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How does travel affect a team’s performance?

The MLB season is long. Teams play 162 games over six months, and over that time they have to travel all over the country (plus the occasional Canada trip). But are players actually affected? Are the Yankees expected to not perform to the best of their abilities when they make the trek out west, dealing with jet lag and overall tiredness?

Heck, even my fandom is impaired when I stay up for West Coast games during the week. It is not rare for me to mistake Aaron Judge for Ronald Torreyes. Neil Walker looks like Roger Hornsby.

The Yankees typically fall in the middle of the league when it comes to miles traveled. Back in 2016, they ranked twelfth in that category, logging 35,252 miles. Of course, being on the coast will ultimately mean that you are more apt to have to travel longer distances. Teams located more centrally tend to have the easier travel schedules.

Alex Song, Thomas Severini, and Ravi Allada published a study last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to examine just that. They observed results from 1992-2011 covering almost 5,000 games. Here are some brief reviews of the results:

The study showed that teams actually performed slightly worse when the jet lag (considered to be traveling across two time zones) was due to traveling east rather than west.

For example, when traveling east, the home team’s winning percentage dropped by about 35 points, while it only dropped about two points when going in the opposite direction. The researchers claim that this is more likely due to “circadian misalignment”, essentially having to adjust to a shortened day.

Furthermore, pitchers were more likely to give up home runs when traveling eastward, which led to an increase of approximately 0.1-0.2 runs per game. Additionally, the researchers hypothesized that location and velocity are also negatively affected by jet lag.

Overall, the study revealed that jet-lagged road teams ended up typically playing better statistically than jet-lagged home teams. The researchers’ suggested that in order to combat the effect of the long travel, starting pitchers should arrive a day or two before the rest of the team. For the full numerical results, check out the results of the study here.