Did Jet Lag Help the Chicago Cubs Win the World Series?

New research about the effects of jet lag on professional baseball players.

When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series last year — ending their 71-year drought — many fans considered the triumph an end of the “curse of the billy goat,” a purported hex put on the team that thwarted their success for generations.

However, the win may have had more to do with a jet-lagged Dodgers pitcher than with a decades-old jinx, according to a study released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Led by circadian rhythms expert Dr. Ravi Allada, a team of Northwestern University researchers analyzed 20 years’ worth of Major League Baseball data to determine the effect of jet-lag on ballgames between 1992 and 2011. If players crossed two or more time zones before a game, without having much time to sleep or adjust, they were considered jet-lagged; that amounted to about 5,000 of the 40,000 games the researchers studied.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Here are some surprising stats: eastbound teams lost more often — and players “hit fewer doubles and triples, stole fewer bases and grounded into more double plays” — than when they were not jet-lagged, according to ESPN.

Of all the players, pitchers and base-runners seemed most affected by the time change: when eastbound pitchers were jet-lagged, they allowed, on average, one home run per every 10 games. Additionally, home teams (say, returning from a streak of away games) were more affected by jet lag than visiting teams, thereby undermining the idea of a “home field advantage.”

As for why traveling east seems more detrimental to performance: the study “supports the hypothesis that observed effects are due to a failure of the circadian clock” — the human body’s natural cycle that’s informed by light — “to synchronize to the environmental light-dark cycles and not due to general travel effects.”

For peak performance, Allada recommends, teams should send their pitchers out to the games a few days ahead, allowing them to rest up and adjust to the time difference.

Read more about the study on Northwestern Now.