It seems that there has been a small discussion about the equity of the current "layout" of the MLB playoffs. Specifically, I've heard more than a few people over the last couple of seasons give voice to the notion that the 2-3-2 layout is actually less advantageous to the team with "home field advantage" because they have to play more games in a row on the road then they would get to play at home. I actually partly allude to the advantage of 3 in a row at home in my World Series prediction, but in that situation I was in no way remarking on the fairness of the current layout. Rather, I was voicing my outlook based on the fact that the Yankees lineup would be without the DH for an extended period of time. However, let's dig a little deeper into to recent history to explore this thing called home field advantage.
We'll be looking at the last fourteen years of World Series play. Why fourteen, you ask? Well for starters it's a nice round number and it starts our analysis right after the strike year in 1994. Plus it also encompasses what can be called The Yankees Dynasty so I could privately wallow in my team's previous successes whilst writing this post. And wallowing is all I ask for in this life. Anyway, let's move onto some numbers:
Since 1995, in 74 total World Series games the team playing at home has a win/loss record of 45-29. That in itself seems to be enough to demonstrate that home field advantage is somehow a tangible thing that helps a team win more ballgames. If we poke around a bit more we see that 8 of the last 14 World Champions have clinched victory in front of the home crowd. That number may be a bit less than the popular belief in home field advantage would lead one to believe, but it makes sense when you consider the teams that clinched on the road: The '98 Yankees, '00 Yankees, '03 Marlins, '04 Red Sox, '05 White Sox, and the '07 Red Sox. Four of these six being sweeps will do that to ya!
Historically speaking, 2001 was great evidence that the current layout is fair. In that memorable series, the home team was a perfect 7-0: Arizona won 4 games at Bank One Ballpark and the Yankees went 3-0 in dramatic fashion at Yankee Stadium. 1996 was almost the exact opposite, as the Yankees pulled off a remarkable feat and snatched all 3 games from the Braves in Atlanta before clinching Game 6 of that series at home in NY. If 2009 feels familiar to you, Phillies fans, that's because in 2008 your team also split the first two games with the home AL team. It only remains to be seen whether 2009 will also see the Phillies go on a 3-0 tear at home to clinch the title in Game 5 and have countless poles be greased.
In actuality, only six of the last fourteen World Series have even made it to the point where home field advantage actually played a part (i.e. there was actually the necessity of a Game 6 or 7). 2006 (STL) and 2008 offer some of the most damning evidence against the current layout because each saw the team without advantage win on their home turf without giving their opponent a chance at rebuttal. The cynical among us (read: me) will argue that the chance of rebuttal at home is really quite irrelevant. "A good team should be able to win anywhere!" or words to that effect, would likely be uttered in such a situation. However, the overall record of the home team in recent history suggests that a different layout might actually be more equitable if we're looking to truly award one team the "advantage" of playing at home more often than on the road.
But what is the answer then? Some have suggested a 2-2-1-1-1 setup, like the Stanley Cup, but if a West Coast team ever makes the World Series again (that's a good one, what a card I am!) it would be a travel nightmare. Regardless, even if the teams were located as close as they are now in 2009, there would still be "travel days" in between, and with such a copious number of off days the Series would be drawn out for far too long and we would be subjected to more sleepless nights sans baseball.
Another suggestion has been to simply alter the "order" of the current layout such that it is actually 2-2-3. This takes the "advantage" of 3 consecutive games and places it back in the hands of the team that claims home field before the Series even starts. This actually isn't such a bad idea, at least in my mind. It doesn't have the same off day madness as the first suggestion above. Plus, it guarantees the rebuttal of the home field advantage team except in the extreme case of a sweep. In other words, if the team with home field can win just one of the first four games, they are given the chance to stay alive for the chance to defend themselves again at home. This would seem to most preserve the equity of home field advantage. However, one can also easily argue how equitable the awarding of home field advantage is at all because it is determined by a mid-season publicity stunt... but I digress.
Anyway, folks, what do you think? Should we change the layout of the seven game series? How should we change it? Or should we find a different way of awarding World Series home field advantage to begin with? Why am I asking so many questions?
(All historical World Series stuff is courtesy of Wikipedia)