The MLB Playoffs Home Field Advantage Debate… Proof Is In the Stats

October 11, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Does home field advantage matter in the MLB playoffs? The Rays and Rangers would argue “absolutely not.” The Giants and Braves would argue “probably not.” But I’d like to use more than anecdotal evidence to make my argument that home field advantage does not really matter in the MLB playoffs.

Sports like football and basketball appears to give the fans a significant amount of influence on the outcome. Many of us have seen occasions in a football or basketball game where noise generated by the fans in attendance directly affected play on the field or the court. In football, crowd noise can affect anything from the ability of the offense to hear the quarterback’s audible to the ability of the defense to communicate. In basketball, the crowd noise can often be quite personal due to the proximity of the fans to the court. Many players are affected by hearing all sorts of unspeakable things yelled in their ears at close proximity and high volume. If somebody was shrieking in your ear, would your thought processes – let alone your jump shot – be totally normal?

Baseball, however, doesn’t seem to be as directly influenced by crowd noise. Well beyond the anecdotal evidence of the first several MLB playoff games, baseball does not have well-defined times in the game where nearly everyone in the crowd knows, “If I cheer now it could have a direct impact on the game.”

Sure, when the opposing team is down to its last strike the fans of the home team are screaming their head off. But, in reality, what impact does that have? Does the cheering make it difficult for the home team pitcher to focus on the pitch he needs to throw to get the hitter out? Does it impact the hitter at the plate? Does it impact both the pitcher and batter to some extent? It’s difficult to tell. I’m sure it gives the home team players warm fuzzies to hear fans screaming their head off, but does it really help? I wasn’t sure, but while I was researching this article I was thinking, “Eouldn’t it be great if someone did a study on this so that I could present empirical evidence that home field advantage in baseball doesn’t matter?”

As it turns out, my prayers were answered.

I found a blog post on that cited writings by Dr. Ray Stefani of California State University. Dr. Stefani’s work expressed home field advantage as a percentage arrived at by subtracting home losses from home wins and dividing that number by total games. Based on that calculation, Major League Baseball finished dead last. Basically, according to Dr. Stefani’s research, there is no sport where home field advantage matters less than Major League Baseball. I recommend a visit to to read the complete post – it’s interesting.

Basically, I am not sure I can provide a more compelling argument than Dr. Stefani’s statistical analysis. I can tell you that the Twins lost their first two at home, that the Giants split their home games, that the Rays lost their two home games, and that the Rangers lost their two home games. While that may be compelling to some, it is just a snapshot of a few days of baseball. For a game in love with statistics and history, isn’t it fitting that a historical, statistical analysis shows that it doesn’t really matter where a MLB playoff game is played?

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The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The 2010 Best Rotation for the Money Debate… How to Reach the Postseason on a Budget

April 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

A phrase like “best pitching rotation for the money” can be interpreted many different ways.

On one hand, you have a team like the New York Yankees. The Yankees are the name-brand shoppers of Major League Baseball, and only want the very best that money can buy. They have invested more than $60M into their pitching rotation, and last season it paid off for them in the way of a World Series championship.

Not every team has to spend top-dollar for their pitching talent, though. Some teams, like the great bargain-hunters of the world, have an uncanny ability to stretch their dollars to the very maximum. They may not get the top performers of the game, but they manage to find the right guys for the right price to get the right job done.

No team has managed to stretch their dollars better this year than the Minnesota Twins.

I know there are a lot of questions surrounding the Twins hurlers this year thanks to a new ballpark that seems to be hitter friendly, and the season-ending Tommy John surgery for closer Joe Nathan. What the Twins have going for them, though, is a very strong offense and a schedule that includes more than 30 games against either the Cleveland Indians or Kansas City Royals. Because of that, they don’t need world-beaters on the mound. Instead, they simply need guys who can come in and pitch consistently, keeping the offense in the game. That was the key to the Twins’ success last season, and 2010 should not be any different.

The Twins pitchers may not be the flashiest guys to set foot on the mound, and they may not put up the best numbers, but they will once again be successful. And, that success will come at a FRACTION of the cost the Yankees have invested in their hurlers. In fact, the Twins last season paid only $3.56M to the men comprising their 2010 starting lineup (Yankees’ starters C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett alone combined for TEN TIMES that amount), and will pay one of the lowest combined salaries in baseball again this season (only Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida, Tampa, and Toronto pay less). Yet the Twins reached the postseason for the fifth time in eight seasons in 2009, and will be among the teams competing for playing time in October once again in 2010.

Three of their budget starters, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Carl Pavano, combined last season for a record of 30-16 while in Twins uniforms. They are all practically locks to have winning records once again in 2010. Added to that mix is Mr. Consistency (Nick Blackburn), who has notched records of 11-11 in 33 starts in each of the last two seasons, with respective ERAs of 4.05 and 4.03 (his first outing of 2010 season resulted in a win and an ERA of – you guessed it – 4.05).

The only real question in their rotation is with their fifth starter, Francisco Liriano, who at one time appeared ready to become the next dominant name in pitching. However, on the heels of a 2006 all-star season where he pitched to a record of 12-3 and an ERA of only 2.16, Liriano had Tommy John surgery that he has not yet been able to fully bounce back from. After a very impressive winter campaign, though, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire seems confident enough in Liriano’s ability to keep him as the fifth starter in the rotation. He also has youngster Brian Duensing waiting in the wings (at a whopping league minimum salary of $400K), who is more than capable of taking over a starting role, should Liriano prove unreliable once again on the starting mound.

The bullpen is the real question for the Twins this season, and the recent vacancy of the closer role by Joe Nathan is where the biggest challenge lies for Gardenhire. Nathan posted a career-high 47 saves in 2009 and has never had an ERA worse than 2.70 since becoming the Twins closer in 2004. Those are very tough shoes to fill, and the Twins don’t really have a bona fide closer who can produce those same results. They have named Jon Rauch as their closer pro tempore, and have Matt Guerrier on reserve, both of whom are VERY capable relievers. But neither will likely match the production that Nathan provided.

Nevertheless, thanks to residing in one of the weakest divisions in baseball, along with a very strong lineup at the plate, the Minnesota Twins should remain in contention for the postseason yet again. They don’t NEED the elite pitchers of the game to do that, because it would be a waste of money. The players they have in their rotation are consistent, successful, and most importantly CHEAP. They will manage to remain in HEAVY contention for the postseason with one of the least expensive pitching rotations in the entire league. I would call that one of the best pitching rotations for the money!

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The Bad Team with an MVP Player Debate – Good or Bad, Context is King

October 2, 2009

Read the debate intro, Loyal Homer’s argument, and Bleacher Fan’s arguments about whether an MVP can come from a bad team.

First, thanks to the loyal readership who submitted our humble website to the all powerful “Judges Of The InterWebs.” The Sports Debates is now considered one of the 100 best blogs, and we appreciate it.

One of the aspects of TSD that is fun, I think, is the comments (and the ability to rate comments). It is the opportunity for our readers to provide feedback and even sway the judge’s decision on a pending verdict. The verdict for The Bad Team with an MVP Player Debate is one such debate where a reader’s comment has influenced the outcome. Thanks are in order to Old School, whose comment helped clarify my thinking about this topic.

The Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio won the MVP award over Boston’s Ted Williams in 1941. Williams dominated every important statistical category (including that rare one named “Triple Crown”). But, DiMaggio played for the sexier team, had a sexier mid-season accomplishment, and a personality to match it all. His popularity played into his MVP win. But, was he a deserving MVP? While this topic could likely turn into another debate down the road, I will offer up now that DiMaggio did not earn the MVP award. He was arguably not even the best player on his own team. Williams was the undisputed best player in Boston, and the obvious choice for MVP.

By the time 1987 rolled around, the MVP was still glamorous, but the award placed less emphasis on glamour. Despite Bleacher Fan’s counter argument about Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith being a more deserving MVP candidate that season, the Cubs Andre Dawson accounted for much, much more of his team’s total offense for the duration of the entire season. Smith was an important player to the Cardinals, but his offensive output was replaceable. The Cubs would have lost a considerable number of games in 1987 if it were not for Andre Dawson. Bleacher Fan wrongly discounts the home run (a category Dawson edged Smith out in… 49-0). The home run is crucial for a modern baseball offense – especially one playing the majority of its games in Wrigley Field. The Cubs only recorded 683 RBI in 1987. Dawson accounted for TWENTY PERCENT of the team’s TOTAL RBI for the season. Every fifth run batted in came off of Dawson’s bat. That is a remarkable accomplishment, and one worthy of an MVP. And, power does not diminish value. In the modern era of baseball, for better or worse, it proves it.

In baseball, value is completely subjective. What constitutes value? Is it the most prominent player on a team? Is it the best batting average, win-loss total, or clutch hitting in the seventh inning or later? Maybe it is all of those things, or a collection of other elements deemed important by the select few who are charged with deciding the outcome of a prestigious award like the MVP.

After reading both well-argued sides of this debate, I believe value of a player is in the player’s impact on their team. The best player in the league – regardless of team accomplishment – deserves the MVP. Therefore, the verdict is awarded to Loyal Homer.

Now, this decision will no doubt fire up Bleacher Fan. Like Helen of Troy, this verdict will likely launch 1,000 ships (and by ships I mean angry emails filled with lots of words IN ALL CAPS). Though likely futile, I will explain the verdict in full.

Bleacher Fan is correct that baseball is a team sport, sure. But, it is a team sport that is comprised of individual accomplishments. Whether the team a player is on is good or bad is immaterial to that player’s impact on the team. A team might lose 100 games. But if that losing team has a player who accounted for the majority of the offense AND led the league in home runs and RBI, then that player is worthy of consideration for the MVP. For me, value is measured by the greatest impact a player has, given their individual output in a team context.

Loyal Homer makes one pre-eminent, valid point. The most important criteria for deciding the MVP is the value of a player to his team in every aspect of the game. I also believe that if any position player and a catcher is tied in MVP voting, the catcher should always win based on their total intrinsic and extrinsic value to a team. In other words, Milton Bradley could hit a billion home runs in one season, but he should never win an MVP because of his attitude.

All of that said, the beauty of this award is in its subjective nature. To be frank, TSD would have no raison d’être without the subjective rule of sports and energetic fan opinion.

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The Bad Team with an MVP Player Debate – Did Andre Dawson Deserve the MVP?

October 1, 2009

Read Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan’s arguments about whether an MVP can come from a bad team.

Is it possible that baseball’s most valuable player can come from a lousy team?

Of course there is precedent. The date was May 21, 1987. The perpetually confusing/maddening/lovable Chicago Cubs were in first place in the National League. The team was coming off of an impressive five game winning streak. Though the Cubbies would start to slip some at the end of the month, the club still ended May with 18 wins against just 10 losses. Starting pitchers Rick Sutcliffe, Greg Maddux, and Jamie Moyer (hard to believe Moyer is still pitching in the majors!) all notched wins in May that month and were supported by some powerful bats, most notably right fielder Andre “Hawk” Dawson.

Dawson, at this point a ten year veteran in the major leagues, was starting to come into his own as a player. He had some good years previously in Montreal – including 1983 when he recorded 189 hits and a .299 batting average – and, of course, his first season in the majors when he earned the rookie of the year award. But 1987 was Dawson’s year. He was the undeniable leader of the Cubs’ offense. During the Cubs best month of the 1987 season – two days after their final day in first place – Dawson was doing everything he could to spur his team to victory. Trailing the Atlanta Braves by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, Dawson unloaded on a Gene Garber fastball, scoring fellow outfielder Jerry Mumphrey to tie the game at six and force extra innings – a game the Cubs went on to win.

Hawk repeatedly performed heroics for the Cubs throughout the 1987 season, but to no avail. The Cubs ended their 1987 campaign in early October with a disappointing 76-85 record, 18.5 games out of first place.

Dawson, however, was named baseball’s Most Valuable Player. Though the team that went on to win the World Series that season – the Minnesota Twins – also had a fair share of successful players, the MVP award went to Dawson, a player from a losing team well out of the playoff hunt. His statistics were great. A league leading 49 home runs and a league leading 137 runs batted in. He slugged 178 hits, stole 11 bases, hit .287 and led the National League in total bases. A fantastic year compared against any other.

However, the question begs now as it did then – if Dawson is SO VALUABLE, why was he unable to spur his team into the playoffs?

Fortunately, The Sports Debates exists! Today’s debate question: Should a good player from a lousy team be named the league’s most valuable player?

Bleacher Fan will argue no, a player – no matter how talented and accomplished – should not be named the most valuable in the league while Loyal Homer will argue that value knows no bounds or limits and if a player earns the title, that is okay.

While I am partial to my Cubs, I have no preconceived notions of how this debate should end. I wish you both luck. Play ball!

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The MLB 2009 Division Race Debate – The AL Central Hollywood Blockbuster

July 13, 2009

Read Loyal Homer’s argument that the NL East is the best division race for the second half of the MLB season, and Sports Geek’s argument that it is in the NL Central.

The MLB 2009 Season, Part 1, is now at an end. What have we learned so far?

We’ve also seen the Mets struggle with injuries, the Dodgers get off to their best start in 32 years (maybe Manny was doing them a favor by sitting out 50 games!), and we saw the AL dominate interleague play once again (perhaps a little World Series foreshadowing?).

So, which division race will be the most exciting to watch as we move into MLB Season, Part Deux? For me, it’s gotta be the AL Central. Hollywood writers couldn’t have created a more perfect set-up for the drama, excitement, and eventual payoff that will come from this race. No other division in baseball is going to offer as much as the battle between the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins.

Let’s break it down:

This will be a three team race.
Out of all three teams at the front of the AL Central, none have emerged as a clear favorite. When you consider head-to-head standings between these three teams, the Tigers (the current AL Central leaders) are a combined 6-10 against the White Sox and Twins. At the same time, the White Sox are a combined 9-8, and the Twins (currently the farthest back from Detroit) are a combined 10-7 against each other.

While the Tigers have built an early 3.5 game lead in the Central, their inability to perform against their primary competition calls into question whether or not they will effectively hold onto that lead.

There is little to no potential for a consolation prize.
In the AL Central, more than any other division, the race will truly be for all the marbles, meaning that the losers of the AL Central race have the least likelihood of contending for a wild card spot, as the likely winner will either come from the AL East or AL West. It’s do-or-die, and do-or-die is high drama.

To put it another way: Which is more exciting to watch in a seven game postseason series, game one or game seven? Game seven is more exciting because it’s do-or-die. Sure, teams WANT to win game one, but losing game one doesn’t mean you go home. There is greater pressure to succeed when you are in a do-or-die situation, making the stakes much higher.

This race is timed to peak perfectly.
What is rule number one for any great story? Don’t climax too early (okay, so that’s a rule for more than just story-telling, but I digress…).

In any race, the most dramatic games are when the contending teams actually play each other. People would rather watch the drama unfold on the field than watch for scoreboard updates from across the league. When I look at the close of the season for the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers, I have to stand up and cheer!

Rather than close their schedules against teams like the Indians, the Royals, or the Orioles, all three of these teams are scheduled to close their respective seasons out in epic fashion by facing off against each other. It’s the equivalent of starting the playoffs two to three weeks early.

In the Detroit Tigers final five series, they play the Twins and Indians, and then they play the White Sox, the Twins AGAIN, and then the White Sox AGAIN! That means 13 of their final 16 games are played against the very teams trying to knock them off the top of the mountain. When you consider their previous performance against those teams (winning only six of their first 16 combined meetings), it seems like an uphill battle… and they’re currently in first place!

The White Sox, in similar fashion, finish by playing Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland, and then Detroit again. That makes for nine of their final 12 games against the other contenders.

Last, the Twins wrap up against the Tigers, the White Sox, the Royals, then the Tigers and Royals one more time (10 of their final 16 games against the division’s top teams).

The AL Central race will not be decided until the final games of the season, and will be decided ON THE FIELD, where the champion will be crowned because they earned it in blood, sweat, and tears!

The MLB Trade Deadline Target Debate – Freddy Sanchez Gets Your Team over the Top

July 3, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer’s arguments and find out who they believe the best player available at the trading deadline is.

Another baseball season nears the trade deadline and, as usual, the Pittsburgh Pirates are poised to sell instead of buy. Like last year with outfielder Jason Bay, they have a player that should fetch some excellent prospects in return – second baseman Freddy Sanchez.

Sanchez is a versatile player. In his career he’s played second base, third base and shortstop. Normally a player with that history on the defensive part of the diamond gets labeled as a “utility player,” but Sanchez is far from that. He’s also a batting champion. In 2006 Sanchez led the National League with a .344 batting average and a MLB-leading 53 doubles. Though he struggled through an injury-riddled 2008 season, he has rounded back into top form this year on a very bad team, hitting .316 through 74 games including three triples and a career high five stolen bases.

A guy with those numbers and such versatility is hard to come by. It’s logical to say, “Hey, Sports Geek, what makes you think this talent is on the market?” Good question, stranger. Two things make me think that. One, who wouldn’t want a player like Sanchez? Two, the Minnesota Twins are currently inquiring. Though Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic said via Twitter that the Pirates and the Twins are not discussing a trade, the trade makes sense for both teams. The Pirates, as usual, need pitching, and the Twins system is stocked with talent. For the Twins, they’re willing to part with some good pitching prospects because they have a legitimate chance to win this year in a weakened American League Central Division if they add a former batting champ and solid defender to the lineup. The Twins system is especially rich in pitching with the AA New Britain Rock Cats. Names like Matt Fox (6-2 2.95 ERA) and Cole DeVries (5-6 2.96 ERA) are the most likely names to surface.

That only goes to the point that the Twins are a good trading partner right now, four weeks before the deadline. The Pirates are wise to “play the game” right now and deny teams are interested to the public while fielding offers in private. The closer the deadline gets, the greater the value of Sanchez, and the better return on the trade for the perpetually rebuilding Pirates.

Sanchez is the prototypical number two hitter on any team, regardless of league. He has the ability to hit the ball to any field, move runners when necessary, and during his career 2006 season was second in the National League with nine sacrifice flies. At 31 Sanchez possess a win-now attitude combined with the necessary experience and athleticism to be a huge asset to any team.


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