Having Home Field Advantage in MLB Playoffs: A Historical Look

One can argue that when teams play at home, it makes things easier: players sleep in their own beds, drive their own vehicles to the ballpark, and are surrounded by their families. Plus, they get to go into their own locker room and are familiar with the nuances of their home ballpark when it comes to how the wind blows, the firmness of the infield, and sightlines both in the day and night games. 

While all of these factors, and many more, certainly do make sense, let’s take a look at how teams having the home-field advantage have fared historically. This information is particularly pertinent when considering and potentially putting your hard-earned money on MLB odds to win World Series.

Regular Season Success At Home

Winning when batting in the bottom of innings is something that is fairly common in Major League Baseball. Of the teams that qualified for the 2022 MLB postseason, seven of those squads won 50 or more in the friendly confines of their stadium (Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers, Mets, Rays, and Yankees). This means that those teams won at least 62% of their games as the home team. In fact, a team has NEVER had a below .500 record at home and won a World Series.

Championship Series Look Back

In NLCS play, interestingly enough, teams with home-field advantage are only 8-13 when it comes to winning the series and advancing to the Fall Classic. One NLCS was played at a neutral site due to COVID-19 in 2020, with the Dodgers advancing at Globe Life Stadium in Arlington.

Looking at recent NLCS trends, the Braves had home-field in 2021 and got to the World Series, eventually winning it. From 2015-17, three teams with the advantage (Dodgers, Cubs, Mets) all advanced. From 2009-2011, teams that were forced to play Game 1 on the road got it done (Phillies, Giants, Cardinals). Finally, from 2005-07, there was a three-year run of road teams (Astros, Cardinals, Rockies). Arguably the most impressive performance from a team not to have home field in recent NLCS history came in 2018 when the Dodgers won all four at Miller Park to capture the title.

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On the ALCS side, home teams have gone 14-7 with one neutral site, the 2020 series at Petco Park in San Diego, which the Rays won. From 2015-present, teams with a home field have advanced (Royals, Indians, Astros, Red Sox, Astros, Rays, and Astros). Interestingly enough, from 2006 until now, teams without the advantage have only won three times, and they’ve all been sweeps. Kansas City swept Baltimore in 2014, and the Tigers swept New York in 2012 and Oakland in 2006 to get to the Fall Classic.

From 2001-2004, getting home-field advantage was unhelpful, and no team with it got to the World Series. The most notable example was the 2004 ALCS when the Boston Red Sox fell behind 3-0 before winning four straight against the Yankees and continuing on in the World Series. Boston would eventually go on to shatter the Curse of the Bambino that year and win it all for the first time since 1918.

World Series Look Back

These metrics need to be put in some perspective as between 2003-2016, home-field advantage for the World Series was not determined by regular season best record; it came down to who won the All-Star Game. This was a move by MLB to make its midsummer game more than an exhibition and put some meaning into it. During the 14 seasons this was in place, the AL won 11 of 14 All-Star games, meaning the AL champ, regardless of regular season record, played Games 1 and 2 in their own ballpark.

Teams with home-field advantage have won the World Series 12 times (they’re 12-9) since 2000, with the 2020 Fall Classic being held in Arlington, Texas, due to COVID-19. A few interesting tidbits: during the time home field was determined by the All-Star Game winner, the NL won the ASG three times (2010-2012), and NL teams were 3-0 in the World Series during that time (Giants, Cardinals, Giants). 

Recent trends have the team without home-field advantage winning 4 of the last 5 World Series played in home ballparks, excluding 2020. Beginning in 2016, the Cubs, Astros, Nationals, and most recently, the Braves all won it all despite playing games 1 and 2 on the road. Only the 2018 Red Sox popped the champagne after getting home field.