Home-field advantage and the Golden Gophers

Home-field advantage and the Golden Gophers

Minnesota lost a heartbreaker yesterday, falling 1-0 to Alabama in 9 innings on a bases loaded walk in Tuscaloosa . It is that last part, the “in Tuscaloosa”, that shouldn’t be overlooked for the above ball-four call.

In my article What is home cooking worth in women’s softball, I showed that home-field advantage favored the home team 53.4% of the time in women’s college softball. That doesn’t seem like much, but home field may have impacted the above call, as well as the phantom hit-by-pitch call earlier in the inning.

The book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influence Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won looked at home field advantage in professional baseball using PITCHf/x. The authors found that home-field advantage can be attributed to home-plate umpires. In an excerpt from the book:

More than two-thirds of the home-field advantage in MLB comes by virtue of the home plate umpire’s bad calls.
We can’t expect umpires to be perfect, and in fact, they call strikes and balls correctly 85.6 percent of the time. But the errors they do make don’t seem to be random. They favor the home team.
Now that we understand that there is a bias in called balls and strikes, we get a different understanding of why the home team has better hitting and pitching stats.

The umpire’s decision yesterday serves to highlight the travesty of the NCAA selection committee’s decision to not allow 56-3 Minnesota to host a Regional. Alabama’s win over Minnesota doesn’t get the NCAA selection committee off the hook. If anything, the decision of one umpire on one pitch continues to demonstrate why home field matters.