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MIT professor picks Red Sox over rival Yankees in 2011

By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters) - As the Major League Baseball season hits full swing this weekend, a Massachusetts professor predicts the Boston Red Sox will easily outflank divisional rival the New York Yankees in 2011.

Dimitris Bertsimas of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used quantitative models based on player analytics to predict the Red Sox will win 101 games this season, eight more than the Yankees.

New York won 95 games last season to finish second in the American League East and Boston was third with 89 wins.

"A player is a vector of numbers and from that, we can forecast overall team statistics," said Bertsimas, co-director of MIT's Operations Research Center and admitted Red Sox fan.

In a new paper "The Analytics Edge in Baseball," Bertsimas and doctoral student Allison O'Hair developed three models to determine the outcome of teams' 162-game seasons.

The Tampa Bay Rays, last year's AL East champs, are forecast to have another great year with 100 wins. Divisional also-rans are forecast to be the Baltimore Orioles with 83 wins and the Toronto Blue Jays, with 80.

Bertsimas and O'Hair have not run the numbers on any of the league's other divisions.

The models take in a variety of factors, including the number of runs a given team scores, to a particular player's on-base and slugging percentage.

Some of the elements were based on Michael Lewis' 2003 best-selling book "Moneyball," about how Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane used quantitative methods to create a winning team on a shoestring budget.

The data was calibrated based on last year's statistics as well as this year's spring training.

A 101-game winning season is relatively rare. "In Las Vegas, the odds are for the Sox to win 95 games, so we have a pretty good benchmark," Bertsimas said.

All bets are off once the playoffs start, though, because luck can play a much larger factor in a five- or seven-game series than it can over the course of a regular season, he said. "Unexpected things happen."

When not crunching baseball stats Bertsimas teaches at the MIT Sloan School of Management, including the class "The Analytics Edge" on how companies from Google to Goldman Sachs to Federal Express use analytics to boost their bottom line.

"Human intuition tells us which factors to look at to make these predictions, and how much to weigh them, but after that, we let the data speak for itself," he said.

The Red Sox open their 2011 season on Friday against the defending American League champion Texas Rangers.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Frank Pingue)