Were you excited about whether or not the All-Star Game determined home-field advantage for the World Series? Good idea or hate it? My suggestion – just relax and enjoy the All-Star game as the exhibition it is because it hardly matters if it determines the World Series starting venue. The idea for having the league winning the All-Star game get home field advantage developed in response to complaints that the All-Star game had turned into a meaningless exhibition and the players did not really care who won. So the lords of major league baseball came up with a great marketing scam. The teams would try to win in order to grab the prize of home-field advantage for the World Series. Too many fans fell for this marketing ploy, the old proverbial hook, line, and sinker.
But we need to answer a few questions. Did it really matter to the players that they were playing to secure home-field advantage for their league? And if there is a home-field advantage in the World Series, how likely is it that the All-Star game result would affect that? And how great would the home-field advantage be anyway?
A look at the facts will lead us to the conclusion that, as Shakespeare said, this is much ado about nothing. Before we look at the historical data and statistical probability, let’s just take a quick peek at the last three years. The American League won the All-Star game each year, but in 20 14 and 2016 the Giants and the Cubs won the series in 7 games, with the final win on the road. In 2015 the Royals won the Series in five games, which means they too won on the road.
Now let's look at history and logic and see what's really going on. First we should understand that home-field advantage doesn't come into play all that often in the World Series. How can that be? Obviously the World Series can last anywhere from 4 to 7 games. Back to grade school math and we know that if the series goes four or six games, these are even numbers. This means that the same numbers of games are played at home and on the road – so there is no home-field advantage in those series.
What about a five game World Series? In that series the team with the so-called “home field advantage" actually has a disadvantage of playing three games on the road. Therefore, whichever team wins a five-game series, the original home-field advantage had nothing to do with determining the winner.
And what about those seven-game series? Now we've arrived at the only time when home-field advantage could help. But (1) how often and (2) how much and (3) what would be the effect of the All-Star game in determining the outcome? The All-Star game determined the World Series home-field advantage from 1990 through 2016, or a total of 26 times (one World Series was canceled due to a labor dispute). How many of those series went the full seven games? Six or 23% of the total. By random chance about 33% of the World Series should go seven games. So the number of seven-game series during the time the All-Star game determined home-field advantage was lower than average expectancy. And how many of those six series which lasted seven games did the team with home-field advantage win? Four.
Randomness says the most probable number was three (31%), and obviously the next most probable numbers were two and four (23% each). So over the 26 World Series for which the All-Star game determined home-field advantage, it looks like maybe there was one extra win for the team that actually had the home-field advantage. And that's a big "maybe", because with a sample size of only six, there's a 34% chance that one team would win more than 3 games just by randomness or luck.
We also must remember that if the All-Star game did not determine home-field advantage, it would have alternated back and forth between the leagues every year. Even if one league won every All-Star game, this would translate into a 50% increase in the home-field advantage, not 100%. Over the 26 years when the All-Star game actually determined the home-field advantage, it was American League 19, National League six, and one tie, or about 23% for the National League. But perhaps that's just an aberration (I certainly know of no reason to think one League’s stars are better than the other’s). Over the last 50 All-Star games, it's 25 – 24 – 1 for the American League. Hmmm, pretty close to 50-50.
Let's take a look at the experience during the 26 years when the All-Star game determined home-field advantage and what we might expect over the long run. The American League won 77% of the All-Star games, and 23% of World Series went seven games. Statistically the home-field win percentage is about 55% -45%, or a 10% differential over a 50-50 split. Therefore if the American League won 77% of the All-Star games, they had home-field advantage 27% more of the time than if it had merely traded back and forth each year. 23% times 27% times 10% equals 0.6%, or about one win in every 166 World Series.
And what if 33% of the World Series had gone seven games as is the statistical probability? In order to determine how often that would have affected the outcome, we would have to decide what difference to assign to the two leagues for long-term All-Star game performance. Obviously if it is 50-50, it winds up making no difference over the long term. If one team consistently won 10% more of the All-Star games (and remember the 50 year record is 25 – 24 – 1), then the advantage in the World Series would result in one extra win about every 333 years. [10% (home-field advantage) X 10% (extra All-Star wins) X 33% (Series goes seven games)].
When you watch the All-Star game this year, relax and enjoy the entertainment in seeing the best players in the known universe putting on an exhibition. And we could really make it interesting if MLB would offer say $1 million to a single charity selected by the winning team.
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