Quick Review: Scorecasting

I have written about Scorecasting several times (see here and here) so I figured I had better read it. Here are my thoughts on what I read about “the hidden influences” in sports:

1. This book truly aims for the Freakonomics crowd: there is a blurb both at the top of the cover and the back from Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt. Those University of Chicago professors stick together…

2. I know that I have heard a number of these arguments before, particularly ones about why football teams should not punt, the unfairness of coin flips at the beginning of overtime in the NFL, and the phenomenon of the “hot hand.” Perhaps this indicates that I read too much sports news or that the sports world in recent years really has taken a liking to new kinds of statistics and statistical analysis.

3. A number of the explanations included psychology, just like Spousonomics. Is this because psychological terms and studies are better known (compared to disciplines like sociology) or because psychology truly does provide a lot of helpful information about sports situations? A lot of sports can be broken down into individual performances and efforts – see all of the recent psychoanalyzing of LeBron James – but they are also team games that require cooperation. Could we get more analysis of units or collectives?

4. There were particular chapters and insights that I found fascinating – here are a few:

4a. The overvaluing of round numbers, such as 20 home runs in a season or a .300 batting average, compared to hitters with 19 home runs and/or a .299 average. I don’t know if teams could really save a lot of money doing this but there is a fixation on certain figures.

4b. The trade value chart used around the NFL Draft and pioneered by the Dallas Cowboys needs to be revised.

4c. Two things about home field advantage. First, it is fairly consistent within sports across time and across countries. Second, officiating make up a decent amount of this advantage. I like the evidence of how baseball umpires suddenly started advantaging the road team on close calls when they knew that technology was being used to evaluate their calls.

4d. The chapter on the Cubs curse shows again that the idea is irrational.

5. In reading through this, I was reminded again of the wealth of statistics available in baseball. Other sports have to try to catch up to quantify as much as baseball can. But there is clearly a revolution underway with more professional teams taking these numbers seriously, including the new NBA champions. Could we get an analysis of whether teams that pay more attention to advanced statistics and analysis actually have better records? “Moneyball” was a big idea for a while as well but doesn’t seem to get as much attention now that Billy Beane isn’t competing as well out in Oakland.

5a. I’m sure someone has to have translated an undergraduate statistics course into an all-sports data format. How appealing would students find this and does this improve student learning outcomes?

Overall, I enjoyed this book: this should be of little surprise since it involves sports and statistics, two things that interest me. While some of the arguments may be familiar to sports fans, it does provide some more fodder for future sports conversations.

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