The World Series begins in a few hours and while they have to play the games, math can project winners and losers - and the math says the Boston Red Sox have a 70% chance of winning it all.
Unlike a Presidential contest, which is one day and one winner but for which voters can be polled in advance, baseball incorporates a lot of variables and there are up to 7 games. And things happen during each game. There are only so many data points that can be factored in as parameters and using those parameters, statistical methods like Bayes and Markov can help you look smart at the sports bar.
New Jersey Institute of Technology math professor Bruce Bukiet says the Red Sox are the favorites with both bookmakers and mathematicians but is well aware that the St. Louis Cardinals have defeated both the competition and his mathematical model in each of their previous series.
Bukiet's mathematical model said that the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates had the edge in the League Division series - a solid result, but the Pirates were defeated by the Cardinals. In the League Championship Series, the model said that the Red Sox and Dodgers had the edge, but the math lost again - along with the Dodgers.
Click for full-size. Credit: Prof. Bukiet's Post-Season Probabilities 2013
He's rarely wrong, his projections have placed him first at Baseballphd.net's annual contest to pick the teams who would make it to the playoffs in 3 of the last 4 years. He employs a Markov process approach which enables him to compute the probability of a team with given hitters, bench, starting pitcher, lineup, and relievers scoring any number of runs and adjusts for home field advantage to compute the chance each team has to win a game.
Going into the series Bukiet says the Red Sox have the edge in 6 of the 7 games with only game 5 in St. Louis with Adam Wainwright facing John Lester favoring the Cards.
Bukiet uses performance data from the entire 2013 regular season for each team's post-season roster of players in order to perform his computations. The relatively small amount of data for one of the Cards' starting pitchers (rookie Michael Wacha) may be part of the difficulty Bukiet's model has had with the Cards this post-season. Others include that "anything can happen in short series, especially in close games and extra-inning games," he noted.
On Bukiet's website, he provides the likelihood of each team taking the series in a given number of games. Going into the series, the most likely outcome (24%) is for the Red Sox to defeat the Cards in 7 games. The Cards' best chance (12%) is to win the series in 6.
This is Bukiet's 13th year using his model to determine whether it is worthwhile to wager on games each day during the baseball season. His picks (posted on http://www.egrandslam.com) have led to positive results for 9 of the 13 years (counting 2013 positive performance).