MLB Team Travel

One interesting aspect of the proposed realignment is the effect it will have on team travel. As Dave Cameron noted without division there would be fewer games between geographically close teams, and more between teams farther way from each other — travel will increase. Last Thursday On the Forecheck, a hockey blog, posted the total distance each NHL team will travel in the upcoming 2011-2012 season (hat tip Tango). That made me think that, in light of realignment, it would be interesting to see how much teams are already traveling — and how much variation is there between teams — as a baseline for the current system.

I wanted to get a broad picture of travel distances for each team under the current system, so rather than use just one year’s worth of data I looked at all seasons from 2005 (when the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals) to 2011. I counted how many miles each team traveled and also the number of miles traveled on trips taken without a travel day (i.e., back-to-back games). Since this no-off day travel should be especially grueling. Here are the results averaged over the seven years, thanks to retrosheet for the data:


Team Miles BTB Miles
Milwaukee 25,341 16,513
Cincinnati 26,050 18,375
Chicago (N) 26,394 18,835
St. Louis 26,490 19,230
Chicago (A) 26,589 17,387
Cleveland 27,962 18,340
Washington 28,175 19,091
Minnesota 28,323 20,169
Kansas City 28,730 19,676
Detroit 28,879 20,698
Atlanta 29,680 19,090
Pittsburgh 29,722 18,442
Philadelphia 30,352 20,096
Baltimore 30,457 21,248
New York (N) 31,214 19,201
Toronto 31,342 22,475
New York (A) 31,841 19,935
Colorado 32,054 19,912
Houston 32,641 20,352
Arizona 34,366 19,563
Boston 34,474 21,505
Florida 36,003 20,626
Texas 37,229 22,305
Tampa Bay 37,998 22,621
Los Angeles (N) 38,084 17,471
San Diego 39,314 18,550
San Francisco 39,713 19,042
Los Angeles (A) 46,570 22,423
Oakland 46,659 20,829
Seattle 49,007 23,970

The ordering of the list is not terribly surprising. Teams in the center of the country, and center of their division, have the least travel. While those at the extremes of the country or their division have the most. Also since the NL Central plays the most intra-division games and the AL West the fewest, they are well represented at the top and bottom, respectively, of the list. There is a fair bit of spread, with Seattle traveling almost twice as much as Milwaukee. And the three west-coast AL West teams all travel nearly 7,000 miles more than the next team.

Finally I thought it would be cool to see what one season’s worth of travel looks like for a MLB team. For comparison here are travel maps for the 2011 teams with most and fewest miles traveled: the Seattle Mariners1 and Cincinnati Reds (though the Brewers had the least travel averaged over the seven years the Reds had the least in 2011).

Craig Robinson made similar — and much better looking — maps comparing travel of the 2009, 1959 and 1886 Kansas City Royals/Athletics/Cowboys. My maps were made with the help of Nathan Yau’s great circle tutorial. Line thickness denotes number of trips.


1. I used the actual travel not scheduled travel, with the Mariners playing in Seattle this past weekend for an ‘away’ series against the Florida Marlins. The Mariner’s league leading travel was reduced slightly — though they still came out on top. They went from Washington D.C. to Seattle and will stay in Seattle for their next series, 2,325 miles, rather than 3,633 miles going Washington D.C to Miami to Seattle. Florida gained travel distance going from Miami to Seattle (instead of staying in Miami) to Oakland for a total of 3,400 miles rather than 2,570. (Return to place in text)




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


17 Responses to “MLB Team Travel”

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  1. Telo says:

    So the next logical question is… under one of the new proposals, how much do those travel numbers go up?

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  2. don says:

    I guess travelling less is better than travelling more, but I have to laugh when I hear MLB travel described as “grueling.” It’s not like these guys are parking in out-lots, taking a shuttle bus to a terminal, waiting in line to check in, getting stripsearched at security, carrying their own luggage, trying to make connecting flights, sitting next to crying babies and eating crap food and peanuts in uncomfortable coach seats. Flying from Seattle to Tampa is probably easier and more comfortable for a ballplayer than it is for me to take my kids to the grocery store. They get limousined up to the tarmac, get on a chartered jet, put their feet up, have a few beers, maybe watch a movie or dink around on twitter, then they land, get into another limousine which takes them to the nicest hotel in the city. Whatever that is, it’s not grueling.

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    • JohnnyComeLately says:

      I think you’re overstating the limousine factor. I bet a lot of their rides are on one of those luxurious charter buses with the ample leg room and soft seats. Much more grueling!

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    • DrTrix says:

      I would replace limo with charter bus and you are pretty close. Meet up at stadium, take charter bus to airport, fly to next city, take another charter bus to team hotel.

      Traveling like this is not as much of a hassle as it would be for someone flying coach. However, a human body still suffers from changing multiple time zones and from playing a night game then flying all night to play another game less than 24 hours later.

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      • david says:

        I could be mistaken, but isn’t there some sort of criteria for total miles a team can travel after a night game if they have a game the following day? A few years ago, ESPN wanted to push a Padres-Braves game back for the Sunday night contest, but it required MLBPA sign-off because it meant the Padres had another start time within 24 hours, more than XX miles (I want to say 1,000, but wouldn’t swear to it) from the previous night.
        It’s why get-away games are normally afternoon affairs if there’s a game on the schedule for the next night.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Not even really that though. It’s not like a team is playing a game that starts at 8pm western time, then plays the next day at noon on the east coast. They are usually within the normal time someone would be awake and alert.

        The main thing is west coast to east coast, which I’m pretty sure they’ll play a day west game and a night east game so it’s not really effecting them that much.

        I’ll take a 7pm east coast game followed by a noon west coast game over a closing shift at a restaurant followed by opening any day of the week. So they can get over it. From getting to the ballpark and the end of the game they put in maybe 8 hours, and it’s a leisurely 8 hours. They have plenty of time to sleep, etc.

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      • gdc says:

        I would reply to the restaurant guy below if I could-when you finish working late you are tired and probably fall asleep in your own bed. If you were playing a game that ends at 10:30 you are still wired esp if it almost went extras and wouldn’t fall asleep until 1 even at home. Instead you yak or Twitter or play games on your phone in that comfy bus and go to the airport where you get on a charter with 1st class seating but still only sleep 80% as well as at home. You spend 5 hrs in the air and instead of it being 6 AM it is 3 AM west coast time and it’s not even worth going to a hotel. So that is why the getaway has to be a day game for cross-country, TV or not.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Well I have sleep apnea so I don’t sleep well no matter what I do. Also, I still don’t feel bad about the baseball player. I used to get home after closing, more tired than a ballplayer is in all likelihood, sleep at 11 (don’t fall asleep until probably 11:30), get up at 5 to be back at 6. May not actually sleep then either, depends on if I need to study at all.

        I do not feel sorry for the ballplayers.

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  3. Mac says:

    Very nice looking set of maps. Well done! Interesting to see how much closer the BTB travel tallies are. Maybe the schedulers do know what they’re doing?

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    • matt says:

      I don’t know if this necessarily means the distances on BTB travel are any shorter. I only looked at the mets schedule and I found the average BTB travel is 768 miles (25 trips) and the average not BTB travel (14 trips) is 858 miles.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Oh yeah I should say the “Miles” category is for all travel put together (including BTB travel), and the “BTB Miles” is just back-to-back travel. So the BTB Miles has to be less than Miles. The average trip length across all the data was 887 miles, for average trip length on back-to-back trips was 820 miles.

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  4. Aaron W. says:

    The furthest distance between any two teams in the same division is the 2,000+ miles between Seattle and Arlington, Texas. The unbalanced schedule exacts a toll on the Mariners, although the balanced schedule was probably worse. The real loser there is Texas, who has to make repeated trips to Seattle, but only one to Kansas City (561 mi.).
    Is this a factor (albeit small) in the superiority of the AL and NL East divisions?

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      I don’t think travel has much effect at all. Like I said, they usually schedule games at different times of day in regards to future travel, or schedule a day off.

      The only players I think it might effect would be young ones who don’t know how to schedule their life yet. Although I’d think that taking trips by bus of hundreds of miles in the minors would help with that.

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  5. mrbmc says:

    Yeah. The Rangers have no business being in a “West” division.

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  6. Will says:

    Odd that Milwaukee comes out on top? No?

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  7. wahooo says:

    I’m actually surprised at how low the numbers are. I have traveled more than most of the teams in a single year for my job and I didn’t feel like I traveled that much. Granted, I did my travel over a 10 month period, but still I would have expected them to log many more miles. The Brewers would barely qualify for frequent flier elite status.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      I think this is a testament to how good the schedule makers are. By making long homestands and coordinating east- or west-coast trips, they can keep the travel lower than it would be otherwise. It is a tremendously complicated problem to optimize, but it looks like they do a pretty good job at it.

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