Major League Baseball and cold April weather

The recent record-breaking cold April 6-9 that led to the cancellation of the Cleveland-Seattle series at Jacobs Field has had sportsradio people questioning why Major League Baseball schedules games at cold weather cities without a domed stadium during the first week of April. I decided to analyze the historical frequency of how often cold and/or snowy weather can be expected to occur at six cold weather non-domed baseball cities; Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York.

My first task was to define what would constitute “miserable” baseball weather for both players and fans that could potentially lead to a game being cancelled. Since I grew up in Chicago and went to a number of very cold games at Comiskey Park, I decided that any day with a high temperature less than 40 degrees (High T <40) or a day where more than 1 inch of snow fell (snowfall >1 inch) was pretty bad baseball weather. When you consider that most baseball games are played at night, a day with a high of less than 40 will probably have 7 PM temperatures around 30 with a gusty wind (since gusty northwesterly winds are associated with anomalous cold) that would lead to wind chills temperatures in the low 20s. While my definition of “miserable” baseball weather is arbitrary and some people may choose to pick a higher threshold of temperature, Major League Baseball is not likely to cancel games when temperatures are above 40 degrees.

Using data from 1958-2007 (50 years of data), my first task was to determine the percent of April days that have miserable baseball weather (hereafter known as MBW).

Percent of April days with MBW
Cleveland – 6.5%
Detroit – 5.6%
Chicago – 4.1%
Pittsburgh – 3.5%
Boston – 2.3%
New York – 0.8%

Then I analyzed how often multiple days of MBW occur within a four day period. Since any one day of MBW can be made up during a double-header the following day, Aprils with consecutive or multiple days of MBW within a four day period can lead to games being cancelled (as in the Cleveland-Seattle series).

Percent of Aprils where consecutive or multiple days of MBW within a four day period could potentially lead to the cancellation of games
Detroit – 50% (once every two years)
Cleveland – 46% (once every two years)
Chicago – 26% (once every four years)
Pittsburgh – 24% (once every four years)
Boston – 14% (once every seven years)
New York – 0% (New York is shown not to be a cold weather city and will be dropped from the analysis)

Since the previous result shows that there could potentially be a cancelled baseball game as often as once every two years in Detroit and Cleveland and as often as once every four years in Chicago and Pittsburgh, I decided to repeat the analysis using only the dates of April 11-30. This assumes no home games will be scheduled in these cities during the first 10 days of April.

Percent of Aprils where consecutive or multiple days of MBW within a four day period could potentially lead to the cancellation of games using only April 11-30 data
Detroit – 10% (once every 10 years)
Chicago – 8% (once every 12 years)
Cleveland – 4% (once every 25 years)
Pittsburgh – 2% (once every 50 years)
Boston – 0% (never)

Therefore it is clear that if Major League Baseball did not schedule home series in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Boston until after 4/10, they would considerably decrease the likelihood of miserable baseball weather and the chance that games would be cancelled. In fact, the final analysis shows how many individual days of MBW could be avoided simply by waiting until 4/10.

Percent decrease of individual days of MBW by delaying the opening homestand until after 4/10
Pittsburgh – 86.5%
Chicago – 83.6%
Detroit – 82.1%
Cleveland – 79.6%
Boston – 77.1%

Summary: By simply waiting until after 4/10 to schedule the opening series for the five cold weather baseball cities in this analysis, Major League Baseball could avoid roughly 80% of the type of cold and snowy baseball weather that plagued Jacobs Field April 6-8. This could easily be accomplished by scheduling the first week of the season in warm-weather cities or cities with domed stadiums. The potential cost savings to Major League Baseball would include increased attendance, concessions and parking as well as a decrease in injuries to players from playing in cold or slippery conditions.

Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, stated earlier this week on WFAN (New York) that making cold-weather teams open the first two series on the road would give them a competitive advantage since the cold-weather teams would then get two home series later in the season. This is a poor argument considering that half of all teams open the season on the road anyway and this “competitive inbalance” would be negated if all the cold-weather teams were given home series during the second week of the season to offset being away during the first week. Besides, Bud Selig is the same person who allows the winner of the All-Star game to determine home-field advantage during the World Series.

ADDENDUM: The Minnesota Twins new open-air stadium is tentatively scheduled to open for the 2010 season. I’m not sure why the Twins didn’t consider a retractable-roof stadium, especially after I performed the same analysis on Minneapolis. More than 7% of April days in Minneapolis are considered “miserable” baseball weather (as defined above) and games would have likely been canceled in slightly more than half of the past 50 years (26 of 50). Unlike other cold-weather cities such as Detroit and Cleveland, pushing the opening homestand for the Twins back to April 10th would only reduce that down to 9 of 50 years, which is once every five years. In order to meet the once every 10 years threshold they would need to be on the road until at least April 15th every season. Minneapolis would have the smallest percentage of MBW days reduced by waiting until April 10th (72.6%) as opposed to an average reduction of 81.8% for the other cold-weather cities.

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