How Important is Home Field Advantage in Baseball Betting?
MLB home field advantage is the subject of much debate. Baseball fans often view the tenth man as critically important to the fortunes of the teams they support. Other pundits find it a laughable excuse for a meaningful edge in competition.
Whether during regular-season action or in the search for an edge going into the playoffs, both fans and athletes relish the high ground often associated with facing opponents in the friendly confines of their home stadium.
But how important is home-field advantage in Major League Baseball? In this guide, we look at how much of an advantage MLB teams receive by playing at home, both during the regular season and postseason, and what edge it provides to sports bettors.
Home-Field Advantage in MLB, Fact or Fiction?
While home-field advantage clearly exists in sports like soccer and basketball, with studies indicating that teams consistently post wins in over 70% of home games, home teams enjoy far less of an edge in MLB. An analysis of all MLB regular-season home games played between 2010 and 2019 indicated that home teams own a winning record, but are far from dominant.
During that 10-year span, home teams compiled a win percentage of .535, and fell below .530 in both the 2018 and 2019 MLB seasons. Home-field advantage in the postseason remains a coveted goal and a reward for teams who finish first in their division. But it has not always provided a benefit to teams making a World Series bid.
Between 2010 and 2019, home teams sport an overall postseason win percentage of .539. However, in four of those years, home teams produced losing records in postseason action.
Furthermore, the lofty .711 win percentage seen during the 2017 postseason must be considered skewed in light of recent revelations regarding sign stealing tactics employed by that year’s World Series winners, the Houston Astros.
Factors Impacting Baseball Home-Field Advantage
Several factors unique to baseball impact the benefit a team enjoys when playing at home. Unlike other major sports, lineup decisions can vary dramatically from day to day for a variety of reasons, all of which can impact the sports bettor.
The most obvious factor is pitching. MLB teams typically use a five-man rotation during the regular season, and decisions on starting lineups hinge on who is on the mound any given day. Pitching does not necessarily benefit the home team, who often finds themselves in a matchup against a visiting team’s ace.
On the other hand, umpire bias has been found to provide an advantage for the home team. One study indicated pitchers benefit from more strikes called full counts when playing at home.
American League teams have also fared far better on home turf in interleague matchups. They recorded a .555 win percentage at home when playing NL opponents from 2010 – 2019. This compares to a middling .510 percentage for NL teams hosting AL opponents.
It seems clear the designated hitter provides AL squads with an advantage in home dates with Senior Circuit opponents.
What Home-Field Advantage Means for MLB Bettors
With wins in 53.5% of regular season games during the 2010s, home teams look like an attractive betting option at first glance.
But sports bettors need to look beyond win percentages to effectively handicap and MLB game, and that starts with pitching. Some of the factors that must be considered when evaluating the impact of pitchers on a betting line include:
- Number of days rest for the starting pitcher
- Starting pitching matchup
- Bullpen ERA
- Bullpen workload in previous games
Over the course of the long 162-game MLB season, starting pitchers develop a rhythm based on the five-man rotation, meaning they become accustomed to taking a starting assignment every five days. Pitchers starting on less than five days of rest, or who have endured lengthy stretches between starts, may perform worse than their overall statistics would suggest.
Pitching matchups are also key. Home-field advantage is diminished if the home team is sending their number five starter to the mound against the visiting team’s ace.
The state of a team’s bullpen can also dramatically impact the odds. If a team is forced to make excessive use of bullpen pitchers in the two to three days prior to a game, that will place additional pressure on the starter to pitch deeper into a game.
Of course, an array of other factors can greatly enhance or diminish a team’s home-field advantage. MLB teams often adjust the dimensions of their home ballpark to favor their strengths, moving outfield walls in to accommodate big hitters, or pushing them out to give power pitchers an advantage.
Weather and injuries are wild cards that impact every team regardless of where they play, while extensive travel during lengthy road trips can take its toll on visiting teams.
Do Your Homework!
Here’s the bottom line for sports bettors wagering on MLB: home-field advantage is just one of many factors to consider when handicapping a specific game.
While it is worthy of consideration, making betting decisions based solely on home-field advantage is unlikely to produce winning results in the long-term.