Two mathematicians have developed software that can quickly optimize road trip schedules for professional baseball teams and slash travel by nearly 70,000 kilometers, or more than 1½ times the circumference of the Earth.
But so far, pro baseball has balked at the idea.
"I hear Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) spends six weeks scheduling the trips," said Richard Hoshino, a former postdoctoral research fellow at the National Institute of Informatics (NII). "Our software could do that in the matter of 30 seconds."
Hoshino and Ken-ichi Kawarabayashi, a professor at NII, are both experts in "graph theory," a domain of mathematics and informatics that can be applied to optimize the design of railway networks and electrical circuits.
Their inspiration for the software came after Hoshino arrived from Canada in March 2010 and moved, by pure chance, near the home stadium of the Chiba Lotte Marines.
He and Kawarabayashi began discussing how to apply the concept of railway networks and similar "graphs" to road trip schedules for baseball teams. They devised methods to enable fast computing under a variety of restricting conditions for NPB’s two six-team leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League.
They required, for example, that each team be able to face all other teams in the same league within every batch of five consecutive three-game "slots."
One "slot" consists of three successive games played between the same two teams at the same venue.
Each team was allowed to play home games for only up to three three-game slots in a row.
Under these and other conditions, the pair calculated the shortest possible travel distance over 40 three-game slots, or 120 games, of a season.
The same calculations were used for 24 inter-league games.
The mathematicians said total travel could be slashed by 69,186 kilometers, or 24.3 percent, from the corresponding figure for the actual road trips in 2010.
The pair showed the software to NPB officials last autumn and offered help in scheduling trips for the 2013 season. The proposal, however, was rejected.
"Each team has its own requests," said Kazunori Ogaki, who heads an NPB department that manages the Central League. "As a result, cutting travel distances and costs did not necessarily emerge as the foremost prerequisite."
Hoshino said they will approach the Pacific League next time.
"Popular teams likely have a great say (in the scheduling). It's difficult," he said.
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