There's only one truly important question headed into Game 3 of the World Series, and it's this: What will the wind be doing?
That's perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, but anyone who's ever been to a game on the North Side knows what a difference it makes. Remember when the Cubs and Cardinals combined to hit eight homers in Game 3 of the NLDS last year? The wind was blowing out to right at 17 mph. When Cubs manager Joe Maddon says "there's no other ballpark I've been involved with anywhere, anywhere, that can change so dramatically from day to day," as he did earlier this year, he's not kidding.
This is relevant again because according to the latest weather reports, the wind for Game 3 will be blowing out at approximately 10 to 20 mph, with the potential for gusts up to 40 mph. In other words, prepare for dingers.
That's bad news for starters Josh Tomlin and Kyle Hendricks, obviously. But how bad? Can we use some Statcast™ data on exit velocity and launch angle and see how far batted balls they've allowed this postseason should have gone, and may yet go? Yes. Yes we can.
We've done this a little this postseason already, remember. When Andre Ethier hit a home run in Game 1 of the NLCS, the characteristics of his batted ball (98 mph at a 43 degree launch angle resulted in an easy flyout 39 of the 40 times it happened this year, and the one hit was a double only due to poor defense. That ball is never, ever a home run -- except that the wind was blowing straight out at 14 mph. The next day, Javier Baez crushed a 103 mph rocket off Clayton Kershaw at 24 degrees, a ball that turned into a home run 73 of the 109 times it happened this year, with an .899 average. But for Baez, the wind was blowing from right to left. It stayed in the park. The Dodgers won, 1-0.
In order to make this work, we're going to need to use some math. Don't worry: We'll keep this simple. We're just trying to figure out how much the two starters could be affected, so we want to see which balls hit this postseason might have turned into home runs had they been hit with a wind of 20 mph behind them. (It should go without saying that wind isn't constant over three-plus hours, so what you see in the first inning may not be what you see in the eighth, but that's more complicated than we're going to get into here.)
So here's what we'll do. We'll search all Hendricks and Tomlin starts this postseason. We'll eliminate Tomlin's ALCS start where the wind was already blowing out 14 mph to center, since it wouldn't be fair to assume we're adding more wind to that. We'll look only for balls hit above 20 degrees of launch angle -- wind won't affect grounders, of course -- and we'll use Dr. Alan Nathan's projected distance calculator to identify how far that ball would likely have gone with 20 mph behind it, at tonight's expected temperature of 63 degrees.
Finally, we'll show the top five balls that stayed in the ballpark this month that may be headed out in a windy Game 3. These aren't necessarily the only five, just the five most likely. The point here is that the pitchers may do exactly the same things that brought them success before and find trouble anyway. Keep that in mind if the scoreboard is lighting up in Game 3.
The first thing you should notice in that image is where Lonnie Chisenhall is when he caught that ball: right on the Fenway Park warning track. The second thing is the inset, which shows that the ball as-is -- that is, with a crosswind that night in Fenway, not with any additional assistance -- would have been out in Wrigley Field. A big part of how Tomlin hopes to succeed is to use his curve to keep Cubs hitters off balance or hitting grounders; this was a 90 mph fastball just off the plate. That's not going to work against the big Chicago sluggers, and a 20-mph wind might have added 24 feet to a ball that already was a Wrigley homer.
Not all of these will be outs turned into homers, as you can see. Sometimes it's an extra-base hit that can be even more damaging. Hendricks lasted just 3 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the NLDS, leaving with an arm injury, but this Blanco double that scored Joe Panik didn't help. (Blanco would come around to score later in the inning.) With a light 6-mph wind blowing from right to left, this ball split the outfielders and landed in the gap, just a few feet from the warning track. A stiff breeze may have added more than 50 feet to this one -- though a 21-degree launch angle just barely clears our minimum, so it's not clear if this would just scrape over the wall or not.
Now we're getting into some serious distance added. Similar to the Blanco hit, there was a mild right-to-left breeze, as Pederson took a Hendricks changeup far enough out to left that it forced Ben Zobrist nearly with his back up against the ivy. All Pederson probably needed was perhaps just a few more feet. With our hypothetical wind situation, he'd have received that and then some.
Cleveland won this game, 4-3, so the fact that Benintendi's hit off Tomlin was a run-scoring double and not a home run had a considerable impact on the game. This was the quintessential Green Monster wall-ball, though, because the only two times all season this combination of exit velocity and launch angle turned into extra-base hits, it happened at Fenway. But even the Monster wouldn't have contained a projected 412 feet, and neither will Wrigley.
Going back again to that NLDS Game 2 where Hendricks didn't make it through four, this is the sacrifice fly that scored Blanco. As you can see in the video, Dexter Fowler was forced all the way back to the warning track, as a mild crosswind didn't do all that much to help push the ball out. This is the kind of ball to dead center that might be affected most by a strong wind -- and all of a sudden, Belt's sacrifice fly might become a massive blast.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.