Postseason home-field advantage thus far

One objective that American pro sports teams play for during their regular seasons, whether it’s hockey, football, baseball, soccer, or basketball, is a spot in their respective league’s postseason tournament; when that target is accomplished, most set their sights on obtaining home-field advantage for at least a portion of their playoff run.  Conventional wisdom argues that the team playing more games at home is more likely to win and, therefore, advance to the next round.  A recent study bears this out: dating all the way back to 1903, the home team historically wins about 54% of the team in Major League Baseball (source and further info on other American sports, as well as the researchers’ theory on the primary reason for this advantage, can be found here).

So how have things shaken out in the first round (two, if you count the Wild Card games as an actual round) of the 2015 MLB Postseason?  You might be surprised.

Sure enough, of the ten games played on the National League side of the bracket, the home team has won exactly half–as close as you can get to matching the data set spanning over a century’s worth of games with such a small sample size.  But in the American League, the visiting team has won seven of the eleven games played thus far.  It, however, should be noted that the away team lost the most important game in each AL Division Series: both the Rangers and Astros lost their deciding Game 5 in Toronto and Kansas City, respectively.

Overall, home teams are 9-12 through the LDS, a .429 winning percentage.  Not spectacular, but certainly not impossible to “correct” over the three remaining series to be played.

To me, it’s more interesting that the team with home-field advantage only won two of the four LDS match-ups, and neither of the Wild Card games, particularly with respect to the NL.  With all the attention paid to the NL Central race, particularly in August and September, with the Cardinals slipping ever so slightly and the Pirates and Cubs surging toward the finish line, it’s a little unexpected that the Cubs, who technically faced the longest odds as the worst of the bunch (though 97 wins is nothing of which to be ashamed), advanced the farthest by winning one in St. Louis followed by the final two games in Chicago.

The Dodgers and Mets, too, were in a race for home-field when it became evident that the Central Division teams would eliminate one another through the first two rounds.  The Dodgers won this battle, securing the first two games at Chavez Ravine with a couple games to spare, but the Mets won the all-important Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, advancing to the NLCS to play the Cubs.

With as good as all of the remaining teams are, it’s pretty unlikely that the sub-.500 home winning percentage will have any significant factor in the respective Championship Series.  If it does, then the Blue Jays and Cubs (who, despite having 97 wins to New York’s 90, must travel to Citi Field for the first two games) should plan to face off in the World Series.


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