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Stumbling On Wins: Two Economists Expose the Pitfalls on the Road to Victory in Professional Sports Hardcover – March 18, 2010

42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


As seen on The New York Times' Freakonomics blog,'s True Hoop, and


"In Stumbling on Wins, sports economists Berri (Southern Utah Univ.) and Schmidt (College of William and Mary) follow up their The Wages of Wins (with Stacey Brook, CH, Jan'07, 44-2764) with more modeling and number-crunching applications. The holy grail remains the same: understanding and improving decision making on the court, field, and ice and in the front offices of North American professional team sports. Summing Up: Recommended. Sports and sports economics collections at all levels. Reprinted with permission from CHOICE, copyright by the American Library Association.

From the Back Cover

“This book takes the hallowed traditions of sports decision-making and pokes them with a sharp stick.

-Henry Abbott, founder of TrueHoop, housed at


Moneyballshould have been called ‘MoneyBaseball.'Stumbling On Winscovers everything else. Every general manager needs to buy this book to save his owner money. Every fan needs to buy this book to know when it makes sense to yell at the general manager.

Darren Rovell, CNBC Sports Business Reporter


“This is an important book. Berri and Schmidt have been leaders of the revolution in the analysis of team performance in sports and, in this book, they explain why coaches, players, and fans cannot afford to ignore the stats if they want to win.Moneyballgave us an inkling of what is to come, but this is the real deal.

-Stefan Szymanski, author of Soccernomics andPlaybooks and Checkbooks


Stumbling On Winslays it all out—a roadmap of behavioral economics, that runs straight through your favorite sports arena. Brilliant stuff, beautifully written, and sure to captivate any student of economics or sports.

Justin Wolfers, Associate Professor of Business and Public Policy, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; writer for


“Berri and Schmidt are true pioneers of modern sports economics, proving time and again that sports are the perfect laboratory for social science research.Stumbling On Winsreveals that sports are more than entertainment; they tell us something important about ourselves.

-J.C. Bradbury, author ofThe Baseball Economist


“This book isn't just about sports statistics. InStumbling On Wins, Berri and Schmidt have a compelling story to tell about how people make decisions in sports, and the stats narrate the story. This is a fresh and revealing look at how decision-makers frequently miss the mark and how they can do better.

Brian Burke,


Don't they want to win? Every sports fan asks that question. And no wonder! Teams have an immense amount of detailed, quantifiable information to draw upon. They have powerful incentives for making good decisions. Everyone sees the results of their choices, and the consequences for failure are severe. And yet, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again...mistakes you'd think they'd learn how to avoid!


Now, two leading sports economists reveal those mistakes in basketball, baseball, football, and hockey-and explain why sports decision-makers never seem to learn their lessons. You'll learn which statistics are linked to wins and which aren't…and which statistics can predict the future and which can't (information that just might help you dominate your next fantasy league!).


The next quantum leap beyondMoneyball, this book offers powerful new insights into all human decision-making. Because if multimillion dollar sports teams are getting it wrong this badly, how do you know you're not?


•   Do better coaches really win more?Phil Jackson versus everyone else

•   The “hot hand and other figments of the imaginationEnduring myths of on-court and on-field performance

•   How old is too old?Are teams playing too many athletes who are past their prime?

•   Are black quarterbacks underpaid?The curious cases of Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (March 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 013235778X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0132357784
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Peter G. Keen on June 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is disappointing and I don't recommend it, either for sports fans or anyone with an interest in the growing and substantial research on fallibilities in human judgment, decision making and use of information. Its basic point is one that is well established, that conventional measures of performance in professional sports are misleading predictors of future performance; examples are pitchers' ERAs and NBA points per game. It repeats the many-times made observations about how often NFL first round quarterback draft picks are bombs. That's well presented and thoroughly documented but in more detail than the use of the findings warrants. Its main point is that overreliance on the wrong data leads to bad economic decisions by managers who should know better. I don't recall any item in the analysis that has not been covered elsewhere. Examples here are: (1) Field managers and coaches in baseball, football and basketball have little impact on team performance, (2) Statistically, it makes sense to go for it on fourth down, (3) Trading up to get a high draft pick is generally a bad deal, economically and in terms of finding the best talent, (4) NBA draft position is a poor predictor of career performance, (5) The NBA "hot hands" streaks are a myth and (6) Isiah Thomas was a truly, truly lousy general manager of the Knicks. Agreed. Agreed.
The main weakness of the book seems to me that it largely relies on data about individual performance for its core evidence and though it alludes to the context of teams, it is very univariate in its analysis. The authors emphasize this but only in a single footnote. (The regression-based methodology examines only the strength of the linear relationship between two independent variables.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By bottomofthe9th on December 27, 2010
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Interesting in parts, but this is obviously a blog converted into a book, rather than content so substantive that it was suited to a book. Most of the inefficiencies discussed are relatively common knowledge by now among statistics-savvy fans, although I did think the analysis on how kickers' value comes more from their kickoffs than field goals was interesting and new.
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In their book Stumbling On Wins, economists David J. Berri and Martin B. Schmidt show their readers how statistics might be used to help make decisions in professional sports. They highlight situations where an in depth look at the numbers challenges conventional wisdom and show how commonly quoted statistics, such as batting averages and earned run averages, have little to do with a player or team's success. Overall, they do a good job of bringing to light how 'conventional wisdom' in sports leads to bad decision making and are able to do this in layman's terms. They also suggest new metrics that have more validity to replace the old ones. At times, however, they seem to dumb things down just a little too much and simply present series after series of conclusions without much in the way of explanation. But more often than not their conclusions still fly in the face of our expectations and--at least for someone like me who is new to this way of thinking--makes for an interesting read.

Before I begin, let me just say that this is my kind of book about sports. Having a 'deletion in the sports gene,' I have little patience for sitting through a game of football, baseball, or basketball and have never regularly follow any teams. Having a son, however, changed all of this for me. He grew up loving to play anything that involved a ball or a puck and at the age of 5 would even sit rapt attention watching a golf match on TV. Sports fascinated him. They were part of his inner fabric and as a father I had to adjust and become part of something alien to me. So I tried to latch on to some aspect of the game that seemed to make sense--the numbers. I would look at the stats and try to predict what a player or a team might do or guess at how coaching decisions should be made.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. Greenbaum VINE VOICE on August 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Stumbling On Wins" is a very entertaining book - it essentially takes a statistical, economic approach to sports in an attempt to answer common barroom debates such as which coaches are the best and do things like streaks and hot hands really exist.

This approach to sports isn't new - baseball has been stat-crazy for years, and "Moneyball" took it to the next level by providing (sometimes surprising) statistical value to various aspects of the sport. "Stumbling On Wins" expands the formula to other sports, such as pro basketball and football to answer questions about the real value of coaches and players.

The book is filled with nuggets of interesting data that have the potential to change how you look at sports. For example, in professional football, kickers really do matter (not terribly surprising) but what is surprising is that their skill on kickoffs is actually more valuable to a team then their field goal accuracy. Sound crazy? Well, there's stats to back it up.

Other areas of interest in the book cover things like the relative value of various pro athletes (underpaid and overpaid) which are always fun to debate, and especially for basketball fans, a baseball-level-geekery of analysis which is eye-opening to say the least (hint: rebounds are more important then you think.)

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in pro sports, from the casual fan to the fanatic. It is an enjoyable, fairly quick read and like the best books, it challenges how you think.
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