For years, the general assumption has been that teams flying from one coast to another or skipping over two time zones may be more vulnerable to jet lag. Now, unless it is reviewed soon by the government, we have scientific data to suggest that is actually the case.
The National Academy of Sciences concluded Major League Baseball teams traveling from the west and passing over two time zones end up giving up more home runs than they typically do. The data used to arrive at these conclusions included information from every MLB game played from 1992 through 2011, so this study is quite comprehensive in its research. In all, there were 4,919 instances when a team traveled east and crossed over at least two time zones without having a day to recover from jet lag.
The academy suggests the proper time to fully recover from the jet lag is one day per time zone, but giving MLB teams two or three days off between games during the 162-game regular season is just not going to happen. This is why, as the Wall Street Journal notes, it is not uncommon for starting pitchers to fly to their destinations ahead of the team in order to avoid overnight flights that will cause jet lag in the most extreme way.
Now, I already hear what you are saying. These are rich baseball players flying on sweet luxury jets. How could they possibly be affected by jet lag so much? Well, no matter how you fly, you are still subject to a disruption in your sleep patterns. You’re not sleeping in a bed, first of all. Even in a nice team jet, there is no doubt that sleeping on a comfortable bed with your preferred pillow (or pillows) is going to beat reclining back in a first class airplane seat.
But this is not just an issue for West Coast teams. Teams in the east still have to fly east after a west coast trip, and they are just as vulnerable to the impact of jet lag.
“Most people think about jet lag when they’re traveling on the road,” Dr. Ravi Allada of the National Academy of Sciences told the WSJ‘s Jared Diamond. “They don’t think about that when they come back home they can also be jet lagged and suffer the consequences. Teams are probably much more cognizant of going on the road than when their players return home.”
Will information like this lead to a change in scheduling philosophy for Major League Baseball? That remains to be seen, although it is worth noting commissioner Rob Manfred does seem more open to new ideas that could benefit the game. There are a few things MLB will not be likely to do, however. The number of games in a regular season is not going to be reduced significantly enough to allow for multiple days off between games at various times throughout the season. The league is not likely to eliminate interleague play, which leaves teams open for more cross-country trips. So what does MLB do to combat this concern?
Maybe they’ll just sleep on it for a day or two.