Bruce Bukiet, a mathematician at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, has predicted that the N.Y. Yankees will win 110 games this year and dominate the baseball scene.He bases his prognostications on a computer program that he has been perfecting for the last 6 years. The program is being used to predict the outcome of baseball and cricket games which Bukiet sees as a ” whole sequence of one-on-one events” rather than contests where ” multiple players affect the outcome of a single event”. Bukiet has entered into the computer data about every major league player’s performance over the past three years. By then feeding in the most likely line-ups for each team, he has the computer determine how many runs will be scored by each team in each game and hence the result of the game. Of course, the computer program cannot take into account the effect of in-season trades , injuries and the performance of unproven rookies.
As a Yankee fan, I am happy to read Bukiet’s predictions but I am hardly re-assured. The Sporting News experts pick the Yankees to finish second in their division behind the Red Sox and make the play-offs as a wild card. The sports mavens at the Star Ledger go one better (worse?) and say that the Yankees will not make the playoffs even as a wild card. Much as I would like to believe in Bukiet and his program, I am afraid the Yankees are looking very vulnerable this season. While the hitting is as potent as ever, the aging pitching rotation does not inspire confidence and I wonder how long Mariano Rivera can continue to bail them out.
In true head-to-head confrontations as in games like tennis, it may be possible to predict outcomes accurately most of the time. Baseball does not fall in that category, While it is primarily a duel between the pitcher and the batter, other players can have a lot to do with the end result. One error can turn around an entire series. Mets fans no doubt recall will remember with anguish the flub by the normally sure-handed Bill Buckner in the 6th game of the 1986 World Series. The Mets lost that game and the next and with it the Series. Then again, who could have predicted the Yankee collapse of three seasons ago when they were leading the Red Sox 3-0 and lost the next four games in a row as the Sox then went on to win it all. How to explain the performance of 33 year old journeyman Aaron Small who had a perfect 10-0 record that season without which the Yankees would not even have made the playoffs.
Cricket too is unpredictable except when it comes to the Australians who are prohibitive favorites to win the World Cup. In cricket, even more than in baseball, one fielding error can change the outcome of a game. Three weeks ago, a Mumbai computer maven apparently predicted that the West Indies would win a particular game and that their star batsman , Brian Lara, would score exactly 67 runs. That would be the baseball equivalent of correctly prophesying that Alex Rodriguez would hit a bloop single over 2nd base in the seventh inning of a game and that Derek Jeter would come home from second to win the game for the Yankees ! It just can’t be done, in my opinion.
To get back to the prediction about the Yankees….. I hope it comes true and that they go on to win the World Series, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I would be willing to bet that they will not win 110 games this season ( that’s close to the all-time best). I would be happy if they just won one game more than the Red Sox.