The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) is still kicking and just published a study that suggests that attendance has a low correlation with the game outcome.
They based this off the 2020 season, which had the unprecedented state of affairs of being played without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This gave researchers an opportunity to measure the impact of attendance on the home team as compared to previous seasons.
Examining 8,188 MLB games over four years, we find no significant effect of crowds on home team performance. The presence of fans does not predict higher run differentials or likelihood of victory for host clubs.
Our findings suggest, though admittedly do not prove, that home-field advantage may be caused by other factors. These include rule advantages that allow the home team to bat last (as reported by Simon and Simonoff) and to pitch first (as reported by Smith), the familiarity players have with the unique features of their home parks, or the comforts associated with being at home (e.g. having family nearby, sleeping in one’s own bed, etc.). While we report that home teams performed no better or worse when hosting opponents traveling from further distances or returning from a road trip, the simple idea of “being home” may be more powerful than once believed.
The Pirates, as you know, haven’t put many butts in seats in recent years. (Side note: The phrase “fungible player” kept popping up in my head as I wrote this article. The word fungible is used more on Pirates-related sites than anywhere else on the Interwebs, which is what happens when you feature guys like Kevin Polcovich, Enrique Wilson and Kyle Keller.)
There is another study claiming that attendance does matter, but this is another nugget of information in our grand quest to understand whether this guy actually helps the Pirates win:
Sir, this is a baseball game. pic.twitter.com/QKJ2MYQjm2
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 27, 2021
Shockingly, the Pirates lost that day.
Of course, fans do matter. Maybe not on game day, but more ticket buyers equals more revenue, and in baseball — even if the CBA negotiators only whisper about it to their spouses at night — more revenue equals more winning.