How Big Is Home Field Advantage? Part 5: Summing Up (by JonathanF)

I started this little excursion to try and figure out why baseball has such a small home field advantage. I had a theory that I could explain it through baseball’s differential travel behavior. That hypothesis failed pretty miserably. But I think I learned a fair bit nonetheless, and I’ll take a few paragraphs to sum it up.

  1. The home field advantage is about 4 percent. I know, this isn’t exactly startling, but it’s been roughly constant for 50 years, or at least as constant as we can glean from the couple of thousand games played per year. When you think of all the other things that have changed in baseball, that’s at least mildly interesting.
  2. About half of that is the bats-last advantage. At least, that’s the portion that allows a tied team late in a game to win differentially. Of all games, about 29 percent are tied at some point around or after the end of the fifth inning.
  3. While travel doesn’t show up as an effect for teams just showing up in town, the cumulative effect of road trips and home stands does matter. Every extra day of a road trip costs the team about half a percent of winning probability on the road trip, and every extra day of a home stand gains about half a percent. However, though this effect is statistically significant, it’s really quite small. If a .500 team had 10 six game road trips a year, then there is only a 2 percent difference between ten 3-3 road trips and nine 3-3 road trips with one 2-4 road trip. So this extra road trip effect is probably not much more than one game a year.
  4. The park advantage is clearly there in that some teams have much higher home-road splits than others, particularly Colorado. That said, even in “odd” parks, it is clearly not easy to leverage that advantage, since almost every team has years of negative splits, and the variance of home-road splits over time is huge. To some extent this might be a management choice: one might sacrifice some measure of fitness at home to make the club better overall and do so optimally. Maximizing the home-road split might make a team so dysfunctional on the road that it’s not worth it. The park advantage (or at least home-road splits) is completely unrelated to how good or bad a team is.

So why does baseball have a 54 percent home advantage and professional basketball have a 63 percent home advantage? Since there is no strategic advantage to being home in basketball, this means that there is at least a 10 percentage point non-strategic gap.

The obvious possibilities are referee bias and its possibly correlated variable, crowd effects. I have always been suspicious of pure crowd effects for the simple reason that professional athletes are exactly those set of people who have inured themselves to such effects. I have always felt that the reason crowd effects are often felt to be so important are: (a) fans know how much they’d be affected by crowds and project that onto the players; and (b) management of teams do nothing to disabuse people of that notion because it helps ticket sales.

Note, by the way, that home field advantages were much higher in the early days of baseball, when crowds were much smaller than they are today. I think there are too many other changes to make much of this but I’m just being honest about where my prejudices lie.

That leaves referee bias — which, I hasten to add, is almost surely subconscious. Many commenters (and a big thanks to all of you — it made this more fun than scary) point to this effect, particularly in soccer and basketball. We should take this as a sign that, Eric Gregg notwithstanding, baseball ought to be proud of the objectivity that the umpires seem to bring to their work. Even incompetent umps like CB Bucknor are just random idiocy generators.

So that’s what I think I learned, but YMMV. I want to thank Alex for agreeing to fill the seasonal interregnum with this experiment and thank all of the commenters here on Braves Journal for such excellent words of encouragement and advice. You guys really helped.

In season I hope to be able to use the Retrosheet database to answer a relevant question here and there, but studies like this are strictly hot stove stuff. Thanks for bearing with me.
Oh, and for mravery, here’s the categorical regression he asked for:

58 thoughts on “How Big Is Home Field Advantage? Part 5: Summing Up (by JonathanF)”

  1. Thank you, JonathanF, for teaching us something.

    This starts some interesting discussions.
    One of my favorites is should a team be constructed to take advantage of the characteristics of their home park?
    Right hand sluggers at Fenway and left hand sluggers in the Bronx?
    Were the 1980’s Cardinals(and the Royals and Astros) built to run on carpet?

    Either way, if the Braves have 9 games to play in a pennant race, I’d rather them have 6 home games than six away games.

  2. I love it. That was a really great series. I would differ only in your assessment of the non-strategic gap in the NBA. IMO, most professional athletes love fan adulation, especially in sports as intimate and high energy as basketball. While professional athletes surely have developed the ability to play at a high level even in “hostile” territory, no doubt many can and do play better in adulation. This is not to suggest that referee bias isn’t a factor, I just think it’s a more even mix of the two.

  3. Re: things to do in New Orleans from last thread

    Eats – Mother’s for incredible po’boys. Domenica for outstanding pizza. Irene’s Cuisine for a crazy good meal (preferably dinner) worth the wait if you have to sit in the bar for a while until a table is ready. My favorite restaurant in New Orleans. Also ate at Cochon for lunch one day – very much acclaimed but it wasn’t the best meal I have ever had or anything. Yes it’s touristy, but you have to do beignets at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter if you’ve never been.

    Things to do: Snug Harbor for live jazz. Can’t recommend this highly enough. They have a calendar on their site of who will be playing when, but Ellis Marsalis (father of Branford and Wynton) normally plays a weekly gig on Friday nights. Get tickets in advance. Also, World War II museum (formally D-Day museum) is awesome and a great way to get out of the heat for a few hours.

  4. If we’re talking things to do in New Orleans, here are some musts (I lived there for 8 years):

    1. If staying downtown, take a cab Uptown to Jacque Imo’s. It is a funky New Orleans restaurant on Oak Street with authentic cuisine. After eating, walk over to the Maple Leaf Bar and enjoy some great music. The Rebirth Brass Band plays every Tuesday night and they are incredible. The maple leaf has live music almost every night so check their site for times:

    2. Don’t miss out on the Original Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter. Sure, it’s touristy but it’s a tourist spot that locals still hit up.

    3. Gallatoire’s- A very unique upscale restaurant with an awesome New Orleans vibe.

    4. Frenchmen Street- If you were to ask any cabby to take you where the music is, they will head to Frenchmen Street. Numerous places on Frenchmen to catch incredible music nightly.

    5. Rock-n-bowl- An uptown late night spot where you can listen to great live music and bowl a few games. Tons of fun

    6. Very late night- The Gold Mine- a funky dance club that brings a bit of an older crowd due to its vintage video games surrounding the inner walls. If you go, order a Flaming Dr. Pepper and dance your ass off.

    7. Commander’s Palace- best restaurant in New Orleans and an awesome place for brunch.

    Some other neat places: Jean Lafitte’s Absinthe House, Fat Harry’s, The Bulldog, Dante’s Kitchen, Le Bons Tempe Roule, Ralph’s at the Park.

    Sites to see: Garden District, Audubon Park, swamp tours (they’re actually quite fun), Audubon Zoo, haunted tours (never actually done one, but heard they’re great!). Hope this helps!

  5. Re: New Orleans — If you like prime rib, do the Rib Room, located on the bottom floor of the Royal Orleans hotel. So freaking good.

  6. Commander’s Palace is the best restaurant in New Orleans and probably one of my top 5 in the country so make sure and hit that up. Also really enjoyed Breakfast at Brennan’s and NOLA (one of Emeril’s joints).

    Edit: Also the KLaw 100 is out and he had Teheran 28 and Graham 94. ATL system is at 20 which is a little higher than I expected.

  7. It’s about time to set up the ol’ Braves Journal fantasy league. I will let managers from last year get dibs on spots, but any interested in playing in our league, send me an email at cothrjr at hotmail dot com. If you plan on playing, please be an active manager. Even though it’s just a friendly league and no money is involved, it’s no fun playing in a league where half of the managers have called it quits. At the end of the league, the winner will receive a sports books (used or new, doesnt matter) from each of the losers, a small consolation for 150+ games. The draft will probably take place mid to late March.

  8. @4 – I’ll vouch for Jacque Imo’s and Frenchmen. Jacque Imo’s is a go to every time we’re in NO. Frenchmen too.

  9. Just found out Eric Lindell is playing at Rock-n-bowl on Saturday night at 9:30. That’d be one heck of a show.

  10. Nice job, JonathanF! I’ve enjoyed all of these posts greatly, and in particular I appreciate your willingness to indulge my ideas.

    I think this is an example of statistics at its best. None of the methods you used here are “cutting edge” or super complicated, but the results you got (well-displayed and clearly explained) give us insight. And I say this as someone who does statistical analysis for a living.

  11. This time of year was better when Atlanta had the Thrashers and I could care about hockey :( Between the loss of the Thrashers and this year’s lockout I have just about lost all interest in NHL hockey.

  12. So, anyone other than me care to admit having had that DMX song stuck in one’s head for about ten days now?

  13. When I’m getting alerts on my phone from ESPN about football recruits’ comments about their programs, you know it’s a slow time of the year for sports.

  14. Stop! Drop!
    Shut ’em down, open up shop
    ooh-ooh, no-ooh
    That’s how Ruff Riders roll!

    Wait, what?

  15. Thanks for the NOLA recs, y’all, definitely some new places for me in there. I’ll be bookmarking this thread for my trip for sure. And thanks JonathanF for this awesome series.

  16. Even though I hate Guns ‘N’ Roses, I would support some sort of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ tie-in for the Upton bros., as long as it was an oblique reference to the Upton Sinclair book. ‘Making sausage out of opposing pitchers’! Perhaps a Lake Sinclair in left field? Maybe I’m overthinking this. Jupton McBupton!

  17. If Ryan Braun doesn’t serve a suspension this season it is hard to see how MLB can salvage any credibility on PEDs. The guy tested positive, and now shows up in Bosch’s records, admits he had dealings, and that there was a dispute over some 20-30K, but expects us to believe it was just about legal consultation. Ridonkulous.

  18. The thing is, he must have known that he was in the records and he huddled with his lawyers and this is the best story they could come up with. They couldn’t deny any involvement because he had a positive test during the same time frame. But in my view he got bad advice. He would have been far better off admitting culpability and voluntarily taking the 50 games. Then he at least would have gotten credit for being the first person to assume some responsibility.

  19. I am starting to think that the only reason any of these guys actually got busted is because Bosch is a classic silver-spoon-in-the-mouth fuckup. He couldn’t even do basic math and chemistry right. All you have to do is keep these players’ testosterone levels under three times the normal human limit and they test “clean”. Melky, Grandal, etc. all got busted because this guy couldn’t even mix a proper batch of cream, or work out the right directions for using it. Last year there were probably a hundred other players who weren’t visiting an incompetent loser. Either legalize it all, or start using biological passports. All the in-between stuff is window dressing.

  20. @25, Excellent point. Either legalize it or make it a 1st offense: 162 games, 2nd offense: Life penalty. As long as the penalties are insignificant, the risk is going to be low.

  21. Happy signing day everyone! The day when adults swoon over the attention of 17-19 year old boys in a somehow not creepy way.

    BTW, what’s in the water at Ole Miss? Looks like they’re going to end up with 5 or 6 blue chippers. Makes you wonder…

  22. Alex, $omething is wrong. Everyone’$ $’$ are magically turning into dollar $ign$. Probably due to the new edit button in$tallation.

  23. I have studiously avoided even looking at college football news after alma mater’s wrenching collapse. But NSD, like spring training, is a blank canvas to paint one’s future hopes upon. It’s nice to have some good news for a change.

  24. Micah Owings has been signed by the Nats and invited to spring training as a first baseman, not a pitcher. About time…

  25. @13 – Hap, I feel your pain. But I was lucky enough to see the Jets play the Panthers last night. The atmosphere in Winnipeg since we got a team back has been beyond terrific. And winters here can be pretty harsh, Janurary’s anyways.

  26. I was in Winnipeg for two days in January once. It was ridiculously cold. I’d tip my cap to you guys, but my head would freeze.

  27. Wow Braves Journal sure is a buzz over national signing day. Not that us Vols fans have much to talk about. Oh well, it’s better than what Dooley would have done I guess.

  28. Good News for Auburn – ~10th best class in the country, depending on what you read

    Bad News For Auburn – ~5th best class in the SEC West.

  29. It’s gross because there is a ton of money at stake and no structure to it. If they’d pay the damn kids and be done with it, and/or organize their own draft it would be a lot less shady, IMO.

  30. Signing day hasn’t been Auburn’s problem. Though I can’t imagine Malzahn will do as bad a job coaching them up as Chizik did. But a man can dream, can’t he?

  31. @39

    No kidding. Did you see Dooley on TV? They said he was an expert, I guess that was the joke of the day

  32. Yahoo Sports is doing the run down on their interpretation of team ranking, and the Braves are ranked as sixth. Not that I care, but it’s amazing to see how many teams have a higher payroll than we do. I am not even sure if we can call ourselves a mid-market team anymore.

  33. And Tennessee’s season more or less comes to an end. (It obviously will briefly come back to life for the SEC Tournament.)

  34. @50

    The three KCP hit in the last minute was the work of a very confident player. He’s doing a great job of lying in the weeds until he’s needed.

  35. We’d be foolish not to be looking into signing Reid Brignac. He’s formerly a pretty decent prospect that’s just been DFA’d by the Rays. He’d be a much more valuable option over Janish or Pena.

  36. #50
    And 3/4 on the road at that. Now that we’re .500 overall, maybe we’re NIT-bound.

    BTW, thanks JonF for the entries.

    Note, by the way, that home field advantages were much higher in the early days of baseball, when crowds were much smaller than they are today.

    But what’s crazy about those crowds was that they were so close to the field. In fact, overflow crowds were actually put on the field, separated by rope from the outfielders at times. From reading some of the books that look at those times (like like Cait Murphy’s terrific “Crazy 08”), playing in some places was really rough on the visiting club.

  37. “Crazy ’08” is a great book. Maybe my favorite about the early years of baseball — I prefer it to “The Glory of Their Times”, personally.

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