Playing on the road has been anything but pleasant
Originally Published: June 10, 2008By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
Some things in life don't make a whole lot of sense. And by that, we don't mean just the ongoing fame and fortune of Whoopi Goldberg.We mean stuff like this: • The Braves are 25-11 at home -- but 7-21 on the road. That's a gap of .444 winning-percentage points, which would be the biggest home/road discrepancy in modern baseball history if it holds up all year. • The Red Sox are 26-6 at home -- but 14-20 on the road. That's a gap of .401 percentage points, which would be the largest home/road split in American League history.
Biggest Home/Road ERA Disparities
1. No more greeniesYou never want to explain anything in baseball by attributing it to the pharmaceuticals industry. But face it: This is one development that's impossible to ignore. "There's an 800-pound gorilla in every clubhouse, and it's greenies and steroids," one GM said. "The travel these days wears everyone out. Day games after night games. Coast-to-coast trips. How do you think these guys got through it before? Greenies have been in the game for probably 50 to 60 years. So now you take them away, and you don't think it takes a toll on teams when they're traveling?" In a world in which these players change time zones as regularly as they change wrist bands, this is as logical a theory as we've heard. But why would it be showing up this year? Didn't baseball's ban on amphetamines actually take effect last year? "Because I don't think guys were totally off greenies last year," the same GM said. "But this year, they've scared the living hell out of these guys. They know they're checking. They know the tests could come any time. They know Major League Baseball is trying to play gotcha. So what doctor wants to sign his name to this stuff now? Even if these guys want to use it now, where are they going to get it and who are they going to get it from?" Good question. Valid question. And it makes as much sense as any theory out there.
Biggest Home/Road OPS Disparities
2. The young and the winlessThe next most prevalent theory we've heard is another one that makes sense in a lot of ways: Young teams have more trouble winning on the road than veteran teams. It's a theory that works this year in particular because, when you compare the sport this season to the sport in seasons past, not much is different -- except this: Never in recent history have more teams decided it was time to go young. So the Joey Vottos, Blake DeWitts and Geovany Sotos of the world are getting their shot -- while the Kenny Loftons and Sammy Sosas and Mike Piazzas can't get a job. But how does that apply to this particular topic? Hey, use your imagination. The official explanation, as laid out by one GM, is that young players have a tougher time establishing a "routine" on the road and then sticking to it. The unofficial explanation is, well, that young players sometimes have other agendas on the road beyond, say, getting their proper rest. We heard that theory a lot two years ago, when one of the youngest clubs in the big leagues (Tampa Bay) went 3-33 on the road after July 1. But does it work this year? Sure -- until you examine the facts. We looked at the five youngest teams in baseball -- the Diamondbacks, A's, Twins, Marlins and Rangers. We compared them to the five oldest teams in baseball -- the Astros, Mets, Phillies, Red Sox and Cubs. Oops. The five youngest teams had a higher road winning percentage through Sunday (.453) than the five oldest teams (.426). And one of the AL's worst road records belonged to its oldest team (Boston) while one of its youngest teams (the Angels) had the best road record in the whole darned sport (21-12). So while we hate it when the facts get in the way of a good theory, it looks like it happened to this one.
3. There's no place like homeSo maybe we're attacking this backward. Maybe this isn't about the road teams at all. Maybe it's really about the home teams. After all, why wouldn't the Red Sox (26-6) and Cubs (26-8) have the best home records in each league, for instance, considering the funky parks they play in? "We should be winning at Wrigley," said the Cubs' Mark DeRosa. "Every single day, we have over 40,000 fans cheering us on, rain or shine. Wrigley Field should be the definition of home-field advantage."
Biggest Home/Road Batting Avg. Disparities
4. It's a different gameAll right, here's a theory nobody can deny: Most teams employ different strategy when they play at home than when they play on the road. The rules don't just allow it, they practically dictate it. "Some of it must be bullpen [use]," suggested Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "At home, managers are using closers and set-up guys in tie games more. It's hard to do that on the road." So if home teams are using their best relief pitchers more often at home than on the road, that could help explain this. Possibly. To check this out, we looked at four prominent closers -- Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge and Francona's closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Turned out that all but Rivera have pitched more often at home than on the road. Then again, their teams have better records at home than on the road. So put that in the "effect" column, not the "cause" column.
Some of it must be bullpen [use]. At home, managers are using closers and set-up guys in tie games more. It's hard to do that on the road.
--Red Sox manager Terry Francona on the disparity of home and road records
5. It's just one of those random yearsWe surveyed 15 people in baseball for this column. They tossed out lots of fun theories. Besides the ones named above, the others included: • Lousy scheduling. • Crummy weather in the northern half of our great land. • More parity/mediocrity, creating a greater edge for the home teams. • And even such amusing, tongue-in-cheek suggestions as "food in the visiting clubhouses is becoming healthier," which "may have shaken many teams' routines." But by far the most popular theory was one we hate to admit to, but also the one most likely to apply: It's a fluke. "It's a statistical anomaly," the Astros' Brad Ausmus said. "It's a statistic waiting to be corrected in the second half," Nationals GM Jim Bowden said. "I'm not sure there is a magic bullet," Pirates GM Neal Huntingdon said. And we've come to this conclusion: They're right. According to ESPN's research department, there have been four other seasons since 1931 when home teams actually had a higher winning percentage over the first two months than they did this year. That record then declined over the rest of the season in every one of those years. Why? "Because this game will always prove that it's completely unpredictable," Padres pitcher Randy Wolf said. "Just when you think you've seen it all or figured it out, it will throw something completely unusual at you." And friends, it looks as if baseball has done it again -- unless The No Greenie Effect is more powerful than anyone ever realized. Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
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