A lot has changed in baseball over the last 30 years or so, from the specialization of roles on the 25-man roster to the new age analysis provided by sabermetrics. Surely, in this day and age advanced metrics and specialization, someone should be able to calculate the value of “the hammer”; if indeed there is any value at all.
In this the era of the “LOOGY”, the closer and many other specialized bullpen roles, is it still beneficial for the home team to bat last at all?
It seems that we’ve simply accepted that it’s to the advantage of the home team to know how many runs they’ll need in the bottom of the 9th inning or in extra frames. It also though seems reasonable to say that the team batting in the top of the 9th or extra innings is simply playing for one more run than the home team has at the time (in extra innings this would always be one). Teams leading going into the bottom of the ninth, or on the road in extra innings usually win anyway. It’s hard to say that under the typical urgency of the 9th inning, trailing teams find much security, if any, in knowing how many runs they’ll need to win.
The real question is does the benefit of “the hammer” outweigh the advantage that a visiting team enjoys on the road in a tie game because of the impact of the closer role?
Tied in the ninth inning, home managers, used to the formulary approach to back end bullpen management, suddenly find themselves in uncomfortable territory left to decide which inning is the right time to deploy the closer and protect the tie. Once the closer is spent, if the home team fails to score in the bottom of the inning, the home manager has to decide whether to trot the closer out for an extra inning of work, or to go to the parts of the bullpen not already spent en route to the closer. Usually by then the set-up (8th inning) guy has been in and out as have a specialist or two, leaving the manager with middle and or long relievers to dig in after that.
The visiting manager on the other hand will usually dig into the middle and long relief corps before spending the closer. Maybe that practice makes them more vulnerable at an earlier time than the home team by contrast (and only by an inning), but if the visitors survive the back end of the bullpen (an inning or two usually) the advantage would seemingly shift to them. At that point if the visitors can put up a single run in the top half of any inning, they’d have to like their chances of converting that run into a win with their closer coming on to protect it.
Road teams are also spared having to pitch the final inning (to its completion at least) of losses, sparing them wear and tear on the bullpen in losing efforts. Home hitters are also robbed of bases and RBI on walk-off hits that aren’t homeruns. Obviously shifting these benefits to the home team wouldn’t change much as teams “enjoy this luxury” for 81 road games per year already.
Flipping the top and bottom of innings would give home fans more chances to see their own closer under the games most dramatic circumstances, but baseball would lose the walk-off win for the home team. Given the propensity of baseball players to injure themselves celebrating, shifting the walk off to the road might quell the celebration just a bit and spare more Kendrys Morales type injuries.