Home-field advantage is meant to provide an upper hand for the team that is awarded a majority of its games on the field it knows best. But this year’s results help tell the story of a supposed edge that, in reality, has not been as beneficial as it might seem.
Following Chicago’s victory over Washington in Game 5 on Thursday night at Nationals Park, road teams are 54-53 in winner-take-all games in postseason history.
Since Major League Baseball implemented the best-of-five Division Series, the road team has won 19 Game 5s in 32 tries (Note: MLB tried the best-of-five format once in 1981, but revoked it only to reinstate it ’95). In 29 such contests in the Wild Card Era (dating back to ’95), road teams have earned 18 victories.
While home-field advantage can play a factor for some teams based on park factor (see: Coors Field, Chase Field), according to MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, the league-wide average puts the home team’s chances of winning any random, generic game at 54 percent. That number has not changed over time, Petriello notes, as home teams won 54 percent of the time in 2007, ’97, ’77, ’47 and so on.
So why have road teams won almost 60 percent of the time in Game 5s, or more than 50 percent of the time in winner-take-all postseason games throughout history? There is perhaps no true explanation. But home cooking in the playoffs doesn’t taste quite as good as it might seem at first glance.