Tonight, the Orioles begin one of their most important stretches of the year, playing three games in Detroit and three in Texas. These six games are against serious playoff contenders and they are away from the comfortable confines of Camden Yards. The O's could use some big wins, but teams playing on the road are at a natural disadvantage.
The major league home winning percentage this season is .529, and teams generally hit and pitch worse when they are on the road. The reasons for this are...well, we don't really know. If you want to make a name for yourself, that's a pretty open if difficult road for some research.
The Orioles' hitters, specifically, are reliant on the home run when they are in Baltimore. Only the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Brewers have hit more home runs at home than the Orioles, and as the long ball goes, so goes the O's. They have averaged 4.57 runs scored per home game on the strength of 85 homers, but on the road the scoring drops to just 3.81 runs per game with just 62 homers. That's not too surprising, I suppose. Camden Yards is one of the most home run friendly ballparks in baseball.
Meanwhile, as you would expect, pitchers usually fare worse on the road than they do at home. The 2012 MLB home ERA is 3.86 and the road ERA jumps up to 4.23. For the Orioles, however, their numbers have actually mirrored the league's. Oriole pitchers have a home ERA of 4.29, but a road ERA of 4.06.
The difference is - again, and not surprisingly - home runs. We've talked before about how much better the O's are when their pitchers don't give up homers, and this is borne out in their road numbers. Outside of Baltimore City, Oriole pitchers have allowed home runs just 2.5% of the time. Opposing hitters hit long balls 3.3% of the time in Camden Yards. The MLB average, for what it's worth, is a home run in 2.7% of a batter's plate appearances.
So, it's weird. Orioles games on the road end up, on average, with about one and a half fewer runs scored total than they do in Baltimore. They also win more games on the road than they do in Baltimore. It stands to reason that the lower the total score in a game, the better the odds that the game will be decided by the relief pitchers. And with the Orioles' elite bullpen, it further stands to reason that this is a pretty good strategy for the O's to take, scoring fewer runs but also giving up fewer runs.
But then I check and see the starter is Tommy Hunter, who has been pretty bad on the road, who gives up more home runs on the road, and who is squaring off against Justin Verlander tonight. Ahh, nuts.