The All-Star Game, World Series Home-Field Advantage, and Incentives

As I suppose you already know, MLB decided that the All-Star game would determine which league has home-field advantage in that year’s World Series in response to the controversy over the 2002 All-Star Game tie. The slogan adopted for the All-Star Game was: “Because this time, it counts.” I heard a talk show host say that in the 2008 All-Star Game, in old Yankee Stadium, A.L. manager Terry Francona had Francisco Rodriguez pitch to the first two N.L. batters in the top of the 9th, in a 3-3 tie, then brought in Mariano Rivera because Francona “wanted to listed to Mariano’s entry music”—Metallica’s Enter Sandman. My first response was to think well, Francona had seen Rivera enter a lot of games at Yankee Stadium, when hearing that song was almost always a prelude to Francona’s team getting beat by Rivera’s team, and probably figured that this was his only opportunity to order in Rivera himself and take part in a ritual Francona admired, and this time have it be on Rivera’s side. That wasn’t a hard motivation to understand. The host’s point, though, was that Francona’s remark was making a mockery of the “this time, it counts” rhetoric about the All-Star game, by showing that he was not focused on the goal of winning the game and getting home-field advantage for the A.L. The obvious remedy to the scenario of players (and possibly the manager) on teams that are not even going to be in the playoffs decide, by their quality of play in the All-Star game, whether or not their league’s team will get home-field advantage, is to have the advantage go to the World Series team with the best regular-season record. If both teams have the same regular-season record, split the tie by going with the team with the best playoff record, i.e. 7-3 over 7-5. This set-up would mean that the individuals with the most at stake in the question of which team gets home-field advantage would have the most impact on deciding the question. It’s a basic situation of aligning incentives: a team that might be in the World Series has a lot more interest in getting home-field advantage by winning games in September and early October than a player on a 43-46 team has in getting home-field advantage for his league by winning an exhibition game in mid-July. The incentive of winning home-court advantage is why NBA teams with a 60-20 record and the division and conference wrapped up keep playing hard in games in late April. This last season, the Spurs and Heat played a 7-game series that showed the two teams to be almost exactly equally matched. The Spurs had gone 58-24, losing 7 of their last 10 games, while the Heat had gone 66-16, winning 9 of their last 10 games; and the Heat played the last two games of the series with San Antonio at home, winning both games. It’s not hard to imagine that if they had played better at the close of the season and gotten home court, the Spurs would have beat the Heat in the Finals. I’m making a pretty elementary point that has been recognized by a lot of people already, but it can be helpful to think through an issue rather than immediately and randomly react to what someone says or tweets, and by your own thinking you can clarify your opinion about that issue; and that’s what this post is doing.

Published in: Uncategorized on July 12, 2013 at 11:28 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. I like the *idea* of the All-Star Game winner determining World Series home field advantage. I miss the days when All-Stars stayed in the lineup the entire game, the starting pitcher went 3 innings, and no more than 4-5 pitchers appeared in a 9-inning game. That was when the outcome of the game was determined by the actual Stars. If the outcome of the game was based on what the actual All-Star starters did, the home field advantage gimmick would have meaning. But now games are largely decided in late innings by third-stringers like Hank Blalock and Brian McCann, with booming hits off overrated “closers” like Trevor Hoffman. The best way to make the game count is to keep the home-field advantage, and then bring fewer players to the game and keep more of them on the bench… but that makes little financial sense to MLB and will never happen again. So, yeah, right now the All-Star Game’s just a low-rated clown-car exhibition that can’t even win its time slot…

  2. A knee-jerk decision changes the face of MLB World Series home field advantage. Why would you make an exhibition game mean so much. With The NBA @ NHL having there All-Star h games for the middle of there seasons also. It still comes down to which team is better at the end of the season.
    There have not been many MLB All-Star games that end in a tie. Lets being back what we watch 162 games for the best teams going against each other for The WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!!!!
    Thank you from a true NY YANKEE FAN

  3. In light of the attempt by Royals fans to load up the AL All-Star team with their players, it’s good to read Bill James’ short essay in his ’80s historical abstract on “The Failure of Democracy” and how unregulated fan voting led to many Reds being elected ’57 NL All-Stars.


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