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Is home field advantage a thing in 2020?

Does the competitive edge remain even when the fans disappear?

2014 World Series Game 5: Kansas City Royals v. San Francisco Giants Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB via Getty Images

I spent about 15 minutes workshopping an introduction to this article that was a baseball play on “if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?” I failed to come up with anything good, but 15 minutes made me pot committed enough that I felt the need to start my article with an anecdote about it.

So just know: there’s a good joke/pun/something out there, and maybe one day I’ll find it.

But you probably know what I’m getting at, so I’ll stop beating around the tree bush. There will not be fans at MLB games in 2020, though the games will still be played at each team’s home stadium (or at least that’s the plan).

That means the San Francisco Giants will play 30 games at Oracle Park, but zero games in front of the Giants faithful. And they’ll play 30 games at opposing ballparks, but zero games in front of vitriolic fans saying mean things and cheering at the Giants inevitable failure.

I’ve been finding myself wondering if that matters. Does the home field advantage persist, even as the fans have been ushered out of the stadium? Or does it follow them out the gates and onto the ferry or BART?

With apologies for the anticlimactic lack of conclusion, I don’t have an answer. But I do have some thoughts.

Point for home field advantage: routine

While fans certainly play a role in home field advantage, there’s a much stronger case that the routine of playing at home is what really sways the odds. Players sleep in their own beds, eat in their own homes, hang out with their own families, and drive to the ballpark in their own cars. They get to spend game time in their own clubhouse, and enter the batter’s box to their own walkout music.

It’s less stressful to play at home, even if it no longer carries the excitement of a loud fanbase.

Counterpoint: nothing is normal

It’s closer to normal to play at home than on the road, but it’s still pretty far from normal. Players have to be exceedingly cautious when at home and traveling to the ballpark. They have to wear masks inside Oracle Park, and stay socially distanced from their teammates. They’ll have tests and temperature checks.

So many of the basic daily routines of baseball players will be fundamentally altered in 2020 as the league tries to adapt to the coronavirus. The comfort gained from normality and routine may be lost, and that may negate the competitive advantage.

Point for home field advantage: utilizing the home park

In theory, teams can gain a home field advantage by building a team that is suited to their home park. They can also gain a home field advantage by simply being used to their park, and being able to play its dimensions and caroms better than their opponent can.

Counterpoint: not the Giants!

Building an Oracle Park specific team would entail having some powerful right-handed hitters. The Giants most powerful right-handers are Evan Longoria, Hunter Pence, and ... Buster Posey? Oh dear, that is not it.

The Giants previously would get a little advantage by having their outfielders used to triple’s alley and the in-play bullpens. Then they went and got rid of both of those things in the offseason.

Advantage: gone.

In conclusion

It would appear that there’s still a slight home field advantage for 2020, just a much smaller one than normal.