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Baseball Road Treks

   by Bryan Leonard - 05/27/2007

It’s essential for sports handicappers to understand the significance of home and road play. Teams in all sports usually play significantly better at home than on the road for a variety of reasons. Think about all the inconveniences when you travel on the road: Time spent driving to the airport, parking, luggage, a plane ride through different time zones, red-eye flights means having your sleep interrupted, not knowing your way around an unfamiliar city, practicing in different gyms with lighting and temperature conditions you’re not used to.

I recall a major league player a few years ago talking about how he simply couldn’t sleep on airline flights, which is common with a lot of people. That would be an extra burden on a professional athlete, who makes his living by having his physical gifts in pristine condition. Not having enough sleep could very easily put a pro athlete at 85% physically than 100%, a significant drop when your job requires the hand/eye coordination to smack a 90 MPH fastball into the outfield!

Notice that the Texas Rangers are roughly a .500 home team, which isn’t very good, but a horrendous 7-17 on the road. The Yankees offense has been strong at home, averaging close to 6 runs per game in the Stadium, but on the road that dips considerably to 4.9 runs per contest. They have a winning record at home, but started 9-14 away.

Another reason for disparities like this is the way teams are built. That is, most teams are constructed with the configurations of their home park in mind. For instance, the Marlins and A’s play in large, pitcher friendly parks, so they build their teams with an emphasis on pitching and speed, particularly in the outfield. You need speedy outfielders to run down fly outs with so much ground to cover. Smart organizations have to consider things like this, as they play 82 games a year at home.

Baltimore Orioles star shortstop Miguel Tejada has been highly criticized for his lack of power this season, but gave the Orioles a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning recently with a three-run homer, only his third home run of the season and his first in 101 at-bats. It was Tejada's first homer since April 25, the second-longest homerless stretch of his career, and only his second extra-base hit this month.

You’ll notice that April 25 was a home game when he hit that home run. What’s less noticed is that the Orioles then went on a 6-game road trip, came home for a short stretch, then embarked on another 9-game road trip. That’s another reason Tejada was “strugglingâ€쳌 at the plate – few home games! Said Tejada, "It's good to get a home run - not because I haven't hit a home run, but because we got the lead on that swing.In that spot, you're looking to get a base hit to tie the game. I just got lucky to hit the ball out." Being at home in Camden Yards helped, too, though he couldn’t say that.

The Orioles are also 13-10 at home, but 8-16 on the road. I recall a year ago when the Orioles were on another bad streak, losing 4 of 6 games. Taking a look at the schedule we find that all those games were on the road. They were also in the middle of a 10-game road trip. Yes, hot streaks and cold streaks often coincide with home and road trips.

Remember when the Indians suddenly got hot a few weeks ago? Take a look at the schedule and you find they won 6 of 7 games at home during that run. And they had lost 4 of the previous 5 games, all on the road! Make sure you look carefully at a team’s schedule each day. If a team is hot, see if that correlates with a home stand. If that team is suddenly going on a road trip, perhaps they might be overvalued, a time to back off them or look to go against them.

Perhaps no team better illustrates this than the Nationals. While they are close to a .500 team at home, they are a poor 8-16 on the road. Washington recently struggled through their longest losing streak of the season, 8 games. Yes, all were on the road. The schedule-maker can play a key role in the fortunes of a team, so study you stats, injury reports, and weather conditions each day, and don’t ignore that schedule.

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