Math Professor Picks 2010 MLB Division Winners

Miller Park
With Spring Training almost over and Opening Day next week, Bruce Bukiet, an associate professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), has once again applied mathematical analysis to compute the number of games that Major League Baseball teams should win in 2010.

The Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers should all repeat as winners in their divisions, while the Atlanta Braves will take the wild card slot in the National League (NL), says Bukiet.

In the American League (AL), the New York Yankees should blow away the competition, winning in the East, while the Minnesota Twins repeat as winners of the Central Division. The AL West is too close to call with all four teams within 5 wins and the Texas Rangers, Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels expected to win 82, 81 and 80 games respectively. The Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox will have a close contest for the AL wild card slot.

Bukiet, an associate professor of mathematical sciences and associate dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts at NJIT, bases his predictions on a mathematical model he developed in 2000. For this season, he incorporated a more realistic runner advancement model into the algorithm.

 "I publish these numbers to promote the power and relevance of math," he says. "We've long had a problem convincing US youngsters to embrace mathematics in school. Studying how math applies to baseball demonstrates not only that math can be fun, but how it is really a part of things people care about."

Bruce Bukiet
Courtesy: NJIT
The contest for primacy in the NL East should be tight with the Phillies (90 wins) defeating the Braves by just two games (88 wins). In the West, the Los Angeles Dodgers (88 wins) should finish 3 games above the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the Central Division, the St. Louis Cardinals appear poised to achieve the best record in the NL with 91 wins, 5 more than the second-place Chicago Cubs.

The Yankees should dominate the AL with players capable of winning 103 games, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays by 10 and the Boston Red Sox by 11. Tampa Bay or Boston should end up as the wild card team. In the Central Division, the Minnesota Twins (92 wins) should repeat as division winners but rather than needing to win a one- game playoff as they did in 2009, this year they should handily defeat the Chicago White Sox by 7 games. Instead of the Angels winning the AL West as they did by 10 games last year, in 2010 we should get ready for a tight race among very average teams. The Texas Rangers should win 82 games, just one above .500, while the Oakland A's win 81 and the Los Angeles Angels win 80. The Seattle Mariners should come in last in that division just 5 games out.

While Bukiet's favorite team, the New York Mets, should come in third in the NL East, Bukiet notes that the 82 wins he expects is a solid improvement over the 70 they won in their injury-plagued 2009 season. "At least in 2009, the Mets put their fans out of their misery early on, rather than in the season's last weekend as they did in 2007 and 2008," he says.

The Pittsburgh Pirates should repeat as the worst NL team with 66 wins, while the Cleveland Indians should win 67 for the most futile effort in the AL.

His expected wins for the AL are as follows:

* AL East: Yankees -- 103; Rays -- 93; Red Sox -- 92; Orioles -- 71; Blue Jays -- 70.
* AL Central: Twins -- 92; White Sox -- 85; Tigers -- 74; Royals -- 72; Indians -- 67.
* AL West: Rangers -- 82; A's -- 81; Angels -- 80; Mariners -- 77.

For the NL, he projects as follows:

* NL East: Phillies -- 90; Braves -- 88; Mets -- 82; Marlins -- 76; Nationals -- 72;
* NL Central: Cards -- 91; Cubs -- 86; Brewers -- 78; Reds -- 74; Astros -- 73; Pirates -- 66.
* NL West: Dodgers -- 88; Diamondbacks -- 85; Rockies -- 84; Giants -- 80; Padres -- 77.

"These results are merely a guide as to how teams ought to perform. There are many unknowns, especially trades, injuries and how rookies will perform," said Bukiet. He will post an updated prediction toward the end of spring training, when there is a better idea of which specific players should be playing regularly on each team. Check his website:

Operations Research published Bukiet's mathematical model on which his predictions are based. His model computes the probability of a team winning a game against another team with given hitters, bench, starting pitcher, relievers and home field advantage. Bukiet has appeared on CNN Headline News, the Jerusalem Post and Fox Radio's Roger Hedgecock Show, KOGO, San Diego and others.

Bukiet, an avid Mets fan, has used this mathematical model to determine whether it is worthwhile to wager on games during the baseball season. His picks are posted (for academic purposes only) on his website ( These picks have produced positive results overall, and for six of the nine years he has posted them.

Source: New Jersey Institute of Technology

See also: Atomic Physicist Proposes Winning Formula For Baseball Success and The Cognitive Benefits Of Being A Sports Fan

The Mechanics Of Steroids

A $252 million contract to play baseball causes "an enormous amount of pressure ... to perform at a high level every day," according to Alex Rodriguez. The New York Yankees' third baseman provided a few more details last week about the anabolic steroids he used from 2001 to 2003 after he had signed a record-setting deal with his former team, the Texas Rangers.

Here is what most of us know about anabolic steroids: they make muscles grow faster, there are harmful side effects to our health, most sports leagues have banned them, and they are illegal without a prescription.

But how do they actually work? Does an athlete just pop a few pills and then wait for the Popeye-spinach effect? Let's dig a little deeper into the science of steroids.

Legal uses
Anabolic steroids, or anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), are the synthetic (made in a lab) derivatives of the naturally produced hormone testosterone. They promote the growth of muscle (anabolic effect) and the typical male characteristics of puberty (androgenic effect).

When legally prescribed, they are an option for patients who produce abnormally low levels of testosterone or who suffer from body-wasting diseases such as cancer or AIDS. When used by athletes, the goal is to speed up the body's natural muscle-building process.

When we lift weights heavier than what we're used to, we create tiny micro-tears in muscle fibers. The body's natural repair process repairs the tear and then overcompensates by adding bigger cells to build a stronger fiber — this is called muscular hypertrophy. Over time, this repeated process of teardown and re-build will result in muscle growth.

Natural testosterone is the body's main ingredient for this process, but anabolic steroids can serve as a supplement.

Once ingested, an AAS travels through the blood stream to the muscle tissue. It is drawn into the muscle cell's receiving dock, called an androgen receptor. Once delivered to the muscle cell, the steroid can interact with the cell's DNA and stimulate the protein synthesis process that promotes cell growth.

Different variants and amounts of AAS can cause different reactions producing either massive body-building physiques or more toned athletic muscles (i.e. Barry Bonds vs. A-Rod). Athletes experiment with different combinations (called stacking) or regimens (pyramiding) in an attempt to fine-tune the final result.  A-Rod's stack was reportedly straight testosterone and Primobolan.

Beyond bulk
While the focus in the media is on the bulked-up home run hitters, anabolic steroids can also benefit pitchers and others who need a faster turnaround from sore, overused muscles. Intense exercise also releases cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which breaks down muscle tissue, producing sore muscles.

AAS can block cortisol from binding to the muscle cell's receptor sites, which diminishes the breakdown process. Less muscle breakdown means less muscle fatigue which would allow a pitcher to recover more quickly from a nine-inning outing.

Besides all of the known negative side effects of using steroids just for ergogenic reasons, there is also the uncertainty of what exactly you are taking. Last month, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested the owners of an Alabama-based online pharmacy on charges that they filled hundreds of illegal prescriptions for anabolic steroids for clients across the country.

The worst news for the customers of this pharmacy was delivered by U.S. Attorney Deborah Rhodes: "Each of the pharmacy owners and pharmacists named in the indictment are charged with prescribing and selling veterinary steroids, approved for cattle and livestock only, to humans." 

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How Should Cheating Be Defined In Sports?

When Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano reports for spring training in April, he will be anxious to demonstrate the effects of a performance-enhancing off-season. His brain will benefit from a sharper focus while his throwing arm will boast an extra boost that has been missing since 2006. Stimulants? Steroids? Scandal? No need to panic, he just had LASIK surgery for his eyes and "Tommy John" surgery for his injured elbow. Of course, had he chosen amphetamines to improve his focus or steroids to increase his strength, he would have been banned and berated. 

Society Decides
There is confusion over the means and methods athletes have available to enhance their performance. Certainly, corrective eye surgery to raise your vision level to 20/20 seems fair, but many athletes go into the procedure hoping to come out with enhanced 20/15 or 20/10 eyesight. Replacing a damaged elbow ligament with a tendon doesn't seem like cheating, but what if its done on a healthy elbow hoping for a few more miles per hour on a fastball that has faded over the years?

Earlier this month, a commentary in the journal Nature recommended a fresh look at cognitive-enhancing drugs and where to draw the line in the sand between natural performance and enhanced performance. The authors, an esteemed group of neuroscientists and ethicists, argued that "enhanced" is only defined by the rules set by society.
Certainly, abuse of prescription drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall, is illegal because of the potential, harmful side effects. Still, reports of the rising use of these drugs by college students and professionals show the demand for options beyond nutrition, exercise and sleep.
These drugs are just the first generation of possible brain boosting supplements, which is why the Nature commentators are calling for an organized, stigma-free approach to evaluating the risks, benefits and ethics of future products.

Even in Major League Baseball, there is mounting evidence that cognitive-enhancing drugs may be on the rise. Since MLB banned amphetamines in 2006, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of therapeutic use exemptions issued to players for attention-deficit disorder diagnoses, for which drugs like Ritalin and Adderall can be legitimately prescribed. In 2006, 28 players applied for the exemption, while a year later there were 103. There is suspicion that many of these ADD diagnoses are just excuses to get the pills.

Legal Jolt

So, what if there was a cognitive-enhancing, sports supplement that increased alertness, concentration, reaction time and focus while also decreasing the perception of muscle fatigue? Even more encouraging, this supplement is sold in millions of outlets and is socially accepted worldwide. It comes in three sizes, tall, grande or venti – coffee. More specifically, caffeine has been the subject of many recent studies of its effectiveness, both cognitively and physiologically.

Earlier this year, Dr. Carrie Ruxton completed a literature survey to summarize 41 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials published over the past 15 years to establish what range of caffeine consumption would maximize benefits and minimize risk for cognitive function, mood, physical performance and hydration. The studies were divided into two categories, those that looked at the cognitive effects and those that looked at physical performance effects.
The results concluded that there was a significant improvement in cognitive functions like attention, reaction time and mental processing as well as physical benefits described as increased "time to exhaustion" and decreased "perception of fatigue" in cycling and running tests.

Given these results, how exactly does caffeine perform these wonderful tricks? Dr. Ruxton explains from the study, "Caffeine is believed to impact on mood and performance by inhibiting the binding of both adenosine and benzodiazepine receptor ligands to brain membranes. As these neurotransmitters are known to slow down brain activity, a blockade of their receptors lessens this effect."
Bottom line, the chemicals in your brain that would cause you to feel tired are blocked, giving you a feeling of ongoing alertness. This pharmacological process is very similar to that of the ADD drugs.

If caffeine is such a clear cut performance enhancing supplement, why did the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) first add caffeine to its banned substance list, only to remove it in 2004? At the time that it was placed on the banned list, the threshold for a positive caffeine test was set to a post-exercise urinary caffeine concentration of about 3-4 cups of strong coffee.
However, more recent research has shown that caffeine has ergogenic effects at levels as low as the equivalent of 1-2 cups of coffee. So, it was hard for WADA to know where to draw the line between athletes just having a few morning cups of coffee/tea and those that were intentionally consuming caffeine to increase their performance level.

So, if Chris Capuano has a double espresso before pitching, his brain, eyes and arm should enhance his performance in the game.  Is that an unfair advantage? Science will continue to offer new and improved methods for raising an athlete's game above the competition. Players, league officials and fans will have to decide where to draw the line.

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