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October 26, 2006

Prospectus Today

Rain Delay Theatre

by Joe Sheehan

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For the second time this month, the Cardinals had a game washed out by rain. This postponement, however, shouldn't change the course of the series the way the first one did. When Games One and Two of the NLCS were pushed back, it allowed Tony La Russa to use Chris Carpenter a game earlier on full rest, in Games Two and Six, rather than in Games Three and Seven. In retrospect, it didn't affect the series that much--Carpenter pitched poorly in a Cards' win and well in a Cards' loss--but we can't know what might have happened had the Cardinals been forced to use a lesser pitcher in Game Two. The rainout most likely improved the Cardinals' chances of winning the series.

This time around, however, there's not much benefit for either team. La Russa can't get Carpenter to the mound again before Saturday at the earliest, and more likely Sunday, and he has no one else worth moving up. While he could conceivably use Jeff Weaver instead of Anthony Reyes in a Game Five, it would be unusual to see a pitcher who pitched as well as Reyes did in Game One be skipped in his next turn. Objectively, Reyes is just as good a pitcher as Weaver is. The edge the Cardinals would get, is that they could have Reyes available in the bullpen tonight, in case of a short start by Jeff Suppan or a long game. The weather adds a long reliever to their pen that they otherwise don't have.

For the Tigers, there will be no change. Jim Leyland has set up his rotation so that Kenny Rogers pitches twice in Detroit, and I don't expect him to alter that. There's not enough of a gap between Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman to start the former tonight, either. The one edge the Tigers get is that the rainout created a day off for Joel Zumaya. He can now likely pitch in both Games Four and Five, although any elimination of an off day down the road may render him unavailable at some point. I strongly suspect he can't pitch on more than two straight days, and even that much usage may be in question.

The threat of additional rainouts looms, and throws pitcher usage into uncertainty. We may see starters available out of the bullpen, even used in games to get work as much as for tactical purposes. The fear of "too much" rest will come into play, as it did with Leyland Tuesday night, when he used Zumaya in a fairly low-leverage situation.

With the on-field impact of the weather not very significant, I find myself wondering about the off-field impact. I don't think one game being rained out is a big deal logistically, but what if we have--as seems to be the consensus--another one that keeps everyone in St. Louis until Saturday? The World Series has a pretty big footprint on a city, bringing in thousands of players, personnel, media and fans. Is it possible, or practical, to keep all those people in the city days past their intended stay?

I honestly don't know how MLB and its associated media handle this. I have to assume they're all staying at good hotels that normally operate at or near capacity, and there have to be a lot of non-baseball people expecting to check into them Friday. What about the hotels that have blocked out hundreds of rooms for personnel and media in Detroit Saturday and Sunday, and will perhaps be unoccupied? When and if MLB gets into town Sunday or Monday, where do all its people stay then?

Yeah, I think about this stuff...I would imagine that MLB and those with some kind of official designation have the power to solve these problems for themselves. The people who don't, fans who may have traveled down from Detroit to St. Louis, or planned a trip to Detroit this weekend, and now find themselves with hotel rooms and airline reservations and baseball tickets that don't match, those are the ones I feel for.

How likely is it that baseball will be played tonight, tomorrow or on the days that follow? Clay Davenport, who created the Translations system that is essentially the "In the beginning…" moment of Baseball Prospectus, is a meteorologist when he's not revolutionizing player evaluation or umpiring vintage base ball games. He analyzed the situation Thursday morning:

I'm not sure that today's game is a washout. Rain in St. Louis is just about done at 10 a.m. ET, and there is no rain and little cloud cover currently in the rest of Missouri, or Kansas or Oklahoma.

That said, there is a pretty good moisture supply, there's warm-air advection (which generally runs up and over colder air ahead of it, producing rain), and there's good upper air dynamics. That spells "thunderstorm chance", but it is not certain. Just because there is no existing rain left to move into St Louis today does not mean that something won't build, but that is a dicier forecast. There's a strong system in Colorado that will move in by Friday morning that seems almost certain to eliminate the chance of Friday baseball. I'd say there's at least a 30% chance of having big enough window, between this system moving out and the next one moving in, of getting in a game today.

I'm not sure how hard they should try, though. Like I said, Friday looks like a sure washout, and then the forecast for Saturday and Sunday is quite good, with no rain and reasonable (low fifties) temperatures for this time of year at gametime. If they do play tonight, you're looking at finishing up in SL on Saturday, and going back to Detroit for a Sunday game. They have snow in their forecast for Sunday, and even if you avoid the snow you're looking at temps in the 30s. The nice weather St Louis sees for the weekend will move over Detroit by Monday; its looks to be clear, and perhaps 15 degrees warmer than Sunday.

Bottom line, from a meteorological perspective, the best days for baseball will be Saturday and Sunday in St Louis and Monday and Tuesday in Detroit.

Just before I posted this column, Clay sent in an update:
Since I wrote that, clouds have developed over eastern Oklahoma and southern Missouri. They haven't produced rain yet (12:45 p.m. ET), but they are growing rapidly and they are moving very, very fast to the northeast. They've advanced 250 km in two hours; that's a little over 60 mph, partly as a result of moving the system and partly due to it growing. Moving that quickly would normally mean less rain for any given spot, but the shape--an oblong, almost linear cloud deck, with the long axis going and direction of motion going just south of St. Louis--suggests that whoever does get rain is going to get it steadily for a decent peiod of time.

This cloud system, even though it isn't raining yet, is like a bullet pointed right at St. Louis. Davenport (150 miles north) looks clear for the rest of the day, as does maybe Memphis (150 miles south). St. Louis is right at the northern edge of the approaching mass.

It looks like we'll be on pins and needles for a while. Thanks to Clay for sharing his expertise.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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