In recent comments which I’ve been unable to locate, CC Sabathia mentioned a desire to win the division, which means home field advantage. Contrasting the 2009 campaign with the 2010 campaign, Sabathia mentioned a certain fondness for starting the postseason at home, noting that he felt more comfortable. There’s been plenty of research done demonstrating that home field advantage doesn’t yield a sizeable benefit for the team. There’s not a whole lot that can be said to dispute these facts, and you’re likely to have the opinion thrown at you in earnest over the coming weeks. It will likely get old.
At Baseball Prospectus recently, R.J. Anderson took a different approach. He noted that winning the Wild Card likely results in more games played at home for the Wild Card team in the League Championship Series and World Series. Anderson’s argument is particularly compelling, in that he doesn’t dispense with the logic of wanting home field advantage, he simply notes that you may have more of it by winning the Wild Card. And yet, there’s still a part of me that would like to set this aside and root for Sabathia to get what he wants.
There has to be something to be gained by listening to players. Sure, a lot of times they get things wrong. You wouldn’t to make personnel moves strictly on the basis of clubhouse opinion. But leaving aside the issue that home field advantage typically yields no sizeable benefit for the team, I wonder if there’s really anything all that bad about rooting for the players to get what they want anyway. If CC Sabathia likes to play with his kids, eat dinner in front of his surely gigantic TV, sleep in his own bed and drive in his own car to the Stadium for Game 1 of the ALDS, then I’d like for him to have that luxury. If he thinks it yields a psychological benefit, I can’t see telling him it doesn’t.
Most people operate under similar rigueurs of habit, even if they don’t admit it. Most people have very circumscribed patterns of behavior, rituals and routines that they hold to tightly every day. If something gets thrown off-kilter, they can get flustered and feel disorganized. My early morning routine and walk to my train is nearly identical every day of the week, and it’s likely that way for most people. It’s why experts recommend you lay out your clothes and have your pencils and water and snack ready the night before a big standardized test: you don’t want any unexpected variable messing with your head. You’ll need all the focus you can get and you don’t want to burn energy, mental or physical, on dumb stuff. Maybe it’s the same for the $161 million dollar ace.
This is dangerous territory, because the argument about home field advantage and hoping the team gets what it wants isn’t really that much different from believing a player who tells you he needs to change his gum every half inning to play better. At the end of the day, this is really about endorsing something that yields at best a psychological benefit to the players. You can even call it an endorsement of superstition. It can’t be quantified.
I’m comfortable with that. As long as it doesn’t come at the expense of known, quantifiable factors like resting key players sufficiently, then I’ll be rooting for the Yankees to get that home field advantage, and for CC to be able to eat Captain Crunch on his couch before Game 1 of the ALDS this year. Come on, you don’t think he really quit the Captain, do you?