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It's in the stats: Red Sox will win 101 games

Baseball has just begun, but MIT economist Dimitris Bertsimas crunches numbers to conclude the Boston Red Sox will win the American League East title. Forget that they lost their first game.

By Staff writer / April 2, 2011

Boston Red Sox' David Ortiz connects for a solo home run off Texas Rangers' Darren Oliver in the eighth inning as Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba looks on Friday in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers won 9-5.

Tony Gutierrez/AP


If Dimitris Bertsimas is right, look for the Boston Red Sox to capture the American League East title in September, one game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, whose predicted wins would make them the team to beat for the AL Wild Card spot.

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In a burst of post-preseason prognostication, the MIT economist has his favorite team, the Red Sox, finishing the regular season with 101 wins, followed by Tampa Bay with 100 wins, the Yankees at 93, Baltimore at 83 wins, and Toronto with 80.

The foundation for this stick-your-neck-out exercise is a modeling approach Bertsimas and colleague Allison O'Hair developed while pulling together a "you, too, can advise Theo Epstein" exercise for one of his classes.

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"I'm a big believer that quantitative analytics can have a major impact on businesses, including sports teams," Bertsimas notes.

Where British-born mathematician Keith Devlin has described baseball as looking "like rounders played by men in pajamas who seemed to wear very scratchy underpants that required constant adjustment and who had an unusual propensity for spitting," Bertsimas sees in each player "a vector of numbers" from which "we can make accurate predictions of how many runs they will score."

Those predictions can then be translated into team statistics that feed into his Opening Day predictions of the teams most likely to play into October.

Bertsimas and O'Hair, one of his PhD students, put their own spin on techniques Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane used to guide the team with the third lowest payroll in major-league baseball in 2002 to that year's playoffs. In addition, the duo drew on approaches developed by baseball-stats guru Bill James.

While much of the credit for pioneering the extensive use of player stats has gone to Mr. Beane and the Oakland As, the approach has a deeper historical pedigree, according to Dr. Devlin, who teaches at Stanford University.


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