Travel takes a toll on Red Sox
Jet lag can often lead to lag in offensive production
It was just two short months ago that we were pondering the possible effects of the Red Sox inter-continental Opening Day itinerary. Before the Sox left for Japan to play the A's, there was a great deal of speculation about how the schedule would impact the team's chances of getting off to a good start. After all, the Yankees did it in 2004 and attributed some of their early struggles to the disruption of their normal schedule that year.
There's no doubt that travel takes a toll, and when we talked to Dr. Thomas Scammell, associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he gave us an idea of just how difficult changing time zones can be.
"As a general rule, for every hour of time shift you experience, it takes one day for your body to adjust," explains Scammell. "When you consider the time difference -- 13 hours -- and the actual number of days they spent in Japan -- seven days -- it's likely that everybody on the trip felt a bit disoriented at some point."
During our first discussion, Scammell referred to an article that had appeared in the British science journal "Nature." The article explored the effect of coast-to-coast travel on the outcome of Major League games. In light of the Sox's recent 1-5 swing through Oakland and Seattle, I figured it was worth taking another look at the data.
"The study was done in the early 90s, and showed some statistically significant differences," said Scammell. "The researchers looked at the records from three complete seasons and came to some interesting conclusions."
Now, we know the researchers couldn't control who was pitching or which team's star may have been injured, but if you look at all of the series that involved coast-to-coast travel, the edge always went to the home team.
"When there was no travel involved -- that is, when a team stayed within its own time zone -- the home team won 54 percent of those games," Scammell says. "When a team in the east traveled to the west, the home team came out on top 56 percent of the time. When a West Coast team had to come east, that's where the study showed the most significant difference. In those cases, the team that traveled lost 63 percent of the time."
Travel west to east is more difficult on the body's internal clock. You have to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than you're used to. People tend to have an easier time adjusting to a longer day. It seems to hold true for hitters.
"In games that involved west-to-east travel, the home team scored an average of 1.2 more runs," explained Scammell. "I think any manager would prefer that."
Speaking strictly from personal experience, team travel seems to affect fans as well. If you live on the East Coast, a West Coast swing causes a serious disruption of sleep patterns, and the alarm doesn't go off on West Coast time, either. But modern life offers plenty of distractions for the non-fan as well.
"People are working harder and longer," Scammell adds. "They have more entertainment choices and many are very engaging. People get wrapped up in TV, e-mail, surfing online and video games."
Sleep deprivation is so common that many people don't even realize it's a problem.
"We know that people are sleeping less. Compared to the '70s, people are sleeping about an hour less every night," Scammell says.
After his team's dismal display against the A's and Mariners, it's likely that manager Terry Francona lost some sleep. But he'll get a chance to turn the tables when those opponents come to Fenway Park -- a 63-percent chance of winning and 1.2 more runs a game, that's worth waiting up for.
Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.