Whenever someone complains about the All-Star Game determining home-field advantage in the World Series, I like to point out that it's no more arbitrary a system than the previous one, which simply had the leagues alternate from year to year. Neither is a merit-based system with regard to the actual pennant-winning teams, but at least in the current set up you can occasionally get a scenario such as the one we had last year in which Justin Verlander of the eventual pennant-winning Tigers was the losing pitcher in the All-Star game, while Matt Cain of the eventual pennant-winning Giants was the winning pitcher and fellow Giants Mekly Cabrera and Pablo Sandoval delivered the big hits for the National League, driving in five of their eight runs in an 8-0 win.
Yes, it would make more sense to simply give home field advantage to the team with the better regular season record, or even the better interleague record that year. Yet, just because the current system is gimmicky and is the result not of an attempt to make the World Series more fair but to make the All-Star Game more competitive, following the regrettable tie in 2002, doesn't mean it is worse than the system that was in place for most of the 20th century.
Of course, the real issue here is whether home field advantage in the World Series matters. There's reason to believe that it does, at least a little. For example, since rule tying home-field advantage in the World Series to the All-Star Game, the team with home-field advantage has won seven of ten World Series, while home teams have won 30 of 50 (60 percent) of the World Series games including the lone Game Seven during that stretch.
That lone World Series to go to seven games in the last ten years is a key example of how home-field advantage in the World Series matters. It's hard to argue that having last licks wasn't crucial to the Cardinals' comeback in Game Six of the 2011 World Series, or that playing at home wasn't a key factor to their ability to carry that contest's momentum into Game Seven. Indeed, the home team has won the last seven Games Seven in World Series history, stretching back to 1982, and in five of those seven Series (1985, 1986, 1991, 1997, and 2011) the eventual winner had a walk-off win at home in either Game Six or Game Seven.
It's also worth noting that the home team has won every game in a World Series three times, all of those coming in the last 21 years, while there has never been a World Series in which the road team has won every game. In fact, if we stretch our previous figure back to 1980, the home team has won 62 percent of World Series games. Of course, there's a significant difference between playing a single World Series game at home and having home-field advantage. The latter can disappear with a loss in one of the first two games. Still, the team with home-field advantage has won 25 of the 32 World Series since 1980, a far higher success rate of 78 percent.
Of course, that 1980 cut-off is significant, because in the 1970s, the team with home-field advantage won just three of 10 World Series, and the road team won four of the five Game Sevens, though, even in that decade, the home team won 57 percent of all World Series games. What we're seeing here is a consistent 60 percent win rate for the home team in a single World Series game, and, even with the home-disadvantaged teams' success in the 1970s, the team with home-field advantage has won two-thirds of the last 42 World Series as well as two-thirds of the seventh games -- clearly, having home field advantage in the World Series matters.
Is there a better way to assign it? Of course there is, but I'd rather the Cardinals be the home team in Games Six and Seven in 2011 because a player from their division hit a three-run home run off the Rangers' C.J. Wilson in the All-Star Game that year, rather than because it was simply the NL's turn that year.