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October 26, 2009

World Series Prospectus

The Weather

by Clay Davenport

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This year's World Series may be the latest ever on the calendar, but it's actually in for a bit of luck as far as the weather's concerned. Current forecasts suggest that we shouldn't see any temperatures worse than the mid-40s, and it's very possible it will be in the 50s most of the time.

In general, cool weather helps the pitcher. The air gets denser when it gets colder; denser air means more drag on the baseball, and that makes fly balls carry less and gives curves more bite. Home runs drop by 17 percent in games when the temperature is less than 60 degrees, compared to all other games, turning instant runs into fly-ball outs. On the downside, the temperature affects hands. Pitchers lose control (issuing 15 percent more walks in cold games), and fielders commit more errors. The net result on runs per nine innings is that they stay almost the same.

Game One: The scariest weather actually comes in just prior to Wednesday night's opener in New York. There will be a coastal storm gearing up on the mid-Atlantic coast in the coming days, and we currently expect to see rain in New York from Tuesday evening until sometime Wednesday afternoon. The worst of the storm is expected to stay offshore; if that doesn't happen, and the storm hugs the shore, then we will almost certainly have a first-game rainout-let's give that a 15 percent chance. It should stop enough for the game to be played, although even with the storm offshore, an occasional shower is possible. The field-especially the outfield-should be wet, but it won't be a replay of the Angels/Yankees Game Two of the LCS last Saturday. Temperatures should be right around 60, dropping into the 50s during the game, with a northeast wind blowing at 10-15 mph.

In Yankee Stadium, this means that a northeast wind will be blowing straight in from left field. You'd expect a wind from left to benefit left-handed pitchers; both starters, CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, are left-handed. Lee is a little bit more of a fly ball-oriented pitcher than Sabathia, so we'll give him a slight advantage for the wind. On the other hand, Sabathia has been a better pitcher in cool conditions than Lee. With a game temperature of less than 60 over the last three years, Sabathia has allowed batters to hit .258/.310/.368, compared to .277/.322/.420 when temperatures were above 60. For Lee, the situation is reversed-he allows .265/.301/.390 when it's warm, rising slightly to .275/.320/.402 when it's cool. The expected wet grass will be a disadvantage to the outfield, and that also hurts Lee a little bit more. Overall advantage: Sabathia.

Game Two: Thursday night should be completely clear and dry, with temperatures only slightly cooler than the night before (starting in the high 50s, dropping to around 50 by the end of the game), but with that northeast wind still blowing in from left. A.J. Burnett, the expected Yankee starter, is right-handed, and can hope that the wind will help push long flies from Philly sluggers like Ryan Howard foul. Burnett has been a better pitcher in cool weather, trading control problems (5.2 BB/9 when cool, 3.6 BB/9 in warm weather) for throttling opponents' power (cutting his extra-base hits from 35 percent of all hits allowed to 25 percent). The Phillies haven't decided yet on their starter, but let's assume it's Pedro Martinez. In the last three years, he's only pitched one game in under-60 weather, going six innings with three runs allowed, or nothing special in terms of performance. If we look back into 2005-06, though, he was spectacular in cool games, putting up a sensational .189/.255/.270 batting line. I'm just not sure this can be considered the same Pedro, however.

Game Three goes to Philadelphia on Saturday, and sometime over the weekend we expect a cold front to arrive on the East Coast, bringing rain with it. It's a little too far out to be remotely sure of the timing, and it can make a big difference in the weather. A rainout is possible, though more likely on Saturday than Sunday. If the front is slow and we can play Saturday night's game with the front still approaching, we could have temperatures in the mid-60s with a southwest wind that will blow out to right in Citizen's Bank Ballpark, and a slugfest is a real possibility. If, however, we're behind the front-which is more certain for Sunday and Monday-we'll see winds from the northwest, which means more "in from left field" winds. Don't be surprised to see little production from right-handed sluggers this series!

Temperatures should still be no worse than the 45-55 range. Cole Hamels, for the Phils, is another left-handed, fly ball-generating pitcher, and someone who should benefit from these winds-blowing-in conditions. However, he's been a much worse pitcher in cooler weather, yielding almost a run a game more than he does when it's warm; his control issues in cold weather are a lot worse than the average pitcher's. Andy Pettitte, fresh off last night's cool domination of the Angels, worked against his type-he also normally suffers when it is cold, suffering across the board by surrendering more walks, more hits, and more homers. As in the Game One matchup, both starters are lefties, so neither should expect to take better advantage of the wind than the other if it's coming in; if the wind is blowing out, then Pettitte, being more of a ground-ball pitcher, gets a definite advantage.

The weather looks good for the fourth and fifth games in Philadelphia, as we're expecting more temperatures in the 50s and with the winds blowing in from left on both days. The long-range outlook for New York next Wednesday and Thursday is also promising, as no strong cold air is expected, and we only have to worry about the timing of the next frontal system.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Related Content:  Weather,  The Atlantic

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