Tigers road record: Why are they so awful away from Comerica Park?

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

It's an easy problem to describe, more difficult to explain and fix.

Here's an interesting trend that you've no doubt thought about today, the Tigers' road record:

Year Road wins Road losses
2013 13 17
2012 38 43
2011 45 36
2010 29 52
2009 35 47

Contrast with this: during 2009 through 2012, this is how many games the team won at home: 51, 52, 50 and 50. They're 22-10 at home this year.

So what we've seen is, outside of 2011, a Tigers team among the best in baseball at home and below average (or compared to other contending teams, far below average) on the road.

"Champion teams don't do that," one person commented on Twitter. My gut reaction is generally to call that hyperbole. But a little research into recent seasons actually did confirm the thesis. Winning on the road is no guarantee of a championship (see 2011 Tigers) but World Series winning teams do post winning road records. (It's fair to point out teams that lose too many games don't even get the opportunity to play in the playoffs, so we're working with a limited sample to begin with. The Tigers this season will almost certainly be playing in the postseason.)

Further: We can drill down the causes of the road losses:

YEAR RS/G HOME RA/G HOME RS/G AWAY RA/G AWAY
2013 5.72 3.56 4.25 3.88
2012 4.85 4.06 4.11 4.21
2011 5.10 4.42 4.62 4.36
2010 5.07 4.06 4.20 5.11
2009 4.95 4.30 4.17 4.84

Takeaway: The Tigers score on average a run less per game on the road than they do at home. (This year it's ballooned to about 1.5 runs.) The defense (pitchers+fielders) does not see as strong a dropoff, but it's a few tenths of a run worse off in most seasons. Score less, allow more, lose more. Results seem tied more to how the batters do than the pitchers. The Tigers' only winning road record occurred in 2011, when they scored 4.62 per game away from Comerica Park.

How about the players? Generally speaking, you can often look to Miguel Cabrera to explain some of it. His OPS was .181 better at home than on the road last year. It's not always that big of a difference, but he's been better at home. This year he has hit twice as many home runs on the road and has an OPS about .100 better there, too. Torii Hunter, too, has been better away from Detroit.

Meanwhile: Prince Fielder was .145 better at home last year and is .050 better at home this year. Jhonny Peralta was .082 better at home last and .194 better at home this year. Austin Jackson doesn't get on base at nearly the same rate on the road. Alex Avila, good no where, has a .449 OPS on the road.

I could go on but it's getting repetitive.

I theorized the team is better built for Comerica Park. You expect teams to be built for the place they play half their games. The sluggers are clearly doing better at home than on the road. (But then again, the non-slugger Austin Jackson is too.) But big picture: I'm not sure that the team stats show that.

This season, for example, the Tigers hit more home runs per fly ball on the road, and their batted ball stats line up pretty evenly. The big difference is a .040 swing in BABIP. Do they take advantage of the alleys better at home? Is it luck/random variation? That is beyond the scope of my data. Over the past four and a half years though, we can say they hit more home runs per fly ball at home, hit line drives more often, etc.

So, I've used a lot of words and flashed a lot of numbers and I can come to nothing. You expect a team to play better at home, but to show this big a difference seems like more than an accident.

Can anyone advance any of these ideas or come to their own conclusions? (Twitter, I'm sure, will just shout LEYLAND at me.)

The discussion is yours.

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