Estimating home-field value in empty KBO stadiums

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN.com) 

May 31, 2020 12:44 PM

Sports bettors all over the world are dealing with the challenge of estimating home-field advantage in empty stadiums. That will be a key issue here in the U.S. if Major League Baseball is able to resume as hoped in July. Pro and college football are also planning to play in either empty or partially filled stadiums this fall. (For now, the NBA and NHL are focused on mostly neutral-site action for restarts). 

How much has home-field advantage been worth thus far in the Korea Baseball Organization? We’re now 117 games into the unique 2020 season, which is enough of a sample size to at least give us an inkling. 

First, we have to throw out three “neutral-field” games played between the Doosan Bears and LG Twins. They share Jamsil Stadium in Seoul. In all games played with clear road and home teams, the win count looks like this:

Visitors: 51 victories

Hosts: 63 victories

That’s not consistent with the theory that there wouldn’t be any home-field advantage without crowds. Home teams have a winning percentage of .553. Using the chart we ran a week ago that turns win percentage into money lines, a .553 mark would land just between -120 and -125. More exact calculations show a price of -124 (as 124 divided by 224 is .553). If two dead-even teams were facing each other, the home team “should” be a -124 favorite based on this early-season data. 

Now, that’s a “no vig” representation. Sports books adjusts lines to create their house edge. A standard 20-cent line would turn that KBO mark into “Host -134, Visitor + 114.” Most of you know that books are using an even wider spread in this league. In this hypothetical, a Las Vegas store would currently have “Host -139, Visitor + 109.” 

That seems pretty steep! And, it could well be overstating home value. If you look at runs scored rather than wins (again, throwing out the Doosan/LG series), hosts have only outscored visitors 608-600. Almost a toss-up.

Why the difference? Home teams are 17-7 in games decided exactly by one run. A .708 win percentage in nail biters may not hold up. 

Analysts will need a much larger empty-stadium sample size to pin things down. For now, home field advantage seems to be in play, and is worth something between a few cents and 25 cents on the money line. If you'd like, split the difference and call it about 15 cents until we learn more. Don’t be one of the pundits saying “there’s no home field advantage in empty KBO stadiums” unless you see visitors go on a fantastic run to even up the records.  

HOSTS WIN THE WEEKEND 10 GAMES TO FIVE, TAKING FOUR SERIES

Only one visitor was able to win a series this past weekend, with the red-hot LG Twins taking two of three at the Kia Tigers. Otherwise, home teams dominated. Samsung took two of three from previously red-hot NC. Kiwoon won two of three from KT in the dome at Gocheok. SK swept Hanwha, climbing out of last place in the process.  

Current Standings

Best: NC Dinos 18-5, LG Twins 16-7, Doosan Bears 14-9.

Mid-pack: Kiwoom Heroes 12-12, Kia Tigers 12-12, Lotte Giants 11-12.

Off the pace: KT Wiz 10-13, Samsung Lions 10-14. 

Off the map: SK Wyverns 7-16, Hanwha Eagles 7-17.

In new series beginning Tuesday, the powers all draw losing opponents. NC hosts SK…LG hosts Samsung…and Doosan visits KT. Lotte at Kia becomes a showcase series by default. Kiwoom rounds out the card at Hanwha.

KBO POPULARITY (K-BO-POP!) SENDS LIVE TELECASTS TO ESPN

ESPN announced late last week that it would be moving live KBO telecasts from ESPN2 to the mother ship. Same-day replays will still air on the deuce. Upcoming attractions (all times Eastern)…

Tuesday: Lotte at Kia…5:30 a.m. (ESPN), 2 p.m. replay (ESPN2)

Wednesday: Kiwoom at Hanwha…5:30 a.m. (ESPN), 2 p.m. replay (ESPN2)

Thursday: Lotte at Kia…5:30 a.m. (ESPN), 2 p.m. replay (ESPN2)

Who knows, maybe Stephen A. Smith will be yelling at Max Kellerman about the greatness of Chang-mo Koo by week’s end. (Six more scoreless innings Sunday for Koo…just two earned runs allowed in 35 innings this season for the 23-year-old phenom). 

UPDATED RELIEVER ERA’S

In our last report, we posted season-to-date earned run averages for all KBO bullpens. We’ll try to update those for you periodically through the season. Important to do so now because we had some extremes this past weekend. The NC Dinos’ pen was pounded at Samsung. Kia managed to drop from third best to sixth, getting lit up by LG. 

Reliever ERA’s through May 31

LG Twins: 3.46

Samsung Lions: 4.98

Lotte Giants: 4.98

Kiwoom Heroes: 5.11

NC Dinos: 5.35

SK Wyverns: 5.36

Kia Tigers: 6.00

Hanwha Eagles: 6.04

Doosan Bears 7.58

KT Wiz: 7.95

Remember to consider likely bullpen performances when handicapping any baseball game (overseas or domestic)…particularly the vulnerability of arms forced to pitch middle innings when starters can’t go deep. 

UPDATING OFFENSIVE SCORING LINES

Early in the season, we posted some low-to-high scoring summaries for each KBO offense. They’re about to get too cumbersome to post on a regular basis because of length. And, scoring averages will do a good enough job painting the picture moving forward. 

Here’s one final presentation (you can update on your own moving forward if you wish). These are per-game scoring totals posted low-to-high, with medians in parenthesis. Those medians represent a “typical expectation” vs. average pitching. Move your expectations to the left against quality arms, to the right in good scoring environments. Teams are ordered from best to worst medians through the games of May 31. 

NC: 1-1-1-2-3-3-4-4-4-5-5-(6)-7-7-8-8-9-10-10-11-12-13-18

KT: 0-1-1-2-3-3-4-4-4-5-5-(6)-6-6-7-8-9-10-12-12-12-13-14

The Dinos and Wiz are the two most consistently productive offenses in the KBO. Each has scored six or more at least half the time thus far, has reached at least four in 17 of 23 outings (74%), and at least 10 six times (26%). Though, you can see production is no sure thing in this sport. Numbers on the left remind that even the best baseball offenses can be shut down by quality pitching. 

Doosan: 0-1-2-2-3-3-4-4-4-4-5-(5)-6-6-6-7-9-9-10-11-12-13-13

Kiwoom: 0-0-1-2-3-3-3-3-3-5-5-(5-5)-5-6-6-7-8-9-9-11-11-12-14

LG: 1-2-2-2-3-3-3-3-3-4-5-(5)-6-6-6-8-9-9-10-10-13-14-15

Samsung: 0-0-0-2-2-2-3-3-3-4-5-(5)-5-6-6-6-7-7-8-9-11-13-14

We have four offenses whose medians are five. Doosan should be considered the best of the quartet because the Bears are much more likely to reach at least four runs. All are capable of lighting up poor pitching. 

Kia: 0-0-1-2-2-2-2-2-2-3-4-(4-4)-4-5-5-6-6-8-8-9-10-12-13

SK: 0-0-1-1-2-2-2-2-3-4-4-(4)-5-5-5-5-6-6-6-8-8-9-9

Lotte: 0-1-1-1-1-1-2-2-2-4-4-(4)-4-4-5-6-7-7-8-9-9-9-10

You may recall Lotte making headlines early in the season thanks to a temporarily potent offense. The Giants went 7-9-7-9 out of the gate, but have fallen on hard times recently. A lot more two’s in that three-team hunk than you saw with superior offenses. Finally, in a class all by itself…

Hanwha: 0-0-0-1-1-1-2-2-3-3-3-(3-3)-3-4-4-4-5-5-5-6-8-9-11

It takes a Herculean effort just to get past five runs for this offense. The Eagles have scored three or less in more than half their games. 

VSiN hopes you’re enjoying the KBO as we wait for sports in the U.S. to get back in gear. We’ll see you again Thursday for our next report. 

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