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Saturday, July 20, 2013

The All-Star Game/Home Field Debate: the arguments, the stats, and possible alternatives

We all remember the 2002 All-Star game. Both teams famously ran out of pitchers, thus ending the game in an embarrassing, unsatisfying tie. Not wanting another episode like this, the following year the MLB decided the game would now determine home field advantage for the World Series.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a so-called “meaningful All-Star game.” It also marks the 10th anniversary of hearing people debate this topic. In honor of this anniversary, let’s look at the past 10 World Series, and the effect home field advantage has had on them.


Below is a list of the past 10 seriesfeaturing the home and away teams, which had the better record, who won the series, and in how many games.

Year
Home
Away
Series
Champion
HF and Champion
2003
Yankees*
Marlins
Four-Two
Marlins

2004
Red Sox
Cardinals*
Four-Zero
Red Sox
X
2005
White Sox*
Astros
Four-Zero
White Sox
X
2006
Tigers*
Cardinals
Four-One
Cardinals

2007
Red Sox*
Rockies
Four-Zero
Red Sox
X
2008
Rays*
Phillies
Four-One
Phillies

2009
Yankees*
Phillies
Four-Two
Yankees
X
2010
Giants*
Rangers
Four-One
Giants
X
2011
Cardinals
Rangers*
Four-Three
Cardinals
X
2012
Giants*
Tigers
Four-Zero
Giants
X

*=Better regular season record





Home Field Slightly Matters: Of the past 10 World Series, the home team has won seven out of ten. The three exceptions have been the 2008 Phillies, 2006 Cardinals, and 2003 Marlins. The past four World Series champions have all had home field advantage in the series.

What if Record Determined Home field?: A common alternative to the current format is giving home field to the team with the better regular season record. Eight of the past ten World Series have had the team with the better record as the home team. Five of these teams have gone on to win the World Series.The two teams that had the better record in the regular season, but did not enjoy the advantages of home field advantage both lost their respective series (2004 Cardinals and 2011 Rangers).

Importance of Game 1: Only once in the past 10 years has the winner of Game 1 not gone on to win the World Series (2010 Rangers). The road team has won four Game 1s, and only one of these four teams has not gone on to win the World Series (the aforementioned Rangers team).

2011 Game 7: It is worth pointing out the 2011 World Series, which is the most interesting concerning home field advantage.The Cardinals, despite having a worse record than the Rangers, had home field advantage due to the All-Star game. It was the first World Series going seven games since 2002 (the Angels beat the Giants in seven). The Cardinals won Game 7 in front of a packed Busch Stadium crowd.

I am not attempting to argue either way about the All-Star game determining home field; I am only presenting the statistics. If the current format were placed, however, here are a few alternatives.

Better Record: The most common replacement for the current system is giving the team with the better record home field advantage. As noted, eight of the past ten World Series has featured the team with the better record as the home team.  

This alternative makes sense for a few reasons. Baseball is a long season (162 games) and a team’s record is generally indicative of the quality of their season. Also, with the N.L. and A.L. having an equal number of teams this year (15 apiece) and with interleague play becoming season-long, comparing the records of teams in different leagues has become fairer.

Many argue this is the most intuitive and common sense approach to determining home field. The NBA, for example, uses this method for determining home-court in the NBA Finals. In the Stanley Cup Championship, the higher-seeded team enjoys home-ice advantage, which is usually the team with a better record.

Better Inter-league Record: Similar to the current format, home field would be determined by competition between the two leagues with this format. The two World Series team’s inter-league records could be compared, and the one with the better record would receive home field.

The argument against this method is the quality of a team’s interleague opponents. The MLB has a cycling schedule to determine interleague play, which means that a given team’s schedule will only feature teams from one division in a season. For example, in 2013 the N.L. Central will only face A.L. West teams in interleague play this season.

A team’s interleague record is not necessarily reflective of their overall effectiveness against the entire league since it only feature teams from one division. This method would, however, use a larger sample pool to determine home field than one All-Star game, and the teams involved in the World Series would directly determine home field advantage.

Alternating Home Field: Prior to 2003 home field advantage was merely alternated between the two leagues. This method seems arbitrary, and would be an unlikely candidate to replace the current format.

Let’s face it; the current format is in place to generate interest and increase viewership of the All-Star game, as it is now marketed as “meaningful.” This format would make it more difficult to market and would most likely decrease the game’s TV audience.

Conclusion: While there are clearly other ways to determine home field in the World Series, it is important to note that baseball is the sport in which home field advantage means the least.

Since 1995 home field has only given the home team a slight advantage, as they’ve won 53.986% of playoff games. This percentage is considerably less than other leagues, begging the question is home field advantage all that much of an advantage?

Last Tuesday night, the American League beat the National League 3-0, giving the A.L. representative home field in the upcoming World Series. Come October, we’ll see whether or not this game played in the middle of July will have an effect on the Fall Classic.  


By
Ben Horvath

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