SOUTH HILL – The Pirates will remarkably enter September with meaningful baseball to be played despite an assortment of injuries, missed opportunities to upgrade the roster (though the folks inside 115 Federal St. might disagree), and general craziness.
The final month of the season will determine many significant things like whether back-to-back winning seasons are captured, like whether the Pirates can do something they didn’t a year ago – win the division – and, if not, whether they can fit in a wild card spot (and if so can they capture home-field advantage for the wild card game which is critical?).
Never is the schedule more important than it is September. So do you want the good news or the bad news?
The good news is that among the contenders for the wild card and NL Central, the Pirates are tied for easiest strength of remaining schedule, as determined by remaining opponent winning percentage
Remaining strength of schedule
Rank/Team/ Remaining opponent winning percentage
1t. Brewers 50%
1t. Braves 50
3. Cardinals 49
4t. Pirates 48
4t. Giants 48
Now these are only percentage points differences, but every percentage point matters at this point in the season.
That was the good news, the bad news has to do with location. The Pirates play the vast majority of their remaining games away from PNC Park.
Here’s how the home-away balance is for the remaining NL Central and wild card contenders.
teams home away
Braves 16 12
Cardinals 16 13
Brewers 14 15
Giants 14 16
Pirates 12 17
As you can see the Pirates have the fewest remaining home games against, which is a big deal. Home-field advantage is real. And it’s not real for the most important reason you might think as we wrote about last last September.
What University of Chicago behavioral economist Tobias Moskowitz and Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim concluded in their book “Scorecasting” is that home-field advantage is tied predominately to umpire bias — and they found it to be true in every sport.
The authors examined millions of pitches tracked by QuesTec and PitchFx — computerized systems that track pitch location and velocity — and found the home team benefited from borderline strike-ball decisions by umpires.
“In baseball it turns out that the most significant difference between home and away teams is that the home teams strike out less and walk more — a lot more — per plate appearance than road teams,” they wrote.
Home-field advantage is a real, powerful thing and the Pirates do not have it going forward. It means every remaining home game – like the three vs. the Reds this weekend – are precious.
What does it all mean? The Pirates are still an underdog to return to the postseason with 30.3 percent odds as of today according to Baseball Prospectus.
Still, I’m saying there’s a chance.