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Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won [Hardcover]

Tobias Moskowitz , L. Jon Wertheim
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 25 2011
In Scorecasting, University of Chicago behavioral economist Tobias Moskowitz teams up with veteran Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim to overturn some of the most cherished truisms of sports, and reveal the hidden forces that shape how basketball, baseball, football, and hockey games are played, won and lost.

Drawing from Moskowitz's original research, as well as studies from fellow economists such as bestselling author Richard Thaler, the authors look at: the influence home-field advantage has on the outcomes of games in all sports and why it exists; the surprising truth about the universally accepted axiom that defense wins championships;  the subtle biases that umpires exhibit in calling balls and strikes in key situations; the unintended consequences of referees' tendencies in every sport to "swallow the whistle," and more.

Among the insights that Scorecasting reveals:
  • Why Tiger Woods is prone to the same mistake in high-pressure putting situations that you and I are
  • Why professional teams routinely overvalue draft picks
  • The myth of momentum  or the "hot hand" in sports, and why so many fans, coaches, and broadcasters fervently subscribe to it
  • Why NFL coaches rarely go for a first down on fourth-down situations--even when their reluctance to do so reduces their chances of winning.
  • In an engaging narrative that takes us from the putting greens of Augusta to the grid iron of a small parochial high school in Arkansas, Scorecasting will forever change how you view the game, whatever your favorite sport might be.

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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.”
    Bob Costas

    "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.”
    Wired Magazine

    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.

    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

    Inside This Book (Learn More)
    Browse Sample Pages
    Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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    Customer Reviews

    4.2 out of 5 stars
    4.2 out of 5 stars
    Most helpful customer reviews
    5.0 out of 5 stars genius! July 29 2011
    By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER
    Well, Soccernomics was the first sports book to use the Freakonomics' model and come up a winner. Now Scorecasting does the same. Lots of food for thought about sports from why home field/court/ice advantage is so strong (and you'll be surprised exactly why that is so) to the reason the Chicago Cubs are cursed (and it's not due to a billy goat, black cat or Bartman).

    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?
    Was this review helpful to you?
    4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, great facts June 18 2011
    By Opal
    This is a great book for any sports fan, or even a behavioral psychologist/data analyst/economist with a passing interest in them, since those three areas are constantly highlighted throughout the book. There's a multitude of sections, each one explaining a phenomenon of sports, or explaining it away, all with the use of in-depth, objective statistics. It's written at a level anyone can understand as well. The best section of the book deals with home-field advantage in sports, and it's truly fascinating to discover what drives it. Although baseball fans will probably derive the most enjoyment from this book, fans of all sports will get their fill from Scorecasting.
    Was this review helpful to you?
    3.0 out of 5 stars Half-baked good idea falls short of potential April 19 2011
    By Vlad Thelad TOP 500 REVIEWER
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    Entertaining at best, uneven throughout. Seems like the authors had a good idea and outstretched it to fill a book. There are many more cases in sports to mine the data and see where it takes you, there is a whole industry around this, and bars the world over with fans eager to discuss the findings. My point: you can do it well (thorough analysis and great writing) or rush to publish a half-baked product. This one is close to the latter.
    Was this review helpful to you?
    5.0 out of 5 stars The Fascinating Nuances of Professional Sport March 12 2011
    By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
    Ever wonder why it is often those little decisions and choices in the world of sports that make the all-important difference as to the outcome of the game? For someone like myself who has been an avid fan of professional football, baseball, and basketball for years, there are some proven strategies and game-changing plays out there that greatly increase a team's chances of winning on a more regular basis or improve the chances of the game being more competitive right up to the final whistle. Moskowitz and Wertheim investigate a number of these time-honored tactics as to their prevelancy and success in achieving their ultimate goals. The big question they ask repeatedly in their research is whether these assumptions are valid in their claims or if they even exist in the first place. Such potential influencing actions as whistle swallowing where refs put their whistles away and let the teams play, to single knock-out competition during playoffs, to certain players being more susceptible to using steroids, to the fourth-down play in the red zone,to what determines the resale price of a ticket, to the momentum swing caused by a blocked shot or punt, to the impact of home court advantage, to the advantage of fouling Shaquille O'Neal, to whether one should adopt a loss-averse attitude in the closing minutes of a game are covered here. The authors believe that the evidence in each of these areas shows, with rare exceptions such as a Belichick proclivity for gambling in impossible places on the field, that most of these game behaviours are statistically valid though at times hard to explain. Who, in their right mind, can explain why the price of a ticket to the Final Four increases fourteen-fold once it has been purchases? Read more ›
    Was this review helpful to you?
    Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  130 reviews
    47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars Two Parts Freakonomics, One Part Moneyball Dec 30 2010
    By David McCune - Published on
    Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
    I greatly enjoyed Moskowitz and Wertheim's Scorecasting. Much like the highly successful Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.), the authors examine some of the preconceptions surrounding sport, using statistics and other empirical evidence to reach some interesting conclusions. As the authors stated in their forward, they hope this book will be used to start conversations, settle bar bets, and generally entertain the thinking sportsman. I think they have succeeded.

    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
    27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars freakonomics + sports = awesome Jan. 3 2011
    By N - Published on
    Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
    This latest addition in the Freakonomics-driven behavioral economics genre is probabaly the best. It is Scorecasting and to a sports fan it is a can't-put-down type of book. The book is written extremely well with a mixture of famous sporting anecdotes and hard statistics that include research of the authors and others.

    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.
    15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Scorecasting...Influence meets Behavioral Economics Dec 27 2010
    By Kevin Hogan - Published on
    Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
    Scorecasting solves many puzzles on both a micro- and macro scale...
    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 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!
    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Start, But Only A Start Nov. 8 2011
    By Hallauthor - Published on
    There are some fascinating and enlightening portions of this book that make the dry sections and stilted views of some chapters worth reading. The section that detailed how a baseball umpire's strike zone is affected by the count is astonishing and inarguable as presented ( although the graphics look to have been done on the cheap ). The ferreting out of the reason behind home field advantage is noteworthy. But to me, what's missing from this book, and perhaps by design, is the lack of accountability for the "soul" of competition; the non-measurables that clearly have a say in the outcome of athletic competition. Part of the real beauty and allure of sports is that part of competition that cannot be explained statistically. Too many chapters contained herein, and too much of the writing is so dry that it detracts from the message.

    Wade through the dross to find the worthy gems which are certainly there.
    2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars A provocative must-read for sports fans March 2 2011
    By Bookreporter - Published on
    While I am an avid reader and more than willing to share my thoughts about the books I read on the pages of Bookreporter, I am rarely willing to join book groups or literary discussions about what I read. This may be the result of many bad experiences in high school and college when I was unwilling to participate in discussions about books that held little interest for me. The years have passed, I now read what I want, and I have finally found a book that cries out for the creation of a discussion group. SCORECASTING by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim may be the most thought-provoking sports book I have ever read. I want to purchase a dozen copies and pass them out to my sports-loving friends so we may meet over beer and wings to discuss and debate what the book tells us about what we think we know about sports and what the numbers actually tell us.

    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
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