NEWARK, N.J. March 26, 1997 -- The Florida Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and the Seattle Mariners will claim divisional titles in the 1997 Major League Baseball season according to a mathematical model designed to determine optimal batting orders, compute run distributions and predict total wins developed by Bruce Bukiet, associate professor of mathematics at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Bukiet's analysis predicts the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves will tie for first place in the NL East, with the Marlins winning a playoff. The 1996 World Series Champion New York Yankees will just edge out the Baltimore Orioles to win a second consecutive AL East crown.
The spread in the other divisions between first and second will range from 5 games in the AL West to 26 games in the anemic NL East.
"This is the first time we've run mathematical models to predict an entire season," said Bukiet, an avid baseball fan. "Our biggest assumption is that a player will repeat last year's performance, but we also cannot predict injuries or trades which affect a team's play during the course of the season."
Last fall, Bukiet's model gave the Yankees a 48 percent chance of winning the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, and correctly predicted the World Series would run six-games.
Bukiet's "Markov Chain" method relies on the fact that there are a finite number of possible situations in a baseball game. A Markov process is a particular type of random analysis in which only the present state of the process is useful for predicting the future. Past history and the manner in which the process has evolved to the current state are both irrelevant.
"We designed four lineups for each team because of interleague play. Two lineups featured a designated hitter for use against left-handed or right-handed pitchers, and two lineups without a DH to face lefties or righties," said Bukiet, who used two magazines and a website for reference on the optimal lineups, Sports Illustrated's Baseball `97 and The Sporting News' Baseball `97 along with the USA Today website.
Bukiet and his team of four students used five starting pitchers for each team, and broke the pitching staff down to the number of lefties and righties among the five pitchers. Starting pitchers threw six innings of each game and relief pitchers hurled three innings.
"As they say on Wall Street, past performance is no guarantee of future results. This was a lot of fun, but I expect to incorporate further refinements over the years," said Bukiet, who spent two full weeks plotting the 1997 baseball season. "I'm a Mets fan, but I wouldn't bet on the Mets this year."
Bukiet's model predicts the divisional races to end as follows:
· AL East: New York Yankees (93-69), Baltimore Orioles (90-72), Toronto Blue Jays (81-81), Boston Red Sox (70-92), and Detroit Tigers (61-101).
· AL Central: Cleveland Indians (97-65), Chicago White Sox (88-74), Minnesota Twins (81-81), Kansas City Royals (80-82), and Milwaukee Brewers (71-91).
· AL West: Seattle Mariners (92-70), Oakland Athletics: (87-75), Texas Rangers (81-81) and Anaheim Angels (75-87).
· NL East: Florida Marlins (99-63), Braves (99-63), Montreal Expos (73-89), Philadelphia Phillies (72-90), and the Mets (70-92).
· NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals (84-78), Houston Astros (79-83), Chicago Cubs (78-84), Cincinnati Reds (73-89), and Pittsburgh Pirates (57-105).
· NL West: San Diego Padres (94-68), Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76), San Francisco Giants (80-82), and Colorado Rockies (75-87).
Bukiet started developing the model specifically for baseball in 1987 as a hobby. His findings have been published in the 10-page paper A Markov Chain Approach to Baseball, in the February 1997 issue of the journal Operations Research.
Bukiet's original study found that the optimal spot for a pitcher in a batting order is seventh or eighth, putting him as far away as possible from the team's best hitter, traditionally used in the clean-up spot. The best hitter, by the way, should bat second according to the computer model.
Bukiet, a resident of West Orange, N.J., earned a master's degree and a doctorate in applied mathematics from the Courant Institute and a bachelor's degree from Brown University.
Student assistants Mehul Gandhi and Vimal Naik are sophomores from Elmwood Park, N.J., while Wade Reid is a junior from Paterson, N.J. All three are majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in applied mathematics. Jeremy Sher of Maplewood, N.J., is a high school student at Newark Academy in Livingston.
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