Engineering Students Take a Swing at Baseball Scheduling Challenges

April 2, 2014


If slamming a 90-mph fastball into the centerfield stands sounds tough, try scheduling a minor league baseball season.

Among the challenging questions: Did each team get the correct mix of home and away games? Are enough dates reserved for division rivals? Did each team get a fair share of lucrative weekend dates? Do required rest days follow rigorous road trips? And where is the work-around for that Sunday afternoon when a dog show is booked for the ballpark?

Major League Baseball has begun to get some high-tech help with scheduling. But for their 15 affiliated minor leagues, assembling the multi-team, multi-game calendar remains a tedious, time-consuming task that must be completed by hand.

Soon, there may be a better way. Johns Hopkins students and faculty members have started tossing advanced math and powerful computing tools at the arcane art of planning game dates. The result is a new scheduling system that has piqued the interest of minor league baseball executives—and may prove to be useful in applications beyond the ballpark.

“Our goal has been to come up with a mathematical formulation of the problems that occur in putting together a 140-game season involving many baseball teams from different cities. Then, we have to coax a supercomputer into kicking out a workable schedule,” said Donniell Fishkind, an associate research professor in the Department of Applied Math and Statistics. Fishkind began assigning the calendar challenge two years ago to students in his class on optimization, the science of making decisions when many alternatives exist. “The students liked getting a chance to work on a practical problem. And working with baseball schedules is really neat.”

Tony Dahbura, interim director of the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute and a minority ownerthe hagerst of the Hagerstown Suns, took the idea to the most recent winter meeting of minor league baseball executives and found a receptive audience.

As a result, the Johns Hopkins students have been using their latest system to draw up proposed 2015 game schedules for six minor league organizations. The executives will review the results and decide whether to purchase the student-devised schedules in place of the usual time-consuming hand-made plans.

Excerpted from The Hub. Read more here.




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