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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.

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The Brooklyn Dodgers used some number-crunching as far back as the 1940s and '50s, he explained in a column for the Mathematics Association of America penned in 2004, just after he attended his first major-league ball game. Managers used the data to inform player trades, set batting orders, and to swap players in and out of rosters based on their performance against opposing teams.

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Earl Weaver's stack of index cards

During Earl Weaver's 14-year run as manager of the Baltimore Orioles beginning in the late '60s, the Hall of Fame manager frequently consulted player stats he kept in a ubiquitous stack of index cards, according to Devlin.

As for the Athletics, the statistical approach the team raised to an art form was first introduced by an engineer-turned-National Public Radio reporter whose lingering mathematical antennae started to twitch as he began noticing the benefits to a team of players' high on-base percentages at ballgames he attended.

The San Francisco Giants brushed off the reporter, Eric Walker, when he approached the team with his observations, according to Devlin. The Oakland A's were more attentive.

After devising his model, Bertsimas tested it against the Red Sox's 2010 season. Based on player stats from the beginning of the 2009 season through 2010's spring training, the model had the BoSox winning 90 games; they ended the 2010 season at 89 wins. Close enough for modeling work.

So far, the American League East is the only division Bertsimas and O'Hair have subjected to their digital crystal ball. And they stop short of predicting who will head a World Series victory parade in the fall, although, ahem, some other analysts have picked the BoSox.

With 162 games in a regular season, the model has plenty of data points to chew on as it produces its forecast, he notes.

However, "In a five-game series, the worst team in baseball will still beat the best team in baseball 15 percent of the time," he says. "Any general manager worth his salt sees his job as getting the team to the playoffs, but once they get there, luck plays a much larger role."

Oh yes, Opening Day? The Red Sox lost to the Texas Rangers 9-5, in a game that prompted Boston Globe sports columnist Nick Cafardo to ask the $162-million question: "It gets better, right?"

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