As they have all postseason, the teams of announcers at FOX and MLB Network spent much of their pregame and early telecast Thursday waxing rhapsodically about the intimidatory powers of the Phillies fans.
At a certain fundamental level, I get it. The Phillies fans are very loud. Loud enough, it has been reported, to get players to dial up their pitch cue devices to maximum decibel level just to be able to hear what’s being called.
Listening to the rhetoric, one might wonder why the visiting Astros bothered to show up.
It’s also undeniable that the Phillies generally speaking are a far better team at home than on the road. During the regular season they were 13 games over .500 at Citizens Bank Park, but one game under .500 on the road.
They followed that with a perfect 5-0 home record in the division and League Championship series.
Whether the crowd, famed for practicing a Philadelphia version of verbal intimidation, had anything tangible to do with those successes could be debated, but the fans got some significant share of the credit … including from Phillies players themselves.
No less an authority than Bryce Harper (becoming a Philly legend this postseason) told the FOX pregame crew prior to Thursday’s Game 5 that the crowd gave his team an acute advantage.
There’s only one problem with that universally accepted belief. At least as far as the World Series is concerned, the numbers don’t support the Phillies fans being an advantage.
The numbers don’t support it with respect to the Phillies and they also don’t support the importance of home field advantage generally.
About the Phillies: With Thursday’s 3-2 victory in the books, the visiting Astros took two out of three in front of the supposedly imposing weapon that is the Philadelphia fan base. They were outscored by one run, 9-8, but nearly doubled Philadelphia’s hit total, 24-13.
It’s not really the fault of the Phillies fan base. At the World Series level, the simple truth is that true home field advantage hasn’t existed for at least a decade.
Chew on this. For the most recent 10 World Series contested in front of home crowds (that is, dating back to 2012 and excepting 2020), the record of all the home teams is a desultory 26-33. That’s a very un-champion-like .441 percentage.
In only four World Series over that period has the home team won more games than it lost. In 2014 and 2017, home teams won four of the seven games; in 2018 they won three of five. In 2012, 2013, and 2021, the home and road teams split.
On the other hand, in 2016, again in 2019 and so far this year, the visitors have had the better of it. In 2016, the visitors won five of the seven games, including a Chicago Cubs sweep of Games 6 and 7 in Cleveland to wrap up the title.
Houston’s victory Thursday made it three wins for the visitors against just two losses thus far in 2022.
Of course the road warrior exemplars were the World Series combatants of 2019, the Washington Nationals and Astros. That was the Series, you may recall, when the road team won all seven games, Washington claiming Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 in Houston while the Astros swept games 3, 4 and 5 in front of Nationals fans.
Why have home teams fared so poorly in recent World Series? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’ll make one: They’re facing tougher competition.
The Phillies are a case study in this respect. In building their lopsided regular season home success, they were 21-5 against the Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. Those are also the five National League teams that failed to win at least 70 games.
How did the Phillies do at home against National League opponents with actual World Series potential. Four NL teams won 90 games or more this season — the Braves, Mets, Cardinals and Dodgers. The Phillies were a combined 11-15 in front of their fan base against those four teams.
Home fan support is nice, in the World Series and anywhere else. But it can’t hit, pitch or field and if we’re smart some day we may learn not to talk about it as if it can.