October baseball. Thinking about MLB playoff games conjures up images of the biggest names in baseball playing under the lights on crisp autumn nights. Of course autumn makes one think of cooler weather, but how many MLB playoff games have actually been played when the temperature was in the 30s? In the 40s? These questions naturally made me curious, so I decided to see what I could find.

As it turns out, weather conditions from the official box scores are available free of charge on Baseball Reference. This is listed as “start time weather”, or as I like to call it – “first pitch weather”. Not every box score lists weather conditions, but the vast majority of playoffs box scores do since the League Divisional Series were introduced.

Therefore, I basically compiled all of the temperatures from each playoff box score from 1997 to 2012 for games that were played outdoors, or with a retractable roof open. I am not creating a climatology for each baseball stadium, I am merely showing the distribution for actual playoff temperatures over approximately the last two decades. Obviously years with more teams from “warm weather locations” qualifying for the playoffs will be more likely to have warmer playoff games on average and vice versa.

MLB Playoffs First Pitch Temperatures 1995-2012

So what does the distribution look like? Above is a histogram of the box score temperatures for 467 MLB playoff games from 1997 to 2012. The mode, or most common temperature, is 61 degrees. The average is 65.6 degrees, with a standard deviation of 11.2 degrees. Games played with temperatures in the 60s appear to be most common. Approximately one third (34%) of the playoff games had a first pitch temperature of 60 to 69 degrees.

On the colder side of the distribution, a total of 39 games (8.4%) were played with a first pitch temperature in the 30s or 40s – undoubtedly chilly weather for baseball. Even though these games are less common, they tend to be very important games. 20 of the 39 playoff games (51%) with a first pitch temperature less than 50 degrees were in the World Series. The five coldest MLB playoff games since 1997 are:

  • 35°F – October 11, 2009. NLDS Game 3, Phillies at Rockies (Coors Field).
  • 35°F – October 22, 1997. World Series Game 4, Marlins at Indians (Jacobs Field).
  • 41°F – October 13, 2006. ALCS Game 3, Athletics at Tigers (Comerica Park).
  • 43°F – October 14, 2007. NLCS Game 3, Diamondbacks at Rockies (Coors Field).
  • 43°F – October 24, 2006. World Series Game 3, Tigers at Cardinals (Busch Stadium).

“That might have been difficult for the Broncos to play in that yesterday, much less a baseball game.”

Rockies manager Jim Tracy after NLDS Game 3, October 11, 2009, which began at 35°F

Meanwhile, on the warmer side of the distribution, a total of 65 games (13.9%) were played with a first pitch temperature in the 80s or 90s. Those sort of temperatures are more typical of what might occur during the majority of baseball season, as it coincides with the summer months. The five warmest MLB playoff games since 1997 are:

  • 94°F – October 27, 2001. World Series Game 1, Yankees at Diamondbacks (Bank One Ballpark).
  • 93°F – October 5, 1999. NLDS Game 1, Mets at Diamondbacks (Bank One Ballpark).
  • 93°F – October 11, 2007. NLCS Game 1, Rockies at Diamondbacks (Chase Field).
  • 93°F – October 16, 2009. NLCS Game 2, Phillies at Dodgers (Dodger Stadium).
  • 91°F (tie) – November 3, 2001. World Series Game 6, Yankees at Diamondbacks (Bank One Ballpark).
  • 91°F (tie) – October 3, 2007. NLDS Game 1, Cubs at Diamondbacks (Chase Field).

Perhaps not surprisingly, six of the seven warmest MLB playoff games since 1997 have occurred at the home stadium of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Their stadium also has a retractable roof, so it’s possible that there were playoff games on warmer days that were not played outdoors.

You may be watching the MLB playoffs and see the graphic at the beginning of the broadcast with the weather conditions. Or perhaps you’re looking at the box score over a cup of coffee the day after the game and happen to notice the temperature next to the attendance figures. Either way, hopefully this short post gives you some perspective on those temperatures.