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Are the Red Sox playoff bound? Ask the mathematician

By / April 6, 2009

Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkillis fields ground balls during workouts at Fenway Park on Sunday. Rain postponed opening day for the Sox, but Professor Bruce Bukiet expects the team to reach the playoffs.

Mary Schwalm/AP

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This October, expect to see the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and Cleveland Indians in the playoffs. How do we know? Math.

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With the baseball season starting up this week, Professor Bruce Bukiet released his annual list of statistical hopefuls. In 2000, the mathematician and associate dean at the New Jersey Institute of Technology developed a formula for predicting playoff teams. The system churns through hitters, starting pitchers, relievers, home-field advantage, and many other Major League data sets, then estimates win-loss records for the coming season.

This year's American League playoffs seem clear cut, according to Mr. Bukiet's numbers. He sees the Yankees winning 99 games, Red Sox grabbing 97, Angels clinching 92, and rest of the AL pack well behind the Indians' 88 wins.

The National League is much harder to call, he says. The Cubs will perform well – 97 wins – but his predictions show a very crowded race for the other top spots. You can see the full list here.

"These results are merely a guide as to how teams ought to perform. There are many unknowns, especially trades, injuries, and how rookies will perform," Bukiet says in this year's announcement. "Over the years, the predictions have been about as good as those of the so-called experts. It demonstrates how useful math can be in understanding so many aspects of the world around us."

He correctly picked at least half of the playoff teams for four of the past five years. Last season, he managed to pick only three out of eight playoff teams correctly – but, hey, few expected the Tampa Bay Rays to reach the World Series.

The professor's special formula appeared in the academic journal Operations Research and on his website. When not rooting for New York Mets (which do not fare well in this year's predictions), Bukiet studies the math behind physical phenomena, such as the dynamics of human balance.

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