FUN: Yeeeeeeeeeer Out!

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Science  04 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5616, pp. 27
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5616.27a

With baseball season less than a week old, it's a little early to give up on the Boston Red Sox. But if you want to know when your favorite team is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention—or when it's clinched a postseason spot—keep tabs on the Baseball Playoff Races Web site from the Remote Interactive Optimization Testbed (RIOT) project at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1996, the RIOT group has used algorithms from operations research to determine when teams have no chance of catching up (or being caught).

The calculation takes into account more than won-loss records. RIOT applies techniques from optimization theory to find the best and worst scenarios for each team, given the combinations possible from the remaining schedule. In 1996, for example, the San Francisco Giants (59–81) trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers (78–63) by 19 games with 22 left to play. They seemed to have a slim chance, but in fact they were already eliminated. Los Angeles was scheduled to play seven more games against the San Diego Padres (78–65). One of the teams would win at least four of those games and finish with a minimum of 82 wins, one more than the Giants could conceivably muster. Doing such calculations across an entire league could make for a snarly supercomputer problem; the algorithm uses linear programming to cut through the complications.∼baseball

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