A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on various explanations for home field advantage. One of the more interesting tidbits I learned was this:
Professional teams, however, seem to be better adjusted to life on the road. (The chartered planes and fancy hotels probably help.) A 1986 analysis of nearly 3,500 Premier League English professional soccer games found that the distance traveled had no effect on home-field advantage. A study in 1992 of professional baseball and hockey teams concluded that “travel factors” accounted for less than 1.5 percent of the variance in the home advantage. A notable exception is when teams travel from the Pacific time zone to the East Coast. In this situation, jet lag seems to impair performance. For instance, a 1995 study of MLB teams found that teams crossing the country scored, on average, 1.24 fewer runs than expected.
This year the home field advantage has been particularly potent for major league baseball, with road teams wracking up a combined record of 401-511. That’s the lowest winning percentage for road teams (.421) since 1931. Of course, the season is young, and such statistical aberrations tend to vanish in the long run. Nevertheless, Jayson Stark recently quoted an anonymous GM on a possible reason for the road slump. And yes, it involves illicit substances:
“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?”