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VINE VOICEon December 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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
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on January 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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on August 1, 2014
I love when nerds geek out over sports. Have you seen the NBA.com website lately? Did you know that its because of refs that more teams win at home and the Cubs keep losing because they make more money that way...those loveable losers.

If you are into data and geeking out over stats this is a book for you. Very well recommended.
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on November 8, 2011
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.
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on December 1, 2011
The main idea of this little book is to apply data -- statistics -- to debunk common jock-think cliches in sports. Is it really defense that wins championships? What's the reason for home field advantage, if any? What's the relative value of draft picks? Are the Chicago Cubs "cursed"? [Spoiler alert: No, it's just that they're not very good, but the authors do offer an interesting possible explanation for why that's the case.] On the other hand, although I am not a statistics expert, or even a general mathematician, I think I know enough to call the work "statistics lite." A lot of the "analysis" simply involves regression to the mean, although I do not recall that concept being explained in the book, as such. I also believe there's a fair amount of cherry picking and shading going on. Author Moskowitz is a finance professor at the University of Chicago, while Wertheim is a writer for Sports Illustrated magazine. I think Wertheim must have been the moving force here. The book reads more like an extended SI article than an academic work. Another criticism, if you want to call it that, is that it's sometimes not clear whether the authors' statements are intended to be serious or merely "wink, wink." One weird example is the following sentence in a chapter that plays off the idea that the golfer Tiger Woods is human ("and not for the reason you think" -- clearly a wink, wink): "He [Woods] performed miracles such as the famous chip shot on the sixteenth hole at the 2005 Masters, an absurd piece of handiwork that defied all prevailing laws of geometry and physics." Of course, the authors know, as do we, that in fact there was no miracle here. Woods simply used his skill or touch and at least an intuitive or experiential knowledge of the laws of geometry and physics to pull off what turned out to be the famous Nike logo shot. So, yes, it was an exceptional shot, but defying the laws of geometry and physics? No, applying them. Probably this is just sportswriter-trying-to-be-colorful, but it and similar examples still bugged me. In sum, however, though light on data (in the book itself) and hardcore analysis, there are enough nuggets to keep you reading and, if you can remember them, to use as trivia questions when talking sports with your buddies at the bar.
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on October 9, 2014
If you are a sports fan at any level, I recommend reading through this fantastic book. The case studies will completely change the way you view sporting events for the better and make you question the often nonsensical decision making of coaches.

Even if you're not a sports fan and just enjoy economics literature in the style of Freakonomics, this is a great read.
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on October 8, 2015
Quality book, will make you think about officiating in a different manner and how situations will affect the call. I think it could probably be more in depth, and I am still sketchy on the chapter about streaky shooting.
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on May 18, 2011
Commonly called "Freakonomics for sports" but I think it's more comparable to "Sway" or "The Tipping Point" - it's the same idea though.

Like Sway, scorecasting provides an overview of numerous studies that were done and research that was conducted. Also like Sway, it's merely an overview that leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Since I know a lit more about sports than sociology, it's easier for me to see the holes and wonder if the authors left the information out of their summary, or if it isn't there.

For example, the authors talk about how traveling is called less at the end of basketball games, but don't mention if they controlled for the fact that there are better players on the court at the end of the game. maybe they did, or maybe it doesn't natter, but I'm left wondering, and the chapter on parity and length of season started off on an interesting note but fizzled out without a conclusion.

The chapters are not anywhere near equal in length, which isn't necessarily bad. The chapters on the Rooney Rule is only a few pages and doesn't really offer any conclusions. The chapters (yes, chapters) on Home Field Advantage are much longer and could have possibly been their own book. It is by far the best researched and most convincing topic covered, and researchers far smarter than me have already weighed in, so I'll just point you to their work:

[...] (I'd say this is the definitive commentary)

[...]

[...]

Scorecasting is a good book for someone with almost no background in the subject of sports and statistical research, but more knowledgable readers may find more questions than answers.
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on October 31, 2014
Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
While the study of economics and trends that are set in the field will usually cause yawns, if one were to take this type of research and apply it to sports, the result is an interesting and entertaining book. That was done by two men at the University of Chicago and the findings were interesting. Many previous reviewers of this book felt it was very similar to “Freakonomics” as the studies were done in a similar manner and I have to agree with them.

The book is divided into sections that discuss studies that have the simple goal of whether to prove or disprove some of the conventional thinking that occurs in many sports. Is it better to punt on fourth down in football or attempt to gain the yardage needed for a first down? Does defense really win championships? Is it better to let the “hot” shooter keep getting the basketball? Do baseball umpires have different strike zones? Does home field advantage really exist. These questions and other interesting topics are studied in this book and the results can be surprising.

There are also psychological studies that examine bias in sports officials, umpires and referees and also in athletes in which they appear to be more afraid of failing than courageous enough to go for a situation. An example of this uses Tiger Woods and putting, saying that he can be human as well because he too leaves putts short. Baseball fans will enjoy the section about why the Chicago Cubs are perennial losers yet always has high attendance figures.

I won’t give away the results as to whether the myths are verified or not, but these are studied in great detail with many games in each applicable sport analyzed and broken down. That was one of the better aspects of this book as it covered each topic in a thorough manner. Zach McLarty does a good job of narration in the book. He doesn’t get monotone but doesn’t overdo the excitement either, since after all, this IS a book with a lot of facts and figures.

Overall, I thought this was a solid book about exploring many of the usual ways of thinking in sports today. The results of these studies may surprise you, and it will entertain you along the way. There are some sections that are heavy with numbers and figures – they can be somewhat challenging to wade through whether reading or listening to the book. However, this is still a book that is well worth the investment for any sports fan.

Did I skim?
No

Pace of the book:
For the most part, it was good. At times, the statistical findings of some of the studies was a bit slow when listening to the list being read. But the narration of the findings, as well as the anecdotes on each one was read at a good pace.

Do I recommend?
Yes. I felt this was a unique way to study if some of the conventional thinking in sports was really true or if it was simply a myth. Because all of the major sports were included in the book, a sports fan will enjoy this book no matter his or her favorite game.

Book Format Read/Listened:
Audio book
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VINE VOICEon December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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 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.

Brilliant!

Kevin Hogan, Author
The Science of Influence: How to Get Anyone to Say "Yes" in 8 Minutes or Less!
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