Major League Baseball and the Players Association reached an agreement on Friday that outlined what the 2020 season will look like, if it ever happens. I covered all of that in some detail already, so check that out if you missed it. The new agreement is pretty significant in a lot of ways, though, so there’s a lot to say beyond what I already wrote – especially for the Yankees, for whom this season falls into a title window. One of those areas is the potential for neutral site games.
As a reminder, the agreement laid out three conditions for starting up the season, which are as follows:
- There are no bans on “mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans”;
- There are no travel restrictions in place in the U.S. or in Canada; and,
- It is medically safe for players, fans, or staff.
Those are very straightforward and prudent, but there’s a catch. That’s to be expected – both sides here clearly want to play if at all possible – and it’s an interesting one. If it appears that it will be impossible to meet these three conditions, the two sides can “consider the use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible” before calling the season.
As I said the other day, neutral site games in empty stadiums feels like the most likely outcome to me right now. That will be a logistical challenge to say the least but it sure does beat no baseball. It’s also uncharted waters that may take away a significant advantage from the Yankees. Let’s get right into it.
The Yanks at Home
The Yankees and the Bronx are inseparable from one another, even if national broadcasts always inexplicably show shots of Times Square during Yankee home games. There’s good reason for this: the Yankees are really, really good while playing at home. The Bombers have played 891 games in the new Yankee Stadium since it opened up back in 2009. They’ve played 891 games on the road over the same period. Here is the team’s performance at home and on the road since (all regular season):
- At Home, 2009-19 : 555-336 (.623), 4539 RS (+791 RD)
- On the Road, 2009-19: 469-422 (.552), 4285 RS (+459 RD)
The Yankees are still quite good on the road – a .552 winning percentage is an 89-win team over a 161-game season – but they’re the best team in baseball at home. Over a full decade (!), the Yankees were a 100-win team at home. That’s nuts and nobody else is even close. Here are some of their relevant rankings:
- Wins: 555 (1st, next closest is LAD with 543)
- Losses: 336 (1st, next closest is LAD with 349)
- Winning Percentage: .623 (1st, next closest LAD at .609)
- Run Differential: 791 (1st, next closest LAD 652)
- Pythagorean Winning Percentage: .587 (1st, next closest LAD at .585)
That’s quite the home field advantage right there. Remember, this is a very durable period: it includes two distinct premier Yankee teams (’09-12, ’17-19) and some middling ones (’13-16) as well. It’s an impressive amount of success at home.
It holds over the recent renaissance, too: the Yankees have the most wins (161), fewest losses (82), best winning percentage (.663), and second-best pythagorean winning percentage (.639) over those years. For those keeping track at home, that’s a 107-win pace. The new Bombers are even better than their predecessors at home, even in the postseason, where they’re 10-4 in the Bronx since the 2017 Wild Card Game.
Numbers are great and all, but let’s take a quick trip down memory lane for a visual representation of the Yankees at home. Exhibit A:
The place was rocking for that – as, I can attest, was my apartment at this time. So much so, in fact, that the Astros spoke about it while leaving town after Game 5. “New York is no joke”, former nemesis Dallas Keuchel told the press. “This is a wild place to play,” said George Springer. But here’s the money line: “It was crazy. I never heard anything as loud as it was yesterday when Gary hit that double. Loudest I’ve ever been part of,” said Carlos Correa. The Bronx Zoo, indeed.
What This Means Going Forward
So, I think the implications here are pretty clear: the Yankees are going to get stung hard if there are neutral site games this year. Every team is, really. Everyone likes to play at home! But nobody is better at it than the Yankees, so it stands to reason that they’ll be the most impacted.
Now, to be fair, we don’t really know what this scenario will look like. As I said, it’s a logistical nightmare. Can you even imagine trying to schedule an abbreviated season at new ballparks in a way that makes them actually neutral? For 30 teams? I cannot, but perhaps that’s why I’m a lowly blogger.
We do know one thing for sure, though: the Yankees will be impacted by this in some way. I would guess that this policy would be universal – I can’t imagine some teams playing at home while others are in Iowa or whatever – so that impacts the Yanks. But even if it isn’t universal, and only applies to the hardest-hit areas, that also includes the Yankees. New York is the epicenter of this thing, after all. So, much as we may not like it, Yankee “home” games may not be in the Bronx this year. There are basically two scenarios here: 1) neutral stadium games are played in front of fans or 2) they’re played in empty stadiums.
What does that mean for the Yankees? I’m not really sure, really. As a friend pointed out on Twitter, Yankee fans travel. We saw that, for example, in London this past year:
And we’ve seen it at basically every game played in Tropicana Field or at Camden Yards for the last 20 years. It’s not just that the fans travel but that there are so damn many of us, so wherever the team plays, there are bound to be Yankee fans. That’s one of the benefits of playing for a marquee global brand. So, for scenario one, I could be convinced that the Yankees are actually best-positioned. No other franchise has their reach or fanbase. That is real and can’t be discounted.
But this assumes that the benefits of playing at home are exclusively tied to the fans. I’m confident that fans are a big part of it, but there’s also a regular routine, waking up in your own bed, being surrounded by your family, etc. There’s more that goes into this than the Stadium faithful. So, really, this gets a giant shrug.
As for the second scenario, where there are no fans at all, we do have some context. The Orioles and White Sox played in an empty Camden Yards in 2015. Here are the highlights:
It’s weird! Zack Britton was there, though, and he recently said it was “bizarre” to play in the empty stadium. He told Lindsey Adler that he could hear Gary Thorne calling the game while he was pitching. It would take some major adjustment for everyone and I don’t know what would happen if the Yankees played ~60 games in empty stadiums, none of which were Yankee Stadium. It would be so uncharted that there’s no way to know, really.
One thing is for sure, though: either scenario strips the Yankees of their biggest recent advantage. If it happens, and I hope it does because give me weird baseball over no baseball, we can only hope that the Yanks’ considerable talent is enough to overcome that drawback.