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Mapping Royals road trips in 2018

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When will the team’s jet lag be worse?

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Travel is an inevitable part of baseball’s long 162-game season. In 2018, the Royals will leave Kansas City 12 times, covering a total of approximately 26,600 miles, more than enough to circumnavigate the equator. However, the Royals will travel the eighth-fewest miles of all MLB teams, according to this fun mapping project, which estimates the Mariners’ seasonal travel at over 40,000 miles.

In addition to the inherent time/resource use involved in travel, the accompanying jet lag can have a very real effect on player performance, according to this 2017 post from Science Magazine.

In fact, jetlag’s effects can even cancel out the home field advantage for some teams returning from away games…The effects were almost always worse for teams going east, the researchers report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Teams expect there to be a problem when they travel on the road, but I don’t think anybody really thinks about the problems that could occur when they return home,” says Aaron Lee, a sports medicine physician at MacNeal Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, who conducted his own review of jet lag in athletes in 2012. One of the more striking finds in the new study, he says, was that jet lag significantly impacted both home and away team pitchers’ ability to prevent home runs.

This got me thinking about the Royals’ relatively unusual geographic position to the west of most MLB teams; in theory this would exacerbate any potential home/road performance split, because the team mostly travels east to away games and returns west for home games (setting aside rare West Coast games and locations along a similar meridian such as Texas and Minnesota). So what does the Royals’ 2018 road trip schedule look like when mapped?

2018 Kansas City Royals road trips
2018 Kansas City Royals road trips
Eric Reuter

June stands out as the only month when the Royals will travel meaningfully west of Kansas City, with two long trips to the West Coast (meaning long eastbound returns to homestands). On the other hand, any Royals fans in northeast Missouri can wave at a whole series of charter flights passing overhead.

If nothing else, it’s an interesting trend to watch for, and perhaps one to consider when planning ticket purchases. Of the Royals’ 12 road trips in 2018 (listed below), only four conclude in a city over 700 miles away. I particularly suggest avoiding July 2nd, when the Royals return east from a wicked Houston-Milwaukee-Seattle jaunt to face the powerful Indians without a day off between, and August 24th, when the Royals return from St. Petersburg to again face the Indians without a day off (though westbound this time). At least when they return from Oakland there’s a day off scheduled, and when they return from Boston it’s to face the lowly Tigers.

2018 Royals home games following road trips

First home game after road trip Last city visited Distance from last city Days off Home opponent
First home game after road trip Last city visited Distance from last city Days off Home opponent
4/9 Cleveland 698 0 Seattle
4/24 Detroit 643 1 Milwaukee
5/3 Boston 1248 0 Detroit
5/14 Cleveland 698 0 Tampa Bay
5/28 Arlington 462 0 Minnesota
6/12 Oakland 1495 1 Cincinnati
7/2 Seattle 1503 0 Cleveland
7/20 Chicago 412 5 Minnesota
8/6 Minnesota 412 0 Chicago Cubs
8/24 St. Petersburg 1041 0 Cleveland
9/10 Minnesota 412 0 Chicago White Sox
9/27 Cincinnati 539 0 Cleveland
Eric Reuter

In theory, it would be interesting to try and analyze a team’s performance over time with reference to preceding travel distance and direction, but there are so many other factors that I’m not convinced the results would be statistically meaningful. A future analysis could also look at changes in annual travel distance over time, which would change with factors including the rotating inter-division matchups and the addition of new teams to the league.

Does anything stand out about this year’s travel schedule for you?