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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Japan Times: Canadian scientist uses math to green Japanese baseball

‘shortest-path algorithm’...Sheeet, I could have used that back in the “Bar-a-Block” heyday of Guttenberg.

Richard Hoshino is a tall, slim mathematician, as tightly wound as a precision timepiece, and irrepressibly polite and cheerful. He also has a hard time taking “no” for an answer.

News photo

Eager to share his love of math and its practical applications, Hoshino is committed to helping solve real-world environmental problems using mathematics — for example, in the area of sports scheduling.

That’s right, sports scheduling.

Using mathematical techniques (nearly unfathomable to this writer), Hoshino and his research supervisor, Ken-ichi Kawarabayashi, at the National Institute of Informatics, have developed a distance-optimal schedule for Nippon Professional Baseball that takes into consideration many of the league’s constraints, while reducing total travel distance by 25 percent, or about 70,000 km.

...The researchers met with Ogaki three times in September, each for several hours.

“Ogaki-san was astounded by the strength of the computer program we wrote. Based on the theory we invented, we input the information they give us and within four minutes our program generates schedules that satisfy all of the constraints, while ensuring that each team has the same number of weekday and weekend games,” reported Hoshino.

“I was shocked that the NPB does this by hand — and they’ve been doing it this way for decades, and this manual six-week process is done by the director of the Central League, one of the most senior people in the head office. In Major League Baseball they hire a team of mathematicians to produce their regular-season schedules.

Repoz Posted: November 25, 2012 at 08:36 AM | 44 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. BDC Posted: November 25, 2012 at 11:32 AM (#4309106)
In Major League Baseball they hire a team of mathematicians to produce their regular-season schedules


For many years, IIRC, that "team of mathematicians" was a husband and wife who did the whole schedule using paper and notecards at their kitchen table. I reckon computer algorithms help out now (there are several open-source scheduling programs on the Internet), but there has to be a lot of human proofing and tweaking.
   2. bobm Posted: November 25, 2012 at 12:14 PM (#4309121)
[1]
Husband-wife team out bid after 24 years

Associated Press | December 1, 2004
PITTSBURGH -- One of baseball's longest streaks comes to an end in January when next season's schedule for all 30 major league teams is released.

A small company outside Pittsburgh, the Sports Scheduling Group, has been selected by Major League Baseball to draw up the 2005 schedule, unseating the husband-and-wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson, who have been doing it for 24 years.

Each year, Major League Baseball accepts competing scheduling proposals from outside groups. The Sports Scheduling Group won the contract in part because it did a better job of avoiding "semi-repeaters," in which the same teams play in back-to-back series at home and then away, said Katy Feeney, MLB senior vice president of scheduling.

Baseball has been outsourcing the job for decades.

Harry Simmons, who at one time worked in the commissioner's office, used to make the schedules each year, mostly by hand. It became such an extensive task that Simmons eventually left the office and devoted himself almost entirely to scheduling.

"As the number of games and the number teams changed, it just became more and more complicated," Feeney said.

After Simmons quit, the Stephensons were hired in 1981. They use computers, which have made the job easier but have not entirely eliminated the human element.

"I think each team looks at the schedule from its own perspective and there is without exception a lot of points of view," Stephenson said. "There will never be a day when everyone sits down and says, 'This is great.'"

Each team plays 162 games, half of them at home, half away. League officials would not discuss the criteria of a winning proposal but said the process has become increasingly complex, with new divisions, interleague play, extended playoffs and more demands from cities with scheduling conflicts.

As a result, scheduling has become much more of a science and academics now play a larger role, Feeney said.

In fact, Doug Bureman, co-founder of the Sports Scheduling Group, teamed up with a business professor from Carnegie Mellon University and a professor of industrial and systems engineering at Georgia Tech to put together the winning proposal.

Bureman would not talk specifically about what kind of technology his group used. Nor would he say how much his group is being paid.

As for the Stephensons, they are already working hard to get their job back.

"I'm a little surprised myself that we've been doing it this long," Stephenson said. "We're working on a schedule for 2006. We'll see whether it takes."
   3. BDC Posted: November 25, 2012 at 12:51 PM (#4309135)
Cool, thanks, Bob.

I wonder if "green" factors like travel miles enter into MLB scheduling algorithms. Every year it seems that fans of some team complain about absurdly-planned road trips. Of course, North America is somewhat larger than Japan, and the Mariners will always travel more miles than the Yankees or Mets; but there are probably relatively fuel-effective ways of getting them there as long as everything's so complicated anyway.
   4. J.R. Wolf Posted: November 25, 2012 at 02:10 PM (#4309172)
Should have been done at least a decade ago. Computers are far, far superior to people at tasks like this, but it's not surprising that the hidebound no-replay MLB would take as long to figure this out as it did.
   5. bobm Posted: November 25, 2012 at 02:22 PM (#4309176)
The schedule is a Major undertaking
There's more than 2,400 games and only 181 days to play them
By Tom Singer / MLB.com | 04/05/06 8:00 AM ET ...

Scheduling has become a more topical issue recently only because different outfits have landed the contract to do it. While the job has long been up for annual bids, for more than two decades it had been a mom-and-pop operation. Literally. Henry and Holly Stephenson of Massachusetts got the job in 1980 and kept pushing their pencils for 24 years.

Then a small Pittsburgh firm, Sports Scheduling Group, was chosen to compile the 2005 schedule.

Yet another outfit landed the job for the current 2006 schedule. The reason for the latest switch is not known, but if name-propriety had anything to do with it, SSG certainly would've kept the job: one of its co-founders is Michael Trick, which is what the assignment turned out to be.

As Trick noted after finally turning in the 2005 schedule, "I thought, 'How hard could this be?' It turned out to be very hard."

Feeney chooses not to reveal the newcomer's identity, for no reason other than the fact innovations in technology have made the pursuit of the MLB scheduling gig more competitive.

"The last several years," Feeney says, "we've asked a limited number of firms to provide us with something that indicates their capability. It's a luxury to have a choice. We give to all of the candidates the format, the Interleague rotation, special requests, some broad issues and they submit a sample schedule before we award the actual contract."
   6. bobm Posted: November 25, 2012 at 02:32 PM (#4309182)
http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/12/sports/la-sp-0413-mlb-schedule-20120413

LA Times
"Major League Baseball's schedule reflects a maddening mapping"
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
The master timetable for 30 clubs results from a months-long process involving special software, input from teams and television, compliance with union rules and much, much more.
April 12, 2012|By Jim Peltz ...

Baseball contracts with the Sports Scheduling Group, a Butler, Pa., firm that provides the computer skills that consider all the variables and delivers constantly refined drafts of the schedule.

"The biggest challenge is that the thing is just so big," said Doug Bureman, the company's coordinating partner. "There's just so much going on here in terms of the number of teams, the number of games." ...

Bureman, whose company also does the scheduling for several major-college conferences, summed up the job this way:

"We're kind of in the business of seeking perfection, knowing that you're never going to get there."
   7. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 02:35 PM (#4309183)
Computers are far, far superior to people at tasks like this, but it's not surprising that the hidebound no-replay MLB would take as long to figure this out as it did.


Of course, the difference here is that computer scheduling makes the game better, while expanded replay makes it worse. Because nothing's more exciting than standing around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes while you wait to find out whether or not you won the game.

Other than that, though, your analogy is spot-on.
   8. greenback calls it soccer Posted: November 25, 2012 at 02:50 PM (#4309190)
Because nothing's more exciting than standing around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes while you wait to find out whether or not you won the game.

I don't know, reading the lamentations of Braves fans when the umpires screw them out of a post-season triumph is pretty damn exciting.
   9.   Posted: November 25, 2012 at 03:16 PM (#4309193)
Because nothing's more exciting than standing around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes while you wait to find out whether or not you won the game.


Yeah, and that might happen, damn, like twice per season! Because all 2,430 games all have exciting endings currently.
   10. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 03:39 PM (#4309201)
Yeah, and that might happen, damn, like twice per season! Because all 2,430 games all have exciting endings currently.


People already ##### about how baseball games are too long. The pace of the game is a legitimate concern for casual fans. Yet you want to introduce even more delays and interruptions! You might as well hire Steve Trachsel to handle replay reviews, and be done with it.

I'm sure it'll be great for the quality of play when the pitcher stands around on the mound getting cold, while an invisible replay official watches a fielder's glove go back and to the left, over and over.
   11. Rennie's Tenet Posted: November 25, 2012 at 03:54 PM (#4309205)
If I got this contract, I'd add two teams, go to four regional leagues with 154 game seasons. Email the schedule to Bud, see if he notices.
   12.   Posted: November 25, 2012 at 04:16 PM (#4309210)
People already ##### about how baseball games are too long. The pace of the game is a legitimate concern for casual fans. Yet you want to introduce even more delays and interruptions! You might as well hire Steve Trachsel to handle replay reviews, and be done with it.


I would off-set the time added by replay by forbidding managers from leaving the dugout to argue. Problem solved.

I would also enact a rule where if the play hasn't been decided in X, it is automatically ruled inconclusive and the ruling on the field stands.

Just because you can point out some flaw with something doesn't mean you should toss out the whole idea.
   13. steagles Posted: November 25, 2012 at 05:32 PM (#4309226)
it's also worth mentioning that, with a reduced schedule in terms of miles traveled, you'll also reduce the amount of time that players spend traveling between cities, and thus, you'll quite possibly improve the quality of play on the field, or at least the quality of life for the players off of it.
   14. J.R. Wolf Posted: November 25, 2012 at 06:11 PM (#4309237)
"Because nothing's more exciting than standing around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes while you wait to find out whether or not you won the game."

Losing a game that you won because the umpires are incompetent boobs is incomparably worse than a few short delays.
   15. J.R. Wolf Posted: November 25, 2012 at 06:36 PM (#4309243)
The arguments against instant replay are all specious. Put something competent in the video feed room to watch the camera feeds. Before you can stop he game to ask for a ruling he'll already know what the right call is 99% of the time. Whether the ball is fair or foul or whether the ball beat the runner to the bag is obvious on a TV feed. Too many games - and championship games - have been decided by some fat fool blowing a call and no one having the guts to overrule it.

You're worried about time? Great. Enforce the 30-second pitch rule, which is already on the books. We'll cut a half hour off of game time even WITH instant replay.
   16. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 06:37 PM (#4309244)
Just because you can point out some flaw with something doesn't mean you should toss out the whole idea.


No, but the flaws in this case are large enough that the thing as a whole isn't worth keeping. It's just bathwater - there's no baby there.

Managers arguing with the umpire is entertaining, and a part of the culture of the game. In practice, a time-limiting rule would be meaningless, just like the time-limiting rules that are already on the books, which are routinely ignored.

Losing a game that you won because the umpires are incompetent boobs is incomparably worse than a few short delays.


No, it's not. A great game that was unfairly stolen from you is still a great game, but replay-related delays degrade the entertainment value of every game they affect.
   17. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 06:41 PM (#4309247)
The arguments against instant replay are all specious.


I do not think you understand what the word "specious" means.

Too many games - and championship games - have been decided by some fat fool blowing a call and no one having the guts to overrule it.


If you don't like the job done by the current umpires, then the natural solution would be to train and hire better umpires. What makes you think that MLB will hire "something competent" to handle the video reviews, if the replay officials are going to be hired by the same people who hired the current "fat fools" who work as umpires?

You're worried about time? Great. Enforce the 30-second pitch rule, which is already on the books. We'll cut a half hour off of game time even WITH instant replay.


That would be a great thing to do - but it has absolutely no connection to replay. MLB could do that, and reap the resultant benefit, without enacting a replay system.
   18. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: November 25, 2012 at 06:44 PM (#4309249)
That would be a great thing to do - but it has absolutely no connection to replay. MLB could do that, and reap the resultant benefit, without enacting a replay system.

So even if games were on average 40 minutes shorter than they are now, you would still imagine that replay would make games unbearably awful by making them on average 2 minutes longer than that.
   19. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 07:36 PM (#4309265)
So even if games were on average 40 minutes shorter than they are now, you would still imagine that replay would make games unbearably awful by making them on average 2 minutes longer than that.


So even if someone handed you $50,000, you'd still keep trying to acquire more money throughout your lifetime?

If replay as implemented actually makes games only two minutes longer, I'll eat my left foot. You might as well tell me that the magical cloud fairies will provide a tribunal of impartial unicorns to handle the replay reviews.

Seriously, pull the other one - it's got bells on it.
   20.   Posted: November 25, 2012 at 07:52 PM (#4309270)
Managers arguing with the umpire is entertaining, and a part of the culture of the game.


I could not possible disagree with you more strenuously than I do as I am typing these keys as hard as I can press.

If you honestly believe that watching fat managers slowly waddle to the mound and arguing for minutes before slowly waddling back is fun and worth keeping over getting calls right then we simply can't even have a conversation as we occupy entirely different realms of time-space.
   21. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 08:04 PM (#4309274)
If you honestly believe that watching fat managers slowly waddle to the mound and arguing for minutes before slowly waddling back is fun and worth keeping over getting calls right then we simply can't even have a conversation as we occupy entirely different realms of time-space.


Why do you hate fun? Did fun abuse you when you were a child? Did it kill your mother, or break up your parents' marriage? What's the deal?

Deep down in your shriveled heart, when you see an old fat guy in an ill-fitting uniform get down on his hands and knees and scoop dirt over home plate just so that the ump has to bend over and brush it off, don't you feel at least a few twinges of an unfamiliar emotion?
   22. Bhaakon Posted: November 25, 2012 at 09:16 PM (#4309310)
I don't know, reading the lamentations of Braves fans when the umpires screw them out of a post-season triumph is pretty damn exciting.


Neither computer umpiring nor replay would have reversed that particular call, though it was certainly awful.

If you honestly believe that watching fat managers slowly waddle to the mound and arguing for minutes before slowly waddling back is fun and worth keeping over getting calls right then we simply can't even have a conversation as we occupy entirely different realms of time-space.


Well, 1) I doubt manager arguing adds significantly to game time, and 2) manager arguing is rarely about getting the call correct, and usually about emotional venting and some sort of psychological gamesmanship. Replay won't stop either one of those.
   23. Random Transaction Generator Posted: November 25, 2012 at 09:25 PM (#4309318)
Losing a game that you won because the umpires are incompetent boobs is incomparably worse than a few short delays.


No, it's not. A great game that was unfairly stolen from you is still a great game.


You're nuts.

The losing team's fans hate it, and the winning team's fans get to hear about how it was a tainted win for the next, oh, 40 years.
And everyone that doesn't have a rooting interest in the game realize that it has been ruined because the proper result was altered by a mistake.

The only people who like it are those grey-haired fools who love to raise their cane and shout "Tradition!".
   24. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 09:59 PM (#4309347)
You're nuts.


Maybe, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

When there's a controversial ending to a game, that game is remembered and endlessly discussed and dissected forever. You really think the NFL would be better off if some endless replay review had overturned the Immaculate Reception?
   25.   Posted: November 25, 2012 at 10:31 PM (#4309371)
I love fun. I'm the guy who would randomize the divisions every year just cause it'd be fun. Manager arguments are seldom of any entertainment and serve nothing but to delay the game.
   26. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 10:42 PM (#4309378)
I love fun. I'm the guy who would randomize the divisions every year just cause it'd be fun.


Losing traditional rivalries is fun? Are you sure you really understand what "fun" is?
   27. PreservedFish Posted: November 25, 2012 at 11:00 PM (#4309391)
Manager arguments are absolutely fun.
   28. Random Transaction Generator Posted: November 25, 2012 at 11:41 PM (#4309414)
Manager arguments are absolutely fun.


Only if the manager really lets loose. Otherwise, it's just two guys mumbling to each other for 20 seconds.
And when the manager goes for broke, then it's definitely a big time waster. You can't lose your #### in under a minute.
   29.   Posted: November 25, 2012 at 11:49 PM (#4309417)
Losing traditional rivalries is fun?


Yes.

Sorry, but I see fun in things that are different from how it's been done for the last 100 years.

Manager arguments are absolutely fun.


Maybe 1 in 500 are, and only outside the context of the actual game.
   30. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 11:54 PM (#4309420)
Sorry, but I see fun in things that are different from how it's been done for the last 100 years.


You say "things that are different from how it's been done for the last 100 years", I say "August series against the Royals". Blecch.
   31. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 25, 2012 at 11:55 PM (#4309421)
And when the manager goes for broke, then it's definitely a big time waster. You can't lose your #### in under a minute.


Time spent on something that entertaining is never "wasted".
   32. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: November 26, 2012 at 12:09 AM (#4309428)
Losing a game that you won because the umpires are incompetent boobs is incomparably worse than a few short delays.
Winning a game that you lost because the umpires are incompetent boobs is beyond awesome.

The losing team's fans hate it, and the winning team's fans get to hear about how it was a tainted win for the next, oh, 40 years.
Ask Yankee fans if they're bothered by outcome of the Jeffrey Maier game. It was pretty terrible for Orioles fans for that moment in time, but baseball seems to have survived just fine.
   33. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: November 26, 2012 at 06:46 AM (#4309573)
The arguments against instant replay are all specious.

They didn't do it when I was a kid.

End of argument.
   34. Greg K Posted: November 26, 2012 at 08:44 AM (#4309584)
I love fun. I'm the guy who would randomize the divisions every year just cause it'd be fun. Manager arguments are seldom of any entertainment and serve nothing but to delay the game.

What would be super fun...
For the 2013 season all players play for the nation (or in the case of Americans, state) in which they were born. Throw together the 64 best teams (maybe have some kind of play-in for the bottom-feeders), but them all in a massive bracket where advancement is decided by a best-of-13 game series.

Now that would be fun!
   35. J.R. Wolf Posted: November 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM (#4310257)
It's amazing listening to the anti-instant-replay rants. Were you dinosaurs against night games as well?

The umpiring system is baseball has been broken for a long time and is long overdue for the same fix that other sports have proven works effectively to prevent grand miscarriages of justice.

RTG is right: the only people who like it are grey-headed fools who like to raise their canes and shout "Tradition!"

And they like it because it's just so great to see teams robbed of wins and titles they have earned by blundering, inattentive fools who cannot be overruled, even though everyone who can see the scoreboard replay or has a TV is instantly aware that a giant, heart-breaking, unjust blunder has been made by baseball's bungling umpires...yet again.
   36. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 27, 2012 at 08:17 AM (#4310398)
It's amazing listening to the anti-instant-replay rants. Were you dinosaurs against night games as well?


No, because those make baseball more accessible to the fans, rather than less.

And they like it because it's just so great to see teams robbed of wins and titles they have earned by blundering, inattentive fools who cannot be overruled, even though everyone who can see the scoreboard replay or has a TV is instantly aware that a giant, heart-breaking, unjust blunder has been made by baseball's bungling umpires...yet again.


I'm all for changes that improve the accuracy of umpiring, as long as they don't make the game worse. Hire better umpires, or have MLB start an umpiring school and require umpires to pass it if they want to work ML games. Add a positioning sensor to the ball, and work on an automated ball-and-strike system. Christ, give the umpires Segways like mall cops if they're too fat or feeble to get into position to make the call. Anything that genuinely improves the quality of the game is fine with me. But please, for the love of God, don't ruin the pace of the action by throwing a bunch of stupid, pointless delays into the broadcast, simply in order to hand authority over game action to a slightly different group of "blundering, inattentive fools".
   37. ColonelTom Posted: November 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM (#4310522)
Baseball's full of "stupid, pointless delays" that can be reduced or eliminated. Getting a call right is neither stupid nor pointless.
   38. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 27, 2012 at 12:52 PM (#4310598)
Getting a call right is neither stupid nor pointless.


I love the way people seem to assume, for some reason, that having replay in place will eliminate blown calls. Haven't any of you ever seen a football game? Replay officials get #### wrong there all the time, and half the stuff that the on-field officials get wrong isn't reviewable. So you get games that are slow as #### and outcomes that are still unfair.

I bet the networks will love having all those extra commercial breaks in their broadcast, though.
   39. BDC Posted: November 27, 2012 at 12:59 PM (#4310609)
It's amazing listening to the anti-instant-replay rants. Were you dinosaurs against night games as well?

Funny enough, given the nominal title of this thread, one of the "greener" things that baseball clubs could do is play more day games.
   40. dr. scott Posted: November 27, 2012 at 01:20 PM (#4310628)
Haven't any of you ever seen a football game?


What is this thing you speak of.... football?
   41. ColonelTom Posted: November 27, 2012 at 01:34 PM (#4310649)
Am I the only one who hears #38 in the voice of Tom Smykowski from Office Space?
   42. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: November 27, 2012 at 01:55 PM (#4310673)
Am I the only one who hears #38 in the voice of Tom Smykowski from Office Space?


Yes. Yes, you are.
   43. Ron J2 Posted: November 27, 2012 at 02:51 PM (#4310725)
#4 The NHL scheduling process is what you might call iterative special pleading. Very amusing to read about. They come out with a provisional schedule, the GMs then try to negotiate changes (with varying degrees of success)

In general they want the demanding travel out of the way as early as possible.
   44. Greg Franklin Posted: November 27, 2012 at 04:36 PM (#4310827)
Thanks for the links, bobm.

IIRC the husband-and-wife scheduling team was "good" at two things: making sure there were intradivisional rivalry games to open and close the season; and a ton of near-home and home series (e.g. 7 games in 10 days against one club). With the new computer-assisted schedules, it seems a lot more randomized, fewer home and homes, and nothing gets overlooked except for the odd goof (Marlins game in the same time as U2 concert).

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