Pitcher Justin Verlander
If Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander gives up runs, can he blame the bi-coastal playing schedule? Photo: Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports via Reuters

Is there a home field advantage in baseball? When it comes to travelling and playing in the majors, a recent study found jet lag makes players from the home team and the away team soft.

 

The study, out of Northwestern University, looked at 20 seasons of MLB games between 1992 and 2011. Of the more than 46,000 games studied, researchers found 5,000 occurrences where jet lag could have affected the players.

 

“Jet lag does impair the performance of Major League Baseball players,” said Ravi Allada, a circadian rhythms expert who led the study. “The negative effects of jet lag we found are subtle, but they are detectable and significant. And they happen on both offense and defense and for both home and away teams, often in surprising ways.”

 

The body can handle a one-hour adjustment per day, so any more than a two-time-zone shift would be considered jet-lag inducing.

 

Jet lag sucks more when your day is made shorter, so travelling east is the hardest on MLB players, but that doesn’t mean west coast teams are necessarily the hardest hit.

Allada gave the example of the 2016 National League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw shut out the Chicago Cubs in game 2, giving up only two hits.

Game 6 didn’t go so well.

“For game 6, the teams had returned to Chicago from L.A., and this time the Cubs scored five runs off of Kershaw, including two home runs,” Allada said. “While it’s speculation, our research would suggest that jet lag was a contributing factor in Kershaw’s performance.”

Jet lagged pitchers are more likely to give up more home runs, erasing the home field advantage, Allada said.

The negative effects on the home team’s offense were related to base running, such as stolen bases, number of doubles and triples, and hitting into more double plays.

“If I were a baseball manager and my team was traveling across time zones — either to home or away — I would send my first starting pitcher a day or two ahead, so he could adjust his clock to the local environment,” Allada added.

But teams returning from the west did much worse offensively than away teams, researchers found. The study didn’t address why, but family responsibilities and “honey-do” lists might shift focus for players returning to their home turf.

Home teams won 53.9 percent of the 46,000 games considered, but when home teams were jet-lagged, they were 3.5 percent less likely to win.

You don’t have to be Mookie Betts or Noah Syndergaard to gain some smarts from the study — this could benefit you during your next business trip or when coming home from vacation and launching into your work week.

Allada said: "We don't have a cure for jet lag yet but I do hope that this work makes people mindful, even when they're traveling only across two and three time zones, of the potential negative effects of jet lag and to give their body a chance to adjust to the new time zone whenever they're traveling."