Is Home-Field Advantage an Overrated Luxury in the MLB Postseason?

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Is Home-Field Advantage an Overrated Luxury in the MLB Postseason?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Home-field advantage didn't do the Braves much good in the NL Wild Card Game.

Major League Baseball teams are no different from teams in the NFL, NBA or NHL. They're always happy when they get to go to the postseason, but they're even happier when they know that they're going to have home-field advantage in the postseason.

Home-field advantage is pretty important in sports, folks. Whether we're talking baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer or blernsball, home cookin' is the best cookin'.

So they say, anyway. But when it comes to baseball, many of the things that "they" say oftentimes turn out to be a bunch of baloney. 

On Thursday, I put the notion that only the hottest teams succeed in the postseason to the test. With the playoffs already underway, I'm thinking it's time to put home-field advantage to the test. Is home-field advantage really that much of an advantage?

To answer this question, we must conduct a little experiment. What we're going to do is take a look at how the last five American and National League teams who earned home-field advantage fared in the playoffs. After that, we'll see if home-field advantage played any sort of role in the last nine World Series.

It's time for an immediate discussion.

 

How Did the Last Five Top AL Seeds Fare?

 

2007 Boston Red Sox

The 2007 Red Sox finished with the same record as the Cleveland Indians at 96-66, but they earned home-field advantage in the American League playoffs by virtue of their 5-2 record against the Indians during the regular season.

At home in 2007, the Red Sox went 51-30, as opposed to 45-36 on the road. Clearly, they liked playing at Fenway Park.

The Sox started their postseason run by sweeping the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS, with the first two wins coming at home. They then beat the Indians in seven games in the ALCS, with three of their four wins in the series coming at home. 

The Red Sox then swept the Colorado Rockies in the World Series, with the first two wins coming in Boston. Thus, they finished their postseason run with a 7-1 record at home.

 

2008 Los Angeles Angels

The 2008 Angels earned home-field advantage in the AL playoffs by virtue of their 100-62 record. The next-best record in the AL belonged to the Tampa Bay Rays at 97-65.

The Angels' run through the postseason lasted exactly four games. The Boston Red Sox won the first two games of the ALDS in Anaheim, and then took the series from the Angels with a win in Game 4. The only game in the series that the Angels won was Game 3 at Fenway Park.

It's worth noting that the Angels didn't really have much of a home-field advantage during the regular season. They went 50-31 at home, and 50-31 on the road.

 

2009 New York Yankees

The Yankees won 103 games in 2009, in no small part thanks to the fact that they enjoyed a huge advantage at Yankee Stadium. They went 46-35 on the road, and 57-24 at home.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
$200 million finally bought a World Series title for the Yankees in 2009.

The Yankees started their postseason run by sweeping the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, with the first two wins coming at home. They needed six games to dispatch the Angels in the ALCS, but they didn't drop any of the three games that were played at Yankee Stadium. 

Game 1 of the World Series finally saw the Yankees lose a home game to the Philadelphia Phillies, as Cliff Lee shut them down with a complete game. The Yankees went on to win Game 2, however, and then won two of the three games that were played in Philadelphia. They clinched in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.

So, like the Red Sox in 2007, the Yankees went 7-1 at home in the 2009 postseason.

 

2010 Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays finished with the best record in the American League in 2010 at 96-66. Tropicana Field wasn't much of a haven for them, though, as they only won two more games at home than they did on the road.

Tampa Bay's postseason run only lasted five games. The Texas Rangers dispatched them, and they were able to do it despite the fact they didn't win a home game in the series. The three games the Rangers won were played in St. Petersburg, Fla.

 

2011 New York Yankees

The 2011 Yankees barely edged the Rangers for the best record in the AL by finishing at 97-65. They went 52-29 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees won Game 1 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium, but lost Game 2 and ultimately lost Game 5 when the series shifted back to New York. Their home-field advantage betrayed them.

 

Analysis

So of the last five top seeds the American League has seen come and go, two managed to win the World Series: the 2007 Red Sox and the 2009 Yankees. Between the two of them, they lost a total of two games at home.

As for the other three teams just discussed, two of them went winless at home and another, the 2011 Yankees, won just one game at home before calling it a season. The 2011 Yankees and the 2010 Rays both lost elimination games at home.

As such, what these five teams can tell us is that home-field advantage is either a huge advantage, or no advantage at all. 

But how about the last five National League top seeds?

 

How Did the Last Five Top NL Seeds Fare?

 

2007 Arizona Diamondbacks

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Arizona's 2007 season ended away from home after it fought so hard for home-field advantage.

The 2007 D-Backs topped a National League field that didn't really include a single truly dominant team, as they were able to grab the league's top seed with a record of 90-72. They were able to achieve that record thanks in large part to their play at Chase Field, where they went 50-31.

It looked like the D-Backs were going to do some damage in the playoffs, as they swept the Chicago Cubs in three games in the NLDS. The first two of those three wins came at home in Arizona.

And then the D-Backs got swept by the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS. The first of Arizona's two losses in that series came in Arizona.

So in the end, they went 2-2 at home in the 2007 postseason.

 

2008 Chicago Cubs

The Cubs owned the National League in 2008, easily earning the league's top seed with a record of 97-64. They dominated at home, going 55-26 at Wrigley Field.

And then they got swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Their postseason ended with an 0-2 showing at Wrigley Field.

 

2009 Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers finished with the best record in the NL in 2009 at 95-67, with 50 of those wins coming at home. 

They got off to a good start in the postseason by sweeping the Cardinals, thus kicking off their postseason run with a 2-0 record at home.

And then they lost the NLCS in five games to the Phillies, with their lone win in the series coming at home. That gave them a 3-1 record at home in the postseason, but it didn't do them much good.

 

2010 Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies had the best record in baseball at 97-65 in 2010, and that included a 54-30 record at home.

Philly's postseason run started with a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, with the first two wins coming at Citizens Bank Park. 

Then the Phillies lost the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants in six games. Two of the games they lost were played in Philly. The Phillies thus ultimately ended their 2010 postseason run with a record of 3-2 at home.

 

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Ryan Howard's Achilles injury added injury to insult for the 2011 Phillies.

2011 Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies once again finished with the best record in baseball in 2011 at 102-60. Of those 102 wins, 52 came at home.

They were a heavy favorite to win the World Series, but the Phillies didn't even make it out of the first round. The Cardinals beat them in five games, with two of their three wins coming in Philadelphia.

 

Analysis

So of these five teams, none managed to win the World Series. For that matter, the only club that did particularly well at home was the 2009 Dodgers club that went 3-1 in home games. The Phillies lost elimination games at home in 2010 and 2011.

Between the five AL teams and the five NL teams that we just looked it, it says a lot that only two out of the 10 clubs even managed to make it to the World Series. That's a pretty telltale sign that home-field advantage is only worth so much once the playoffs start. It doesn't matter so much where the games are played. It matters more how the games are played.

The one thing that can be said about these 10 clubs, however, is that they were at least able to control whether they got home-field advantage in the playoffs. It's a different story completely when it comes to the World Series. 

Home-field advantage in the Fall Classic, after all, hinges on what happens in a certain midsummer exhibition game.

 

How Does the All-Star Game Impact the World Series?

After the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie, MLB decided to do something to put something at stake in the game so it would count. The best idea anybody could come up with, apparently, was to have the Midsummer Classic decide home-field advantage in the Fall Classic.

This has been the status quo every year since 2003. Here's how each World Series has panned out since then.

 

2003 World Series

The American League was awarded home-field advantage in the World Series after the AL scored a 7-6 victory over the NL in the All-Star Game.

The Yankees were the ones who ended up benefiting from the new rule, but they failed to do anything with it. Despite having home-field advantage, they lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins. The Yankees lost two of the three games they got to play at Yankee Stadium, where they had gone 50-32 during the regular season.

 

2004 World Series

The AL won the All-Star Game again in 2004, and its win ultimately gave the Red Sox home-field advantage in the World Series against the Cardinals.

The Red Sox ended up sweeping the series, winning the first two games at home at Fenway Park. They had gone 55-26 at Fenway during the regular season.

 

2005 World Series

The AL won the All-Star Game again in 2005 (remember that streak the AL once had?), and that led to home-field advantage for the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.

They also scored a sweep, knocking off the Houston Astros in four games. What's worth noting, however, is that the White Sox weren't the best home team in the league during the regular season. They won both World Series games that were played in Chicago, but they won five more games on the road that season than they did at home.

 

2006 World Series

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The 2006 Cardinals were the first team to clinch the World Series at home since the 2002 Angels.

The AL won the All-Star Game again in 2006, this time earning home-field advantage in the Fall Classic for the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers were a mediocre home team during the regular season, going 46-35, and they failed to capitalize on their home-field advantage in the World Series. The first two games at Comerica Park were split, and then the Cardinals won three straight at home to capture the series.

 

2007 World Series

The AL won the All-Star Game again, and as we already know the Red Sox went on to sweep the Rockies in the World Series.

 

2008 World Series

The AL won the 2008 All-Star Game in extra innings, ultimately giving the Rays home-field advantage when they advanced to their first World Series.

The Rays were a very good home team in 2008, going 57-24 at Tropicana Field. However, they split the first two games against the Phillies, and then lost three straight when the series shifted to Philadelphia.

 

2009 World Series

The AL won the All-Star Game once again, giving the Yankees home-field advantage in the World Series. They won two of the three home games they played in the World Series, knocking off the Phillies in six games.

 

2010 World Series

The NL finally won the All-Star Game in 2010, and that resulted in home-field advantage for the Giants in the World Series.

The Giants won the first two games of the series at home, and then wrapped it up in five games over the Rangers.

 

2011 St. Louis Cardinals

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Home-field advantage made a huge difference for the Cardinals in 2011.

The NL won the All-Star Game again in 2011, and the Cardinals ended up benefiting from it. 

The Cardinals and Rangers split the first two games of the World Series at Busch Stadium, but the Cardinals won the last two games to take the series in seven games.

It was the first time since MLB decided to have the All-Star Game determine home-field advantage in the World Series that the Fall Classic had gone seven games, whereas three of the six World Series prior to 2003 had gone the full seven games.

 

Analysis

Of the nine World Series that have been played since the All-Star Game was made to decide home-field advantage, six saw the team with the home-field advantage win it all. Four saw the team with the home-field advantage sweep the first two games at home.

So whereas home-field advantage can swing either way leading up to the World Series, it's pretty important in the Fall Classic itself. 

But remember, in the years before 2003, home-field advantage in the World Series didn't go to the team with the better record. It alternated between the American and National League each year, meaning that it was already pretty random.

It's not a given that the team with the better record will get home-field advantage in the World Series now, and it wasn't a given that the team with the better record would get home-field advantage before.

That doesn't mean MLB is right to have the All-Star Game decide home-field advantage in the World Series, but it does make it hard to ask what might have been.

 

The Grand Conclusion

Nobody will ever convince ballplayers that home-field advantage in the playoffs doesn't matter. They'll insist that it does matter to the bitter end, in part because they truly believe it does and in part because they would always rather play more games at home than on the road if they can help it.

But does it really matter?

Surprisingly, the answer is not an obvious "yes," particularly when it comes to the postseason rounds leading up to the World Series. Three of the last five No. 1 AL seeds couldn't turn their home-field advantage into a World Series appearance, and all five of the last No. 1 NL seeds failed to do so as well.

And on Friday, we saw the Atlanta Braves drop the National League Wild Card Game to the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a packed house at Turner Field. Just sayin'.

Is home-field advantage in the MLB playoffs overrated?

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However, I can't go so far as to say that home-field advantage doesn't matter at all. Six of the last nine World Series winners had home-field advantage. One wonders how many of those clubs would have won it all had they not been able to enjoy home-field advantage.

So is home-field advantage in the postseason a little on the overrated side?

I'd say yes.

But is it entirely pointless?

No way. It may not guarantee victory, but it can definitely help make achieving victory that much easier.

As with most things in life, it's better to have it than to not have it.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

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