Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: Scorecasting by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim

Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won
by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim

Moskowitz, the Fama Family Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago, and Wertheim, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, have written an exceedingly compelling and readable book that argues, in the words of their introduction that:
As in life, much of what goes on in sports can be explained by incentives, fears, and a desire for approval.
The scope of the book ranges from amusing anecdotes (Over the last 25 years, no major league baseball player stepping to the plate for his final at bat of the season with his batting average sitting at .299 has drawn a walk.), to succinct presentations of previously published studies (John Huizinga and Sandy Weil's study of the particular value of blocked shots), to the book's centerpiece, a two-chapter, 57-page study attempting to isolate why home field advantage exists across all sports.

Though the examination of the authors' overall argument regarding home field advantage has already begun, undertaken by those with the proper statistical talent and experience, this layman found much of the argument compelling even if I can't properly judge the valuations they gave the various effects.

Most relevant to the subject of and the audience for this blog, Moskowitz and Wertheim state that, in the NBA, "21 percent of the home court advantage can be attributed to the league's scheduling." Much of the rest they attribute (across all sports, with the amount of home field advantage related to the degree of discretion granted referees in various sports) to referee bias from social influence.

In addition to the two long chapters studying home field advantage and the aforementioned chapter on the blocked shot study*, Scorecasting also addresses specifically addresses the NBA with regard to the incentive for officials to err on the side of making incorrect noncalls, the damage done by head coaches overreacting to the possibility a player might foul out, the impact of loss aversion on the final quarter of NBA games, the lack of evidence to support "Defense wins championships," the importance of superstars in winning championships, and the myth of the hot hand.

*Unfortunately, they only look at the value of blocked shots per blocked shot which somewhat undermines the argument that Dwight Howard is overrated as a defender due to a high volume of relatively low-value blocks. The accompanying charts of the ten-most and ten-least valuable shot blocking seasons make it possible to see that, with simple multiplication, Howard's 2009, the tenth least valuable season per block is almost exactly as valuable (in total) as Tim Duncan's 2009, the tenth most valuable season per block, because, though each block of Howard's was less valuable than each block of Duncan's, Howard blocked 55 more shots.

Some of the most interesting chapters, on the history of the draft pick value chart in the NFL, the preponderance of Dominican minor leaguers who are caught using PEDs, and that attendance at Wrigley correlates better with beer prices than on-field success have nothing to do with professional basketball but should interest the general sports fan.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a great read. I will have to pick this up.

Unknown said...

Phil Birnbaum (who has been doing a lot of NBA-related stuff worth reading as of late) took a look at the HFA portion of the book here -- http://sabermetricresearch.blogspot.com/2011/01/scorecasting-is-home-field-advantage.html