Home field advantage has always been present in baseball, but not to the degree it is in other sports. That may be changing. This year there are a number of teams with lopsided records: dominant at home, but sub-500 on the road. Last season, four of the six division winners were above .500 on the road, and the two that weren't finished only one game under. Of the current six division leaders, four have losing marks on the road. The two most lopsided records belong to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago White Sox. The Rays are 43-17 at home, but only 23-28 on the road. The White Sox are 61-49 at home, but only 26-33 on the road.
The home team is winning 55.4 percent of the time in '08, which is a little above historical averages. They are scoring about half a run more per game than the visitors -- the cumulative home ERA is 3.99 versus a 4.53 ERA for the visitors. Home teams are hitting .270, versus .255 for the visitors. Home field advantage is more pronounced in 2008 than it has been in years. Compare the home/away splits in ERA and batting averages with last season and also with a composite of the five prior seasons in the chart to the right.
It's clear that the home teams are pitching and hitting better than they did last year. But, what's so different about this year? The most plausible theory is the absence of amphetamines. For decades, ballplayers used drugs, both over-the-counter and the prescription variety to get them through a grueling 162-game season. Jim Bouton wrote about players taking "greenies" as far back as the 1960s. Testing is better this year, following an offseason of embarrassing revelations. It stands to reason that drug usage is down, from steroids and HGH to amphetamines. No one wants to be this year's Roger Clemens.
The coast-to-coast road trips, day games after night games and the long season may well be taking their toll on unmedicated major leaguers. This is something to remember when making out your fantasy lineups. A good pitcher becomes an excellent pitcher when facing fatigued hitters.
In weekly fantasy leagues, you look for two-start pitchers who can slide into your rotation. However, if the two starts are on the road, you could be better off with a one-start pitcher at home. I'll take one start from Greg Maddux at San Diego over two from Kyle Lohse on the road.
When you factor in the home/away splits, you can find some bargain pitchers on the free-agent wire. The bargains who enjoy home cooking are "For Better". Every fantasy team has a pitcher or two that travel about as well as a colicky baby. These (over-valued?) pitchers are "For Worse" due to their shaky road records.
Mike Pelfrey, SP, Mets: Pelfrey, a hot pitcher, just had his personal seven-game winning streak snapped. Naturally, it was snapped on the road. Pelfrey is 5-4 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP at Shea Stadium. Away from New York, it's the same old Pelfrey, with a 6.09 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP. It's true that Shea is a pitcher's park, but it never worked for Pelfrey before. Last year his Shea ERA was over six. Pelfrey is available in about a third of fantasy leagues.
Paul Byrd, SP, Indians: Byrd is available in about 98 percent of leagues, and why wouldn't he be? After all, he is 6-10 with a 4.72 ERA. Look closer at Byrd and you will see that he is very effective pitcher at Progressive Field. He has a 2.88 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP there. Away from the Cleveland his ERA skyrockets to 6.00 and the WHIP is 1.50. He has given up a ton of homeruns on the road (17), but only six at home.
Manny Parra, SP, Brewers: Para is a happy camper pitching at home, as long as he's not getting shoved around by Prince Fielder. At Milwaukee, Para is 5-2 with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. On the road the ERA climbs to 5.00 and the WHIP to 1.57. Parra is available in about half of all fantasy leagues.
Bronson Arroyo, SP, Reds: Believe it or not, Arroyo has been a decent pitcher at home. It's odd that he pitches better at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. He has a respectable 3.98 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP at home. On the road he is a train wreck, with a 7.47 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP. Arroyo is available in about three-quarters of fantasy leagues.
Matt Garza, SP, Rays: Garza is symptomatic of the Rays staff. He is 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA and 1.11 WHIP at home, but only 3-5 with a 5.13 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP on the road. Garza is owned in about 80 percent of leagues.
James Shields, SP, Rays: Everything I just said about Garza applies more so to Shields. The splits are more dramatic. Shields is lights-out in Tampa Bay: 7-1, 2.21 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. On the road he is 2-6 with a 5.93 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Never pitch Shields at Fenway Park. He has a lifetime ERA over 10 in Beantown.
Scott Kazmir, SP, Rays: You drafted Kazmir to be a top-tier starter and he definitely is that at home: 5-1, 1.87 ERA, 1.13 WHIP. On the road he has been very ordinary with a 3-4 record, a 4.05 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP.
Kyle Lohse, SP, Cardinals: Lohse is the latest reclamation project from Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan. Before this season Lohse was a mediocre 63-74. The Cardinals were his fourth team since '06. Somehow Duncan has coaxed 13 wins out of Lohse. If you have him on your fantasy squad, you need to be aware of Lohse's home/away splits. At home he has a 2.92 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. Away from St. Louis he has a 5.16 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP. One more thing to worry about: Lohse has a 5.18 ERA in day games, but only a 2.52 ERA at night. So never, ever start Lohse in a day game on the road.
Jered Weaver, SP, Angels: Weaver has been a disappointment this season. He has been OK in Anaheim, with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, but terrible on the road with a 4.98 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP.