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MLB Teams Hold Up Well After Overseas Travel

This weekend, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will be in Sydney to play Major League Baseball’s Opening Series. MLB’s effort to sell the sport in a new market is seemingly asking a lot of the two teams involved. If either squad gets off to a rough start after returning stateside, you can bet there will be plenty of talking heads ready to blame the jet lag from a 15,000-mile round trip to Australia.

We can quickly look at whether past teams put in similar situations suffered. From 2000 to 2012, MLB sent eight teams to Tokyo, which is about 2,000 miles closer to the continental United States than Australia. But Tokyo should still be a decent proxy for the trip the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are making (both flights exceed 10 hours).

If you’re not interested the nitty-gritty statistics, skip the next paragraph, but suffice it to say we’re comparing how we would expect these teams to perform to how they actually performed.

The nitty-gritty statistics: Using a weighted average of Pythagenpat records from the previous two seasons, I established projected “true talent” winning percentages for the globetrotting teams and their opponents in all April games after they came back to the U.S. I plugged those numbers into Bill James’ Log5 formula (factoring in MLB’s traditional 54 percent home-field advantage) to estimate the number of post-travel games each team should have won. If there was a big difference between the expected win totals and the number of games won, then perhaps there is something to the jet-lag theory.

Here are the results:

Year Team Exp. Win % Actual Win %
2000 Chicago Cubs 0.437 0.360
2000 New York Mets 0.563 0.625
2004 New York Yankees 0.539 0.524
2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays 0.426 0.316
2008 Boston Red Sox 0.543 0.593
2008 Oakland Athletics 0.487 0.593
2012 Oakland Athletics 0.517 0.455
2012 Seattle Mariners 0.431 0.455
Total 0.495 0.497

As it turns out, the teams involved in Tokyo games went on to finish April winning at almost exactly the same clip that was expected from their preseason projection (on average, these teams played about 23 games in April). This is far from a definitive study, but the early returns say it’s unlikely that any residual travel effects will contribute to a monthlong malaise for Los Angeles or Arizona. If either club struggles next month, they probably won’t have the Land Down Under to blame.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.