Handicapping Sports Weather

May 12, 2009


Jerry Fox asked:

PRO INFO SPORTS takes all factors into consideration when handicapping sports investment opportunities for our Sports Handicapping Services, including the weather. We also strongly recommend clients give the “elements” a final check for any late-breaking developments prior to wagering, by reviewing our Weather Reports.

Atmospheric conditions can have a big impact on sporting events. In perceived football “mismatches”, poor weather tends to lessen the advantage powerful teams have over weaker opponents. The underdogs’ chances of keeping the games close or even pulling off the outright upsets are enhanced, especially by turnovers which occur with more frequency in bad-weather games. Just the threat of poor conditions can act as a great equalizer. Teams become more offensively conservative in order to avoid costly fumbles and interceptions. Either way, inclement weather in football usually portends defensive battles and low scores.

Sub-freezing temperatures generally restrain deep passing attacks, giving an advantage to football teams with superior running games or solid short-passing schemes. For baseball considerations, warm air is less dense, or thinner, than cold air. A would-be 400 ft shot at 75 degrees would carry 408 ft at 95 degrees.

Along with temperature, humidity has to be considered when factoring meteorological elements. An NFL team like the Miami Dolphins is conditioned to a hot and humid environment which is most extreme in the first month of the season. Take them out of their natural climate and their performance suffers, as shown by a large disparity in their September home record vs. December road games. Overall, teams from the South have the advantage when hosting a opponent not used to hot, humid conditions, while cold-weather squads from the North gain the edge when hosting warm-weather teams in chilly December weather.

Humidity can also affect a baseball game. According to Professor Robert Adair, the dean of baseball physicists, a baseball in a humid environment is actually heavier and less elastic than a dry ball, and, therefore, cannot be hit as far.

Wind is perhaps the most overlooked weather factor in sports handicapping. The importance of football special teams are amplified in bad weather, especially in windy conditions, as teams with superior kicking games have a distinct edge over an inferior kicking team. Meanwhile, teams that rely on passing games can be greatly affected by blustery conditions, especially if the winds are blowing across the field. In a game where there are strong winds blowing parallel to the direction of the field, one team will always have the wind at their backs, allowing them to pass the ball more easily; however, if the wind is blowing strongly across the field, this can hamper both teams’ passing attack for the entire game.

In regards to baseball, air moving along in the same direction the ball is flying pushes back less on the ball, allowing it to travel farther. In fact, the wind is very often the single most important thing to consider about the weather when betting baseball totals. A 400 ft shot in calm conditions would turn into a 445 ft blast with a 15 mph wind directed out to center field.

Yet another factor that has to be weighed when handicapping sports is altitude. At stadiums and arenas one mile or more above sea level, the air is considerably thinner than those below 1000 feet in elevation. With the oxygen level greatly reduced at higher elevations, the heart and breathing rates increase to compensate. This is experienced as shortness of breath and early fatigue. It takes about 10 days for the body to completely acclimate to altitude, so low-altitude teams making road trips to the Rocky Mountains simply don’t have enough time to fully adjust. They often struggle, especially late in a hard-fought contest.

As in poor-weather games, special teams play can become a more decisive factor in high-altitude football contests as well. Punts and placekicks travel longer distances due to decreased air resistance. The team with the more accurate and consistent kicking game will fare considerably better as they will be more likely to convert their increased kicking range into good field position and points.

Air under low pressure is less dense, or thinner, than air under high pressure. This is the main reason long balls carry farther in Denver – the atmospheric pressure at that altitude (5,300 ft) is always about 15% less than sea level pressures. A hit that would have flown 400 ft at sea level would carry to 430 ft in the thin air of Coors Stadium. This permanent effect of Denver’s high altitude is duly noted by the oddsmakers, however, resulting in totals typically in the 12-14 range, reducing the opportunity to simply bet OVERS and win most of the time. The day-to-day pressure changes of the atmosphere, however, are not considered by the oddsmakers, but these daily pressure differences at stadiums caused by the meanderings of the high and low pressures depicted on weather charts are very small. On a low pressure day the pressure is only one or two per cent lower than on a normal day, so a 400 ft shot would only carry a whopping 402 ft! Obviously this effect is too small to worry about in baseball, especially since there are other atmospheric factors that actually make a big difference.

PRO INFO SPORTS considers all of the NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball games played in the Rocky Mountains region “altitude games”, from El Paso, Texas (4,000 ft) to Laramie, Wyoming (7,100 ft). In the NFL and MLB, only Denver qualifies, while the NBA has 2 high-altitude sites in Denver and Salt Lake City (4,330 ft).

Ultimately, a decided competitive advantage can be gained by a team in its element playing an opponent out of its element, whether it is temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, or altitude.

These weather principles are, of course, generalities and all factors must be considered when analyzing sports investment opportunities, but the monitoring and scrutinizing of these conditions and circumstances are examples of how PRO INFO SPORTS gains a significant sports handicapping advantage and uses the information to help determine the strength of certain selections according to our Money Management strategy.

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