Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won Hardcover – Jan 25 2011
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"The closest thing to Freakonomics I've seen since the original. A rare combination of terrific storytelling and unconventional thinking. I love this book..."
—Steven D. Levitt, Alvin H. Baum Professor of Economics, University of Chicago, and co-author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics
"I love this book. If I told you why, the NBA would fine me again."
—Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks
“Scorecasting is both scholarly and entertaining, a rare double. It gets beyond the cliched narratives and tried-but-not-necessarily-true assumptions to reveal significant and fascinating truths about sports.”
"A counterintuitive, innovative, unexpected handbook for sports fans interested in the truths that underpin our favorite games. With their lively minds and prose, Moskowitz and Wertheim will change the way you think about and watch sports. Not just for stats nerds, Scorecasting enlightens and entertains. I wish I had thought of it!"
—Jeremy Schaap, ESPN reporter, Author of Cinderella Man.
"(Sports + numbers) x great writing = winning formula. A must read for all couch analysts."
—Richard Thaler, Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics, best-selling author of Nudge.
“Scorecasting will change the way you watch sports, but don’t start reading it during a game; you’re liable to get lost in it and miss the action. I’m not giving anything away because you’ll want to read exactly how they arrived at their conclusions."
—Allen Barra, NJ Star Ledger
“Like Moneyball and Soccernomics before it, Scorecasting crunches the numbers to challenge notions that have been codified into conventional sports wisdom.”
“Freakonomics meets Moneyball”
—The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
TOBIAS MOSKOWITZ is the Fama Family Chaired Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago. He is the winner of the 2007 Fischer Black Prize, which honors the top finance scholar in the world under the age of 40.
L. JON WERTHEIM is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, a recent Ferris Professor at Princeton, and the author of five books, including Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played.
For more information go to scorecasting.com
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Top Customer Reviews
L. Jon Wertheim is a terrific writer who has mainly written about tennis and basketball both in book form and for Sports illustrated. Although the book can get bogged down in stat analysis a bit (I did not love the pie charts or bar graphs), it's not really a stathead book. The chapters are pretty short and sweet so there's no time to get bored. You don't like one chapter, move on. They are more like little sports essays or vignettes.
The great thing is it makes you think and how many sports books let alone Web sites or blogs get you to do that?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
By and large, Scorecasting is highly readable. My one critique would be that the chapters a highly variable in length, and in particular some of the shorter chapters seemed to be just tossed in. (Did we really need 4 pages to show that, indeed, the Yankees win because they have the biggest payroll in baseball? Three pages to show that the coin toss at the start of NFL overtime is important?) I would also point out that, again like Freakonomics, the chapters are unconnected by any underlying theme, unless that theme is to examine preconceptions and use evidence. I don't consider that a flaw, more a notation of what type of book this is.
In addition, I was reminded of my favorite sports book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Just as a large part of Moneyball was devoted to showing how a systematic statistical approach to building a team could lead to better results than traditional scouting, Scorecasting can give a reader an appreciation of some recurring trends in sport. It is not just descriptive, but predictive. (The one thing that sets Moneyball apart is that is also has the very compelling story of Oakland A's manager Billy Beane woven in. That human element is absent in Scorecasting.)
Some quick examples from chapters I enjoyed:
Why you should (almost) never punt in football, including an example of a coach who followed the philosophy to a state title. Also, why most coaches still punt, in spite of the evidence.
Why Tim Duncan's 149 blocked shots are more valuable than Dwight Howard's 232 (Answer: Duncan tends to block the ball to his teammates, Howard tends toward the spectacular swat that goes into the 4th row...then back to the other team.)
The incredible differences in strike zones when comparing a 3-0 count to a 0-2 count. (Hint: umps expand the zone in the former, shrink the zone in the latter, allowing the hitter to determine the outcome)
So, if you are a sports fan, a bit of a stats geek, and enjoy a well thought out contrarian argument, this is a 5 star book. If you generally enjoyed the other two books I mentioned, I think this would be a good choice.
4.5 stars overall
Some of the eye-opening subject include:
1. very solid evidence that umpires bias games - however what is interesting is the bias is not random. The bias tells a story.
2. the subject of home-field advantage was mesmerizing. Turns out not at all what sports pundits tells us are true or at least not in the way you might think so.
3. incentives lie at the heart of the Chicago Cubs dismal century.
4. great use of numbers to show how desperate baseball players are to have a batting average of at least 0.300.
5. a look into why some stats are not telling us all we need to know (i.e. blocked shot stats in basketball).
6. why don't football coaches go for it on 4th down when it is a statistically correct move?
Turns out that psychology (namely loss aversion) and incentives dictate a lot of sports decision making.
There are several shorter chapters that seem to be 'unfinished' which is a shame. For instance a chapter just mentions the Yankees 'buying' of championships. It would have been great to see a more in depth statistical analysis of how spending money predicts success in baseball.
As I hear constantly on the sport talk radio, the Seattle Seahawks benefit from their 12th man - the crowd. It would have been interesting to see if this claim stacks up and is in fact a larger effect on winning than at other venues.
Great, fast read. Highly recommended.
that sports fans have wondered about for years.
For example, when baseball home plate umpires have made an obvious mistake in calling
a ball or strike do they then try and fix that mistake by making a call the "other way?"
(The research done by the authors of Scorecasting reveal that it does indeed happen.)
Another example: When do ref's throw flags in football? Early in the game or late
in the game? Why? You'll find out.
On a bigger scale, why is there a home field advantage in sports? We can understand
the Boston Red Sox....but why the Indianapolis Colts or other teams that play in
domed stadiums, say, in football. It turns out that you will likely be shocked to find
out this answer and because the home team wins around 53% of the time in baseball vs.
about 69% of the time in College Football, what you learn will change the way you
look at the game forever.
In the book, Stumbling on Wins, we found out that coaches aren't as important as
we once thought they were. That was a bit of a jaw dropper. In Scorecasting the authors
go further and deeper explaining why coaches tend to be so interchangable...it turns
out they all are programmed by the pressure of the fans and industry itself to
call plays that are very predictable ...even when they are the wrong choice...such as
punting in many fourth down situations.
It turns out that punting on fourth down IS the right decision often enough but it is
the wrong decision so often that coaches would win a lot more games for their team
if they went for it on fourth and X. So why not? Because not all coaches have job
security and losing a game or two because of a couple of fourth and two calls could cost
a coach his job. No one will be getting fired for punting on fourth down.
And the revelations go deeper and deeper up and down the scale...
You'll find out the difference betweeen the strike zone in baseball when a hitter is
3-0 vs. when the hitter is 0-2. Turns out the difference is enormous and the authors
reveal precisely what a hitter should do 3 - 0 and what a hitter should do 0 - 2.
Ah...and then there are the Chicago Cubs. I grew up visiting Wrigley Field on opening
day year after year. Each year hope sprang eternal...and today 35 years later...I'm still
hoping...why haven't the Cubs WON? It is a painful but enlightening read that every
fan will appreciate.
Scorecasting is densely detailed. It is a compelling read and offers a great deal
of wisdom for fans, coaches and players. You'll never look at a game quite the same way
after you've had your eyes opened to what ELSE is really going on.
Kevin Hogan, Author
The Science of Influence: How to Get Anyone to Say "Yes" in 8 Minutes or Less!
Wade through the dross to find the worthy gems which are certainly there.
Moskowitz and Wertheim are an eclectic duo. Wertheim has a sports background as a writer for Sports Illustrated. Moskowitz is a professor of finance at the University of Chicago. They are not jocks writing from their on-field experience. Instead, they use concrete numerical studies and economic analysis to make a strong case for theories that at first blush seem unorthodox.
Forget all you have been taught about conventional sports strategy. Want to know how to improve your chances to win football games? Stop punting on fourth down and start going for a first down. Don't talk to me about field position, read what the authors have to say. They cite an economics paper by David Romer suggesting that the play-calling of NFL teams shows "systematic and clear-cut" departures from decisions that would maximize winning. Coaches should more aggressively go for first downs on fourth down but fail to do so almost 90% of the time. While the four-down game plan may not be popular in the NFL, the authors cite high school power Central Arkansas Christian and its multiple state championships in support of the "go for it" strategy.
Moskowitz and Wertheim identify how individual behavior is directly related to what happens on athletic fields in all sports and at all levels. Loss aversion is an economic principle that refers to people's tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Loss aversion abounds in sports, explaining why a professional golfer facing a five-foot putt is more likely to make the putt for par than for birdie. It explains why pitchers throw strikes on a 3-0 count and balls on an 0-2 count. It is a pervasive principle in sports, often with a negative impact on winning.
Provocative insights can be found on page after page of SCORECASTING. Space prevents me from giving attention to many of the authors' findings except to briefly mention them. But here are a few to whet your appetite: The notion of the "hot hand'" is a myth as is the belief in the home field advantage; Does icing a kicker work?; Are NFL draft choices overrated? Chapter after chapter, page after page, the book's conclusions will astound you.
One small criticism must be mentioned. Moskowitz and Wertheim, long-suffering Chicago Cub fans, devote the final chapter of their book to seeking an answer as to whether their beloved Cubs are cursed. In this effort, they perpetuate the myth of Steve Bartman. The Bartman play came in the eighth inning of a playoff game when the Cubs were five outs from advancing to the World Series. SCORECASTING suggests that Bartman interfered with a catchable fly ball, and as a result the Cubs lost the game. Sorry gentlemen, it did not happen that way. It is a myth that grows with the passage of time, much like the notion that Al Gore claimed to invent the Internet.
As a longtime White Sox fan, I will cut the authors some slack because the rest of the book more than overcomes this one tiny blemish. It cannot and must not detract from the simple fact that this is a book every sports fan must read.
--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman