As Mariners fans, we often read quotes like this…
“With our travel schedule, tougher than anyone else in baseball at more than 50,000 miles a year, we have to have a bench, guys who can step in and do the job. If you don’t, you can’t rest regulars the way you have to and you pay a high price in the long run.”
-Bob Finnigan quoting Lou Piniella, Seattle Times, Sept. 27, 1998
Â And this…
â€œArmstrong says 2008 features the worst schedule in club history, and while that’s largely because of travel inequities, the home schedule didn’t do them any favors, either.â€
-David Andriesen paraphrasing Chuck Armstrong in the PI, Aug. 20, 2008
I always kind of brushed these types of comments off, thinking that it was just the Mariners crying in their coffee. I mean, I knew being in the Northwest somewhat secluded the Mâ€™s from the rest of baseball, but I figured that the claims were a bit overblown. Itâ€™s not like theyâ€™re the only team west of the Mississippiâ€”there are other teams on the west coast that have to make road trips to Boston and Chicago and down to Tampa, just like the Mâ€™s. But just thinking it was hogwash wasnâ€™t enough for meâ€”I had to be sure. Since I had never actually seen travel distances for major league teams, I had to do the legwork myselfâ€¦
I created a spreadsheet and started inputting travel distances based on teamsâ€™ 2009 schedules. As you may imagine, this is pretty time consuming, so I didnâ€™t do every team, I just tried to get a sample of teams across the country. Obviously I started with the Mariners. In 2009, the Mâ€™s will fly approximately 47,183 miles. Not having anything to compare this to, I didnâ€™t really know what to think, but I was glad that the number was close to the 50,000 Lou mentioned.
Next, I decided to see how the travel schedule of an east coast team compares to that of the Mariners. I chose to look at the Phillies and, not surprisingly I suppose, their schedule is a lot lighter. The World Champions will fly about 36,112 miles next season. Thatâ€™s still a ton and I think about this every time I get off a plane.
But, with so many teams in close proximity, I thought perhaps the Phillies were an outlier and decided to look at a team in another corner of the countryâ€”the Tampa Rays. Turns out it wasnâ€™t an outlier and their mileage is nearly identical at 37,685 miles next season. How about a team in the middle of the country? Well, they have it even easier. The Rockies will travel about 31,040 miles this season. I then thought that the only team that probably even had a shot at getting close to Seattle was another west coast team, and I was right. The Angels will travel approximately 43,407 miles next yearâ€”still about 4,000 miles shy of Seattle, but itâ€™s a lot closer.
We all know that flying can result in sore joints and muscles, sickness and loss of sleep. Obviously the Mariners are taking more luxurious trips than me, sitting in a cramped coach seat, listening to people coax their whining pets while trying to avoid watching â€œThe Longshots.â€ Iâ€™m serious about the pet thing by the way and, as a side rant, since when are dogs are cats allowed on planes? What if they end up sitting next to each other? And what other animals can you bring? Snakes?
Still, no matter how cushy the seats, how many songs on your iPod or how fun it is to listen to Jarrod Washburnâ€™s ice fishing stories, flying takes itâ€™s toll and a team flying 25% more than others certainly isnâ€™t a prime selling point.
But is it really as bad as they make it out to be? Some quick Googling indicates that itâ€™s only about an extra 20 hours in the air. Over the course of a season, that doesnâ€™t seem like much (just a little over 3 extra hours a month?). Plus, I donâ€™t know about everyone else, but for me the worst part about flying is taking off and landing and the Mâ€™s take the same number of trips as all the other teams.
Using the same quick math, the Angels only spend about 8 more hours in the sky than Seattleâ€¦over six months. Pretty negligible, if you ask me. Do California teams complain about travel schedules, or just us?
On top of that, what kind of impact, if any, does the extra travel even have? Although I would love to talk to players and coaches about it, signs point to â€œpretty much none.â€ One semi-bogus sleep study (from reputable source â€œe! Science Newsâ€) claims that teams with a three-hour circadian advantage win about 60% of the time (though Iâ€™d prefer to see if those numbers hold up over multiple seasons). The only other data I found was from Gary Huckabay several years ago at Baseball Prospectus and he found that hitters put up nearly identical numbers the first day of a road trip to those accumulated during the rest of the trip.
So, much like team chemistry, travel schedules seem like something losing teams tend to blame and winning teams simply donâ€™t talk about. You only hear the Mâ€™s talking about the disadvantages to their geographical position, you donâ€™t hear them saying, â€œYou know, we really enjoy the longer flights because it gives our guys more time to bondÂ and build the chemistry necessary to win over the long haul.”
Hereâ€™s how the Mâ€™s have done on the road the past 10 seasonsâ€¦