As the 2013 season winds down, and as the Tigers conclude a rather unspectacular week of going 2-5, including dropping a series to Boston, there's been quite a bit of buzz about the importance of home field advantage in the playoffs. Just how important is it that the Tigers secure home field advantage as they enter the playoff season? Research shows: not that important.
First, some overall numbers.
Looking at the last 20 ALDS team match-ups, the team with home field advantage has won exactly 50 percent of the time. It would appear that having home field advantage in the ALDS isn't really a determining factor in who wins. It's a coin-flip.
Moving "up the chain" from ALDS to ALCS, in the last 20 years of ALCS match-ups the home field advantage numbers increase slightly, but not by much. Of those last 20 contests, the team with home field advantage has won 60 percent of the time.
It's not until we get to the World Series that having the home field advantage starts to look more like a true advantage. In the last 30 World Series match-ups, the team with home field advantage has won 80 percent of the time. It's a strange phenomena, perhaps, that the home field advantage continues to increases as we climb the ladder from ALDS to ALCS, and then into the World Series. I'm not entirely sure of the reason for this, and certainly there may be some good theories as to why this happens, but those are the raw numbers as they stand.
When we move away from general analysis of all teams involved in the playoffs and focus specifically on the Tigers, however, it appears that what is true in general is not necessarily true in specific.
Since the introduction of the ALDS, the Tigers have made three appearances (2006, 2011, 2012). They have never had the home field advantage in the ALDS, and they are 3-0 (that's a big, fat 100 win percentage).
Since the introduction of the ALCS way back in 1969, the Tigers have made six appearances (1972, 1984, 1987, 2006, 2011, 2012). They had the home field advantage only twice, and their record is 1-1 (50 percent win rate), while their ALCS record without home field advantage is 2-2, for another 50 percent win rate.
In their 11 World Series appearances, the Tigers have had to play without the home field advantage six times, but that hasn't seemed to give their opponents any real advantage. In World Series appearances where they've played without the hallowed home field advantage, the Tigers are 3-3, for another even-play, 50/50 coin flip win percentage. However, of the five World Series appearances where the Tigers have actually had the home field advantage, they've gone 1-4, for a dismal 25 percent win rate.
So to sum it up: across the American League, having home field advantage doesn't really seem to matter until at least the ALCS, and even then it's only a 60/40 split -- unless we're talking about the Tigers, in which case it's 50/50. In the World Series, home field advantage seems to matter a bit more, unless (once again) we're talking about the Tigers, in which case it's still a 50/50 split.
So does the home field advantage really matter when we're looking at the upcoming playoff season? If you're a Tigers fan, perhaps the most re-assuring answer is simply this: not having home field advantage has never been a disadvantage.