Black Swan baseball?

Posted: 30 September 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Here’s a question for those of you who have been following the debate concerning Nassim Taleb’s theory of improbable outcomes: is the result of the American League East battle for the final playoff spot (which the Boston Red Sox lost and the Tampa Bay Rays won, with the last pitch in the ninth inning) an example of a Black Swan event?

What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes.

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

The result clearly fulfills the first condition (Yankees/anti-Red Sox fans’ wishing for the outcome is not the same as actually expecting it) and the third condition (the amount of nonsense by sports commentators after the fact of why the Red Sox lost simply beggars belief).

But does it carry an extreme impact? It certainly does for the members of the Red Sox Nation (and, presumably, the much-smaller Tampa Bay equivalent), and will no doubt be remembered for years to come.

Perhaps its larger impact, though, will be on reinforcing the importance of uncertainty—the significance of what we don’t know and simply cannot know.

  1. […] return to my discussion of baseball and Black Swan events, Nate Silver calculates the probability of last Wednesday’s outcome: The following is not […]

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