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Day and night: Cubs’ stats at Wrigley tell two tales

Artist rendering Wrigley Field outfield signs renovations during daytime operations

Artist rendering of the Wrigley Field outfield signs and renovations during daytime operations

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Updated: May 28, 2013 12:15AM

Every ballpark has its special conditions.
Some have greater
idiosyncrasies than others, with the Green Monster at Fenway Park and the way the ball carries at Coors Field leaping immediately to mind. For the most part, familiarity with the conditions gives the home team a little extra edge.

Wrigley Field has a collection of idiosyncrasies that include small foul territory, changeable winds, dimensions that are deep down the lines but short in the power alleys and the wells in the outfield wall in left-center and right-center.

There’s one extra-special condition: the prevalence of day baseball. The Cubs are in their 26th season since lights were installed at Wrigley in 1988. They played six night games that season after the lights were switched on Aug. 8 and since have faced a legal limit that has grown from the initial 18 night games to the current 30.

Does the special condition of having 51-plus day games give the Cubs an extra edge at home? Does it mean, as some have suggested, they have no home edge at all? Are their energies sapped by the daytime summer heat, leading to late-season collapses?

In the last 50 years — 25 with lights, 25 without — the Cubs have had only sporadic success. For the 25 years starting in 1963, their overall winning percentage was .478. Only the 1984 team went to the playoffs, though there were fewer postseason opportunities at the time, with no wild card until 1994 and no playoffs other than the World Series before 1969. From 1988 to 2012, they had a .482 winning percentage with five playoff appearances.

In the earlier 25 years, the Cubs played .525 baseball at Wrigley Field and .431 on the road. That’s a .094 difference between home and road percentages. From 1988 on, their winning percentage was .513 at home and .451 on the road, a difference of .062.

From 1963 to 1987, National League teams as a whole won at a .538 clip at home and at a .462 clip on the road. Starting in 1988, the percentages were .539 at home and .458 on the road.

Before lights were installed, the Cubs’ .094 home/road difference was larger than the NL’s .076 home-field advantage. Since Wrigley night games started, the Cubs’ .062 difference has been smaller than the NL’s .081 difference.

As for the question about whether more night games would help to avert a late-season energy drain, I charted out the Cubs’ regular-season records in September and October during those 50 years. For 25 years
starting in 1963, they played .443 baseball from Sept. 1 onward, 35 percentage points lower than their overall figure. Starting in 1988, they’ve been at .483 from Sept. 1 onward, pretty much right on their .482 overall percentage.

There are enough year-to-year variables that the numbers don’t conclusively prove the Cubs have a larger home-field advantage with more day games but are less prone to swoon with more night games. But those aren’t bad assumptions as working theories, either.

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