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I had high hopes for this book but my expectations were not met. The authors are clearly eager to bear the Freakonomics mantle (they say as much in several places), but unfortunately they do not exhibit anything resembling the flair of Levitt and Dubner. Their cute comparison of quarterbacks and mutual funds just sounds like a cheap imitation of the comparison between teachers and sumo wrestlers (which, honestly, wasn't all that clever anyway). Much of the other writing also seems to imitate the conversational style of Bill James, but without as much wit. Overall the writing comes off as alternately condescending and self-congratulatory, and sometimes both.
Style aside, the book contains a number of substantive weaknesses. For example, the chapter on the effects of labor shortages on fan attendance shows clear signs of bias. The authors favorably cite plenty of evidence that supports their hypothesis; and when confronted with evidence to the contrary, they suddenly decide to pick it apart and explain it away. Sorry guys, it doesn't work that way. This clear example of "disconfirmation bias" causes the chapter to lose all credibility. It wouldn't hold up in a peer-reviwed journal.
Further, although the authors claim to be "taking measure of the many myths in modern sport" (the subtitle of the book), they actually devote a lot of effort to knocking down strawmen. Is there anyone alive who really thinks that "the best players in basketball score the most" or that "quarterbacks should be credited with wins and losses"? No one with more than a passing knowledge of sports actually believe these things, but the authors act awfully smug after debunking these nonexistent "myths." Yes, we're all aware that offense is at most half of football, and that the passing attack is only about half of that. Luckily no one attributes wins to quarterbacks, except maybe to point out that a team can win with a mediocre QB (e.g., pointing out Trent Dilfer's career winning percentage) -- which is a different issue altogether.
The book also spends a lot of time trying to analyze basketball using methods that are much better suited to baseball. Don't get me wrong, I admire their effort to subject basketball to some analytical rigor. But baseball is largely an amalgam of statistics and can be studied as such. Basketball simply cannot. There are too many events in basketball that clearly affect the game but are not quantified (a pick, a shot that is altered but not blocked, a team deciding not to drive against a particular player, a player drawing a double team and getting a teammate open, the second-to-last pass of a possession). One might conclude, based on the demonstrated strong correlation between wins and the conventional statistics employed in this book, that these events are all relatively unimportant. But this argument ultimately fails because the purpose of the analysis is to measure the contributions of individual players. A team might score two points but the model does not adequately break down individual contributions beyond who scores the points and, if applicable, who gets the assist. Similarly, most of what happens on defense isn't recorded, and the model only takes into account steals and blocked shots. The authors sweep these weaknesses under the rug and proceed to devote dozens of pages to comparing players based on their new, supposedly superior, measures of individual performance. This is an enormous flaw.
Further, I was also struck how a team of economists could write about the value of basketball players without paying attention to the supply curve. They do adjust some of their stats for league-average at the position, but not on a category-by-category basis. In the final chapter, where they purport to show that scorers are paid too much, they fail to examine the issue of scarcity. My wild guess is that the data would support their conclusion, but I was struck by the absence of real analysis here.
Of course, no book on sports statistics and/or economics is complete without the obligatory nod to the genius of Billy Beane and the claim that salary disparities do not lead to competitive imbalance. This version of the story is no more convincing than any of the others. They happily point to the 2003 Marlins as an example of a low-payroll team winning against the odds, but somehow ignore the fact that a number of those players (Derrek Lee, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Ivan Rodriguez, Alex Gonzalez, Mike Lowell) are now earning big salaries in big markets while the Marlins are under .500. Sure, a team can win with young players who haven't yet become eligible for free agency or arbitration, but is that any way to build a franchise for long-term success? Where is the analysis of that rather obvious question? And where is the point, made quite clear in Moneyball, that no inefficient market can last forever? What happens when the next Billy Beane is hired to run the Yankees?
I will grant that the book is thought-provoking. But ultimately there are many other books on sports statistics and economics that are much more readable and well-argued than this.