Some Research on Traveling Baseball Teams

It’s well documented that the Mariners travel more than any other big-league team. We hear about this often in discussions in the offseason when looking at free agents and how Seattle has to overpay for players, and we’ve heard this in the discussion about the September swoon on the M’s final road trip. I had to wonder, though, if it could be proven that the long road trip actually was the culprit.

The question then is, well, how do you measure the influence of travel on a team?

At first, I took a look at the Mariners record for the first game after traveling between cities. This would mean the first game of any road series and the first game of any homestand. I found the M’s were 23-16 in these games (including 2-1 on the final road trip). Travel, in and of itself, didn’t seem to mean much – the M’s also outscored their opponents 174-139 in this subset of games.

So I tried taking a bit of a Mythbusters approach. Under what circumstances would travel actually be hard for a team?

I searched through the Mariners calendar and found a handful of cross-country trips. Surely, if there were going to be complications with travel, they’d occur on the first game after traveling more than 2,000 miles. The Mariners were 4-3 when traveling 2,000 miles to meet their opponents. Huh.

Okay, so how else can we stack the deck? I took my list of games again and determined whether or not the team had an off day prior to the trip or not. The Mariners were 3-0 in games after an off day when they traveled 2,000 miles or more to get there. Looks like we’ve got something (of course, this means they were 1-3 without the off day).

It took me a while, but I started indexing the number of miles between teams, taking care to log the Angels as “Anaheim” rather than “Los Angeles” and the Rays as “St. Petersburg” instead of “Tampa Bay,” though I also set the San Francisco and Oakland distances to be the same on the assumption that teams fly into SFO to play Oakland. Both Chicago teams were assumed the same mileage as well as the New York teams.

All in all, I found 78 total games where one team flew basically cross-country to meet the other. A few of these were games where both teams actually traveled 2,000 miles (San Francisco at the Dodgers on May 8, Detroit at Oakland on May 26, Toronto at Oakland on July 3, Dodgers at San Francisco at July 25, Angels at Baltimore on July 29, and the Mets at Oakland on August 19). Sixteen of the games were in the middle of road trips (teams in those games were 8-8). I indexed them for days off or no day off, and here’s what I got:

Without a day off, teams went 16-23, scoring 126 runs and allowing 153. Nine of the games were decided by one run, and the team that had traveled went 4-5.

With a day off, teams went 23-16, scoring 184 runs and allowing 154. Twelve of the games were decided by one run, and the team that had traveled went 6-6. Funny that it’s the reverse of the other, and it’s the exact same number of games, and it doesn’t look to be influenced heavily by luck.

Six teams faced long-haul travelers five times or more. Oakland went 9-0 in these contests, and the Mariners went 4-2. Atlanta and the Yankees each went 2-3.

But what does it mean? I’m not entirely sure. It does seem like having a day off to travel seems to help, but we’re still not talking about a very large sample size. Certainly nothing large enough to draw meaningful conclusions, but maybe it’s something to keep an eye on.

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