MLB Betting: In-Depth Analysis of Weather's Impact on Pitching

Jason Lake

Tuesday, June 9, 2015 2:56 PM UTC

Tuesday, Jun. 9, 2015 2:56 PM UTC

Outdoor games still happen in baseball, so when you're making your MLB picks, you need to pay attention to the weather reports if you want to maximize your profits.

Jason's 2015 record as of June 9: 28-19, plus-8.84 units ML; 0-3, minus-3.30 units Total


Handicapping Weather Effect on MLB Picks & Betting Odds
If you think that a little thing like the weather can't possibly affect an MLB pitcher's performance, think again. I was fortunate enough to be in Seattle earlier this month to watch “King” Felix Hernandez pitch for the Mariners against the New York Yankees. Hernandez looked great as usual – until it started raining. By the time they'd closed the roof at Safeco Field, Hernandez was using a tongue depressor to remove the wet clumps of dirt from his cleats. The Yankees soon rung him up for five runs in the fifth inning of a 7-2 win (+123 away).

We can't necessarily predict micro-events like this when we're making our MLB picks, but with a little foresight and some meteorological assistance, we can do a better job of anticipating when a pitcher might run into some trouble with the elements. Let's take some time to go over a few of the things we should be looking for.

Check out our Latest MLB Betting Angle for Pitchers with WHIP

Get a Grip
Perhaps the most obvious thing that can affect a pitcher is moisture on the ball. This will happen in rainy conditions, of course, but it can also happen on a perfectly beautiful day – if it's hot enough. Sweaty hands lead to poor grips and wayward throws. There's always the rosin bag, and pitchers often get away with using other substances to get a better grip on the ball, Will Smith and Brian Matusz notwithstanding. But it's a constant battle against moisture build-up.

Cold weather can mess up pitchers, too. In this case, it isn't so much the moisture that's compromising their grip: It's the numbness in their fingers. At the MLB level, it only takes a small difference in a pitcher's normal routine to throw him off, so watch out for particularly hot or cold conditions, and be prepared for some relatively wild pitching.


Dense and Densibility
There is one kind of pitcher who typically prefers the cold: Knuckleballers. It has to do with air density. Ideally, the knuckleball is thrown slowly and with zero spin, allowing the air flowing over the ball (the stitches in particular) to affect its flightpath. The colder the air, the denser it is, which means there will be even more drag on the knuckler.

Other pitchers might feel differently. Fastball pitchers will generally prefer warm days, with less density in the air to slow down their heaters. However, the more a pitcher relies on breaking balls, the more important drag is to their efficiency. Thanks to modern technology, you can pull up any player's stats and find out what kind of pitches he throws and how often. Use this information to your advantage when playing the MLB odds.


Out of Control
You might think that a pitcher would generally have more command in temperate conditions, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. The evidence is there to show that pitchers issue more passed balls and hit more batters when the weather is cold. But they also register more strikeouts – that's the power of drag. Flyball pitchers also do better in cold conditions, since fewer balls clear the fences for home runs.

So do we expect pitchers to give up more runs or fewer in cold weather? Back in 2006, Chris Constantino looked at the numbers for The Hardball Times and determined that batted balls have less value when the temperature dips below 55 degrees. That's going to happen quite often once we get into late September and into the postseason. Note that the Miami Marlins now play under a retractable roof at Marlins Park (opened 2012), but it's quite unlikely we'll have to worry about them this October.

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