still Exist in MLB
The 2020 MLB season has been an odd one for many reasons. In addition to the season being just 60 games, games are being played in empty stadiums. We’ve long assumed that having fans in your home ballpark gives teams an advantage, and that has been confirmed in 2020. Through the early part of the season, home teams won 50.5% of their games, the lowest in MLB history. On average, home teams have had a winning percentage of around .540, but at .505, home-field advantage has all but disappeared by MLB in 2020, and this has baseball bettors in a major state of confusion. Even the guys who make MLB expert picks are having trouble putting together a winning record this year.
Blame the Umps
One of the biggest reasons why home teams are winning at a lower rate in 2020 than a normal year could be the umpires. It’s important to keep in mind that umpires are people with emotions, meaning they can be swayed one way or another by raucous crowds. Without fans in attendance, hitters for the home team are getting fewer borderline calls than in any other year. Even if it’s only a small percentage of pitches on the edge of the plate that are affected by the crowd, it does level the playing field between home teams and road teams.
Lack of Travel
Another important factor to consider for the lack of home-field advantage this year is reduced travel because of the modified schedule. With only a few exceptions, most road trips this season are short and sweet. No team is traveling from coast to coast and there are limited occasions when teams have to change time zones. As a result, players are losing less sleep and aren’t as tired as they would be in a normal season. This takes away an advantage that home teams have during the season, especially in the first game of a series when they are well-rested and the visiting team had to travel the previous night. While it’s hard to prove that fatigue is playing less of a role in 2020, it would help to explain why there is less of an advantage in playing at home.
Not Always the Case
Of course, some teams have excelled at home this season regardless of the circumstances. As of September 1, the A’s, Braves, and Twins have all won at least 75% of their home games this season. The Astros and Rays aren’t far behind, winning at least 70% of their home games. Among those five teams, three are currently leading their division, so it’s not a surprise to see them succeed both home and away. However, only two teams had a winning percentage at home higher than 70% last season.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Nationals are winning just 25% of their home games. Meanwhile, the Angels, Mets, Pirates, Orioles, Marlins, and Red Sox are all winning fewer than 40% of their home games. Of those seven teams, the Marlins are the only one that doesn’t have a losing record on September 1. A year ago, only four teams failed to win at least 40% of their home games.
In other words, the good teams are winning at home, doing so at a higher rate than last year. At the same time, bad teams are losing at home at a higher rate than last year. The end result is that home-field advantage has disappeared in baseball in 2020. The playing field has been evened and the better team is often the best bet regardless of what team is playing at home.
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