Mathematician: Yanks, Phillies to Win Playoffs

The Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants are most likely to win the Major League Baseball playoffs, according to a mathematician.

When most people sit down to watch a baseball game, math equations and models are often quite far from their minds, but for Bruce Bukiet, an associate math professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, those models have helped him quite accurately predict the probability a team has of advancing to the league championship series.

"The Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants have slight advantages to win series over their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves respectively in the first round Division Series contests," Bukiet said. The Phillies also have an edge over the Cincinnati Reds, according to the model.

According to Bukiet's model, run before the playoffs began on Wednesday (10/6), the Phillies have an 18-percent chance of sweeping their series against the Reds, a 25-percent chance of winning in four games, a 21-percent chance of winning in five games and a 64-percent chance of winning the series. Playoff games are played as a best-of-five contest, so whichever team wins three games first, takes their division championship.

The Rangers have a 54-percent chance of defeating the Rays, Bukiet found, and the Yankees have a 53-percent chance of defeating the Twins. The Giants have a 52-percent chance of knocking out the Braves.

As of Thursday night, Bukiet and his model's predictions were correct: The Yankees are up two games over the Twins as they move from Minnesota back to the Bronx for the third game of the series tomorrow. The Braves are currently down one game to the Giants, with the second game of the series to be played in San Francisco tonight. The Phillies won their first matchup against the Reds with Roy Halladay pitching a no-hitter — the first no-hitter in a postseason games since the 1956 World Series. They play their second game against the Reds tonight. Texas is up two games over Tampa Bay and plays their third game in Texas on Saturday.

As the results of the playoff games come in, Bukiet enters the new information into his model, and the probabilities adjust.

"The information changes each day based on the previous games. and I update the model each day, so the information is forever changing," Bukiet said. "The Rangers went up to 74-percent chance of winning from yesterday when they were at 54 percent, because they won last night [Wednesday], and the Phillies went up to 76 percent and the Yankees up to 76.5, with the results from each game, the percentages change."

Bukiet and a colleague began working on the model in the late 1980s, and it was published in 1997. As computers have continued to advance, the model has also improved. The most recent improvements were published in the International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sports.  

The model works by taking into account various different factors, such as hitters, the bench, starting pitcher, lineup, relievers and home-field advantage, to determine the probability that a team will beat their competitor.

"Everything makes a difference. A pitcher changes things: If hitters have a good performance rate, but are up against a tough pitcher, I will scale the hitters down," Bukiet said. "I look at things like home team advantage too. I also take into account order, order really matters in baseball, if you have a single and then a home run, you get two runs, if you have a home run and then single, you only get one run."