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Explaining the Tampa Bay Rays’ Struggles at Tropicana Field

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Joe Maddon is an extremely intelligent guy, so it especially stood out when he admitted that he could not understand the Tampa Bay Rays’ struggles at home. The Rays were the only team in baseball to have a winning record on the road yet a losing record overall, and just looking at the statistics, that makes no sense. The Rays were slightly worse on a park-adjusted basis offensively at home, but their pitching was much better at home even when accounting for the Trop’s pitcher-friendly nature. So why in the world were the Rays 36-45 at home yet 41-40 when away?

The first thing to notice is that the Rays had a much better run differential at home. The Rays outscored opponents 317-302 at home and were actually outscored 295-323 on the road. Eight of the Rays’ 12 times scoring eight or more runs came at home, and while the argument can be made that a few great games overstate the Rays’ home run differential, baseball history shows that such things tend to even out over time.

The Rays were 25-23 overall in one-run games, but they were 11-13 at home and 14-10 on the road. In games of two runs or less, they were 30-39 overall, but specifically they were 13-22 at home and 17-17 when away. There is no reason at all that a team should have any sort of different between their home and road records in such games except for luck. (If it was going to lean in one direction, we would expect teams to do better at home, where they get a chance to respond to any opponents’ scoring in extra innings and win as soon as they take the lead.)

Another way to explain the home-road discrepancy has to do with the Rays’ hot and cold streaks throughout the year. Is it possible that the Rays just happened to be playing better in stretches where they played more often on the road? The biggest support for that theory has to do with the Rays’ one big month this season, July. The Rays went 22-6 in the month, their only month above .500, but played just 12 games at home, tied for their fewest of any month this season. They actually had a better record at home for three of the six months of the season: March/April, May, and September.

Months are somewhat arbitrary dividers, so we can instead look at the more natural divisions of the Rays’ season. I counted 15 of them (I can elaborate in the comments if you like), and the Rays actually had a better home record in nine of them. If we limit ourselves only to stretches where the Rays played roughly the same number of games at home and away, the home advantage goes to six against three. The Rays had stretches this season where they had a winning percentage of at least .600. Unfortunately for the Rays’ home record, they played more road games than home games in all of them but one and played 64% of their games away from the Trop overall. They even had a better home record in three of those six hot streaks, but the difference in games played was just too large.

On the whole, the Tampa Bay Rays had a rough year, but there is no reason other that misfortune that they worse at home than on the road. If the Rays can get back to contending next season, expect the Trop to become a major home-field advantage once again.

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