Baseball analysis reveals a key edge in Super Bowl matchup
If you break down the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl matchup with the eye of a baseball analyst, you will find one team has a major edge this Sunday. I will reveal that important edge in a minute -- not to mention why Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is the new Mel Ott -- but first you have to understand the baseball perspective.
Baseball fans get the importance of context on performance -- especially where the game is being played -- going all the way back to the debate over what would have happened if Ted Williams were a Yankee taking aim at the rightfield short porch in the Bronx and Joe DiMaggio were a Red Sox swatting away at the Green Monster.
Football, however, treats teams and quarterbacks with almost no regard for context. Sure, unlike baseball, the dimensions of the playing field are uniform, but football is a very different game depending on where it is played because of the elements.
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, for instance, get mentioned among the all-time great quarterbacks. But rarely is it mentioned that Manning and Brees have the huge advantage of playing the majority of their games indoors in Indianapolis and New Orleans, respectively, in perfect conditions. They are the NFL's versions of a hitter at Coors Field, such as Larry Walker or Todd Helton, taking advantage of premium conditions.
Change the conditions, though, and how do they rate? Just know this: Manning and Brees combined have never won a postseason game in freezing weather. They are 0-4 combined in postseason games with the temperature at 32 degrees or below.
Imagine how different their careers might be if they played outside in a cold-weather city. This much is certain: They don't come close to Bart Starr when it comes to overcoming the elements.
Starr, the Packers Hall of Fame QB, quarterbacked seven postseason games in freezing weather -- and they were really cold games. The temperatures were 28, 17, 25, 22, 26, 13 and minus-2. Starr lost the first one, but won the next six. Not only was Starr 6-1 in freezing postseason games, he also threw 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 166 attempts in those seven games.
In baseball, artificial turf was known to create advantages for teams, such as Whitey Herzog's running Royals and Cardinals, the Twins in the Metrodome and the Rays at Tropicana Field. Groundball hitters love the turf, which plays faster.
Pete Rose played more games on turf than any player in history: 1,822 games. But such an amazing hitter was Rose that his splits on turf and grass are freakishly similar:
The dude raked no matter what. The turf effect has diminished in baseball. Only the Jays and Rays play on the fake stuff. Only 6.7 percent of major league games are played on turf. In the NFL, about 30 percent of the games are staged indoors. As Rodgers can happily attest, a January game at the Georgia Dome is nothing like a January game at Lambeau Field.
Domed stadiums and expansion to warm-weather cities in the NFL have created more postseason games in which the elements are not a factor. Kurt Warner, for instance, is regarded as a potential future Hall of Famer. But Warner did something that was once unthinkable for an NFL quarterback of any renown: He never played even one postseason game in freezing weather. He played 13 postseason games: 11 of them indoors, one at 53 degrees and one at 43 degrees. So how can you put Warner in the company of Starr without understanding the conditions in which they played?
Here's one attempt at context: Take a sample of great quarterbacks and examine how many times they won in the toughest of conditions, namely, in the playoffs and in cold weather. Let's start with won-lost records in postseason games when the temperature was below 50 degrees:
Once again, it's obvious that Manning and Brees are not in the same class as Tom Brady. And check out Rodgers: he already has as many playoff wins in cold weather as Warner, Manning and Brees combined.
But let's set the bar even higher -- and the thermometer even lower. Take the same sample group and consider their postseason record in the freezing cold -- games played at 32 degrees or worse:
Manning, by the way, in freezing playoff games has thrown one touchdown and five interceptions. And notice that Ben Roethlisberger is approaching the profile of Starr when it comes to getting it done in the worst elements.
And that brings us to the Super Bowl this week, where the elements will not be a factor. The game will be played inside at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The question now is a very different one than, "Who can win in bad conditions?" It becomes, "Who benefits the most from ideal conditions?" What happens when you take Roethlisberger and Rodgers, two accomplished cold-weather quarterbacks, and have them play Petri-dish football? Who makes the best of controlled conditions?
Let's examine the Steelers' Roethlisberger first. Here are his career numbers when he plays indoors and outdoors (postseason included):
What you find is that Roethlisberger is essentially the same quarterback inside as he is outside. He is not enough of a pure passer to take advantage of the faster, truer surface and absence of wind or any other troublesome weather conditions.
Now take a look at the same splits for Rodgers, who has played about the same number of indoor games as Roethlisberger.
Wow. Now that's a split that is tough to ignore. Rodgers is a much better quarterback indoors. Rodgers, in fact, likes the indoors so much that he is the NFL's highest-rated quarterback indoors. Rodgers admitted before his Packers trounced Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in the Divisional round that he loves the indoor game, pointing out his affinity for the lack of wind and the chance to wear his most comfortable shoes -- lacrosse shoes with nubs that are so comfortable he says he wears them everyday.
Rodgers indoors looks like Walker at Coors Field (.381 there, .282 elsewhere), Wade Boggs at Fenway Park (.369/.306) or Ott at the Polo Grounds (323 homers there, 188 elsewhere). The numbers are too diverse to ignore.
The splits suggest that Rodgers, the better pure passer, gains a big edge over Roethlisberger with the Super Bowl being played indoors. Advantage, Packers.
Does that mean with these climate-controlled conditions that we'll see a high-scoring game? Not really. In fact, when you look at the indoor/outdoor splits for Super Bowl games, you'll see that the indoor version of football looks a lot like the outdoor version -- without any freezing weather, of course.
Of course, check back in 2014, when the NFL stages the Super Bowl in New Jersey outdoors in February -- in weather only Bart Starr could love.
Dallas had never hosted a World Series or Super Bowl until last October. But this Sunday the Dallas area becomes only the fifth metroplex to host the World Series and Super Bowl in the same "season" (this Super Bowl culminating the 2010 NFL season). The first such jackpot was hit by Los Angeles, which hosted Super Bowl I a few months after the Orioles defeated the Dodgers in the World Series. Here are the five times the World Series and Super Bowl have been played in the same metro area just three or four months apart: