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The White Sox as a complex system
2006-05-18 10:21
by Bob Timmermann

Patrice Jones of the Chicago Tribune interviews Northwestern University physicist Luis Amaral (no relation to Rich Amaral I believe) about how baseball teams can be good examples of a complex system.

What are complex systems?

Complex systems are things you cannot break into smaller parts hoping to understand the whole. For example, you can know the names and histories and statistics of individual players on a baseball team, but you don't know whether that team will have a good season or not. That is a complex system. It is when the whole ends up being much more than the individual parts. The White Sox, for example, did not have such an amazing set of individual players [when they won the World Series last year], but they had an amazing baseball team.

So a baseball team is an example of a complex system?

Yes. The [2005] White Sox was really a good example of a complex system in that the whole -- meaning the team -- was bigger than its parts. It is the interplay among the individual players that makes a team into something that could not be understood if we looked at each person in isolation.

2006-05-18 10:55:30
1.   GoBears
Yeah...he's wrong. Right about complex systems, but wrong about baseball. For any other team sport (and any other form of joint production) this would be right, but baseball is the worst analogy possible. There's almost zero team production in baseball. The whole is precisely the sum of its parts. To say that the ChiSox didn't have great players is really to say either (1) that they didn't have famous players, or (2) that merely good players had great seasons - especially with the pitchers.

Basically, this metaphor is merely a geeky way to parrot the MSM meme about team chemistry. Huh - a physicist musing about chemistry - no wonder they can't find the Unified Field Theorem.

2006-05-18 10:57:31
2.   Ken Arneson
Yes, a baseball team is perhaps a complex system, but it's not a very good example of one.

Other sports, like basketball, soccer, and hockey are much harder to break into smaller parts.

2006-05-18 11:03:12
3.   Jacob L
Northwestern is in Evanston, which is very much on the north side so he's not even doing a very good job of citing something popular to illustrate his point. I haven't been to Chicago in the last year. Maybe the Chisox have overrun the city, but I doubt it.

I considered going to Northwestern, but not for physics.

2006-05-18 11:11:35
4.   Bob Timmermann
To be fair, Dr. Amaral is not from these shores. He probably grew up as an FC Porto fan.
2006-05-18 11:20:21
5.   Ali Nagib
My mother emailed me this article this morning, and I was thinking the same things you guys are. Is the point of complex systems that they can explain statistical variance? If you can use it to predict Pythagorean deviations, great. I doubt you can, though.
2006-05-18 11:27:40
6.   das411
Yknow, the 2005 ChiSox DID have Aaron Rowand...
2006-05-18 13:46:53
7.   Cliff Corcoran
3 Based on the crowd reaction to Conan O'Brien's baseball-related jokes during his May sweeps week in Chicago last week, Chitown is split fitty-fitty, which is probably as close to overrunning the city as the Chisox are gonna get, esp as the Cubs have taken a nose dive after giving their fans real hope in recent years, indeed finding yet another way to break their hearts, and the White Sox have the city's first World Series win since Xerxes was in office.

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