Home field advantage

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The home field advantage refers to the edge which the team hosting a baseball game (the "home team") has over its opponent (the "visiting team"). Home field advantage also refers to the team that will host the greater number of games in a best-of-five or best-of-seven postseason series, if the series goes to the limit. While home field advantage exists in every sport because the host team usually benefits from better knowledge of the field on which the game is played, and will have a partisan crowd cheering it on, in baseball, the rules give the home team an additional benefit. That benefit is the possibility of batting last, which means knowing precisely how many runs it must score to win or tie the game, allowing the manager to adjust his strategy accordingly, i.e. playing to score one run or trying for a "big inning".

The necessity for the home team batting last was not formally entrenched in the rules until 1950, when Commissioner Happy Chandler ordered a clean-up of the rule book, however batting first had not been used as a tactic since the early years of the 20th Century (1914 to be exact). Before that, the home team could chose to bat first, and would sometimes do so to gain a tactical advantage (for example, by trying to rattle an opposing pitcher by forcing him to pitch in front of a hostile crowd before he had had a chance to adapt). Most managers realized however that the tactical edge of batting last in the final inning was much more precious than any short-term gain from batting first. In Major League Baseball, another rule that gave an advantage to the home team, in interleague play, was that the use or not of the designated hitter was dependent on the practice of the home team - until the adoption of the universal DH in 2022. Until then, in an American League park, the DH was used, while in National League parks, it was not. This was to the advantage of the AL teams, whose roster was constructed with the use of a designated hitter in mind, while National League teams had to use a player who was usually a pinch hitter or a defensive substitute in the role, not a "pure hitter"; the reverse was not so true, as there was little difference in the hitting ability of AL versus NL pitchers.

While in all games, the average winning percentage of any team is .500, its winning percentage goes up to .530 at home, and down to .470 on the road. This ratio has held steady in Major League Baseball since 1945 and has been fairly consistent throughout all eras of baseball, although some teams, especially those who play in a particularly atypical home ballpark, may have a bigger edge that endures over the years.

When a game is played in a neutral park, the home team is decided beforehand. There are some cases in which a visiting team is considered the home team, for example when a game is moved to the visiting team's ballpark because of non-baseball reasons; in those cases, the "home" team bats last, even though it is not playing in its own ballpark. This first occurred in the major leagues in 2007; before that, a team being forced by circumstances to play what should have been a home game in its opponent's ballpark lost the privilege of batting last.

During the regular season, each team plays an equal number of home and road games, although rainouts may intervene and shorten the schedule. In addition, a rained out home game that is replayed on the road at the end of the season would be played with the host team as the home team, even though it would have been the visiting team had the game been played on its originally scheduled date - until the 2007 rule change alluded to above came into effect. Before that, there have been cases when teams had to play more road games because they were unable to use their home ballpark.

In the postseason, the team with the better record has home field advantage in a majority of games; there are tiebreakers to determine which team gets the advantage in case the two have the same record. In the World Series, home field advantage alternated between the National League and American League until the 2003 World Series, when it began to be awarded to the league which had won that season's All-Star Game. This practice was ended with the signing of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before the 2017 season. Like in other postseason series, home field advantage is once again given to the team with the better regular season record.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Gary Belleville: "The Death and Rebirth of the Home Team Batting First", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 52 Number 1 (Spring 2023), pp. 30-41.
  • Eric Chesterton: "The biggest home-field advantage moments in recent postseason history", "Cut4", mlb.com, September 27, 2017. [1]
  • J. Furman Daniel, III and Elliott Fullmer: "When the Fans Didn't Go Wild: The 2020 MLB Season as a Natural Experiment on Home Team Performance", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 50, Number 2 (Fall 2021), pp. 65-73.