Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 1:06 PM
Home field advantage has always been worth less in Major League Baseball than in other professional sports. There’s less travel involved because about two-thirds of your road games come after you’ve already been in town for at least a day. Ballpark conditions and dimensions are fairly similar with a few exceptions. I could probably list eight-to-ten reasons.
But, THIS YEAR, it’s as if home field advantage doesn’t even exist. It’s startling how many teams have better records on the road than at home. Advanced Handicappers need to stay on top of this development because there’s more betting value than there used to be on road teams (particularly high quality road favorites), and less betting value than there used to be on home teams (particularly mediocre teams who are still high priced at home).
Check out these facts:
*Through Monday Night’s action, home teams are only 7 games over .500 for the whole season. I’m talking about ALL 30 TEAMS who have all played at least 40 games apiece. If every team was only one game better at home than on the road (a low estimate for what home field advantage should be worth), that would yield a differential of +30. If home field advantage didn’t exist at all…and every game was played on what was basically a 100% neutral field, then the differential would be 0. Major League teams are only at +7!
*The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the few teams that has truly played great ball at home. They’re 19-4 on their home field this season, just 10-9 on the road. That means home field hasn’t been worth anything for the other 29 teams in composite.
*Every team in the AL Central has a better record on the road than at home. Nobody in the whole division even has a winning record at home!
*The two teams playing the best ball in the American League are Baltimore and Texas. Both have been great on the road (15-6 and 15-8 respectively), but are only two games over .500 on their home fields.
*Twelve of the sports 30 teams have losing records on their home fields. Sixteen have winning records on the road.
What does this mean for your handicapping strategies? I have a few ideas for how Advanced Handicappers should deal with this every interesting development.
*First, assume that part of this is just a short term fluke that’s going to regress to the mean. Even if dynamics are in play that have reduced home field advantage, it’s very difficult to believe that it doesn’t exist any more. For home teams to just be seven games over .500 at home this deep into the season is a wild extreme that’s not likely to hold up all year. React, but don’t overeact.
*Second, consider the possibility that there’s so much parity in the sport right now that home field isn’t helping play into any team’s strengths. We’re involved in a stretch where few or no teams are “built for their park.” You can’t exploit a home field advantage if your roster isn’t built to do so. Focus on pitchers who are best suited to the park they’re throwing in that night (at home or on the road), and back those pitchers at affordable prices. As I told you earlier this season, pitchers are the PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS in this sport because they can impose their will on festivities more than any other performer.
*Third, when you make your lines every day off your personal power ratings or statistical assessments, start using only 5-10 cents for home field instead of a more traditional 15-20 cents. If this causes you to line up better with market prices, then you’ve been behind the curve this year and you need to catch up (are you losing because you’ve been betting too many home teams?). If that starts to generate road team plays for you, this is probably a good sign right now. Respect those assessments until road teams start to struggle.
I’m not saying that you should only bet road teams. Obviously an even split would mean home teams are winning half the time…and we’re slightly above that. What the numbers suggest this year is that you have to be careful with home teams, and probably bet more road teams than you’re used to. Most casual bettors love home favorites. Most Advanced handicappers find value elsewhere. Advanced handicappers would be well served to be more aggressive with favorable road spots…and casual bettors MUST change their stripes immediately or they could go broke before the All-Star Break.
Run your finger down the expanded newspaper standings or at your favorite online reference site and note how many prominent teams are between 12-10 and 10-12 in home games. You want to take them as home favorites? You can ONLY do that if they have very favorable pitching advantages and the prices are reasonable.
I’ll be back again Friday to talk about Advanced Handicapping principals for the conference finals in the NBA playoffs. We already know that Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio will start Sunday in the West. The Eastern Finals may be ready to go this weekend as well depending on how current favorites Boston and Miami fare these next few days.
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