The Cubs finished another miserable season. The record is bad, but more importantly, this marks the fifth consecutive year that the team has missed the postseason. An interesting situation in that terrible record is that the team had a worse record at home than on the road. This has only happened twice since 2005 as Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation pointed out, but this fact has been bemoaned by many people for a variety of reasons.
Early this year, David Kaplan wrote about the Cubs having the worst home record in baseball since 1945. The data in the article was current through May 12th of this year, and the Cubs checked in at a .511 winning percentage at home. The only teams worse than the Cubs were the Mets, Rays, Mariners and Padres. The Padres were the only team to have a losing record at home. The Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals made up the top of the list. This raises an obvious question. Are the teams listed good because they dominate at home or do they dominate at home because they are good?
Kaplan raises the issues of day games in passing in the piece, and this is often cited as one of the inherent disadvantages of the Cubs. The fact that Cubs players are asked to shift their body clocks more frequently than their opponents does probably cause more fatigue. Cubs players might be more worn down as the season progress, but this should affect the Cubs equally on the road and home. Moreso this does not answer the larger chicken and the egg question of the Cubs home woes.
Another commonly held belief is that because of Wrigley's unique characteristics, this makes it a difficult park to build a team. The theory is that on one day Wrigley plays like an extreme pitcher's park and the next day it is Coors East, making it impossible to tailor a team to Wrigley. This theory, while logical, does not stand up to factual scrutiny. The Cubs' home woes have been everywhere woes since 1945. Over the same time frame as used in the Kaplan piece the Cubs have won road games at a .471 clip. That is only better than the mark of Seattle, San Diego and Tampa Bay.
The idea that the Cubs have been bad at home because of Wrigley is a popular notion, and there may be some merit to the long term wear on players due to lack of facilities and day games. This idea that the ballpark is causing the Cubs to lose more home games is not accurate though. The Cubs home record compared to their overall record reveals that the Cubs have actually been better than most teams at winning at home. When comparing the differences between overall record winning percentage and home winning percentage, the Cubs are actually the tenth best in baseball from 1945 to May 12, 2013.
This chart matches up fairly nicely with some independent research done on the topic. Colorado has enjoyed a considerable homefield advantage throughout their history. David Schoenfield did some quick math earlier this year comparing home record to road record the past ten years. Colorado stood at the top of the list as it does on my chart. This also matches an older paper by Cyril Morong that showed Colorado to enjoy a considerable homefield advantage.
The reason for this is pretty simple. Research shows that ballparks that have extreme features have the strongest home field advantage. Colorado is one of the biggest outliers in baseball. Wrigley has some unique features that possibly explain why it ranks higher on the list, but the Cubs are solidly in the middle of the pack since 1945. Also the Cubs ranked 24th using Schoenfield's method over the past ten years.
At the end of the day Wrigley is a unique situation for the Cubs that has a number of positive and negative effects on the ballclub and the organization. The Cubs might be held back by Wrigley due to players wearing down to extra day games and poor facilties. Those effects are not shown in the poor home winning percentage that David Kaplan's piece pointed out. The Cubs have not lacked a home field advantage when it comes to playing at Wrigley the past sixty years though.