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The Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of the Many Myths in Modern Sport. Updated Edition (Stanford Business Books) Paperback – September 7, 2007

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Product Details

  • Series: Stanford Business Books
  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford Business Books; 1 edition (September 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804758441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804758444
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Wages is provocative, stimulating, and challenging." —Dick Friedman,—Sports Illustrated

"The Wages of Wins brilliantly and provocatively argues that our eyes betray us when we watch professional athletes. To see the truth about how good a point guard or a quarterback really is, we need the help of algorithms." —Malcolm Gladwell,author of Blink and The Tipping Point

"When I read the book, I was impressed by the amount of effort that went into compiling the reams of data that underlie the work. . . . The fundamental case the authors make is that the statistical analysis shows that the conventional wisdom about sports is dead wrong—that the data, as they put it, 'offers many surprises.'" —Joe Nocera,
New York Times

"Sports fans with an analytical bent shouldn't skip this book. And come to think of it, perhaps sports executives should be reading it as well."—The Free Lance-Star

“This book presents complex economic analysis in a breezy manner that the casual sports fan and econophobe will appreciate and enjoy. I plan to assign it to students and recommend it to friends.”—Michael Leeds, Temple University, and author of The Economics of Sports

From the Inside Flap

Arguing about sports is as old as the games people play. Over the years sports debates have become muddled by many myths that do not match the numbers generated by those playing the games. In The Wages of Wins, the authors use layman's language and easy to follow examples based on their own academic research to debunk many of the most commonly held beliefs about sports.
In this updated version of their book, these authors explain why Allen Iverson leaving Philadelphia made the 76ers a better team, why the Yankees find it so hard to repeat their success from the late 1990s, and why even great quarterbacks like Brett Favre are consistently inconsistent. The book names names, and makes it abundantly clear that much of the decision making of coaches and general managers does not hold up to an analysis of the numbers. Whether you are a fantasy league fanatic or a casual weekend fan, much of what you believe about sports will change after reading this book.

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Customer Reviews

Sorry guys, it doesn't work that way.
Estimated Prophet
We could just as easily base each player's value "team's points while players is on the floor - opposing team's points while player is in the floor".
D. Blum
The topics are thought-provoking (although not always 100% convincing, it does make you think deeply about many issues) and the book is easy to read.
King Yao

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 149 people found the following review helpful By D. Blum on July 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I really looked forward to this book after reading the review in The New Yorker. The reviewer's critical skills, evidently, do not extend to evaluating the merits of a logical argument.

There are so many logical problems with the analysis in this book, it is difficult to know where to begin.

I will limit myself to just a handful, among countless possibilities.

1) The authors find a correlation between the stability of a basketball team's roster and its winning percentage, and conclude that roster stability is a factor in producing wins! Classic problem of mistaking effect for cause. Clearly, winning teams are disinclined to make major roster changes, and losing teams are eager to. I was so amazed at this I reread it to see if I missed where they pointed this out. They didn't.

2) The authors show a correlation between more assists and winning percentage and conclude that assists help produce wins. Again, very silly. A team with a higher shooting percentage and fewer turnovers will of course get more wins and produce more assists. But the assists are not producing the wins - the shooting percentage is. Were these factors discounted? Not according to the text.

3) Most problematic, the authors define a way of measuring the value of players to a team, and then "prove" their method by summing these values, per player, across each team, and show that they do indeed predict the number of wins each team will get. What they fail to realize is that their method of apportioning value to a player necessarily sums back to team totals such as points per possession that we know correlate to wins per team. But this in no way proves that the apportioning is wrong.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Estimated Prophet on August 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Geoff Martin on June 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
I love sabermetric/sports analysis research and writing. Unfortunately, this book is extremely poorly written. Half the volume concerns the analysis of NBA basketball and seeks to rate players based on a new productivity model.

Unfortunately, this model makes no sense. It overvalues greatly the rebounding and undervalues the defense that causes missed shots that lead to the rebounding. These economists are getting cause and effect completely BACKWARDS... and thus there rating scheme vastly overrates and underrates various players.

For a much better analysis, read Dean Oliver's BASKETBALL ON PAPER.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nathan E. Walker on April 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Berri's ignorant dismissal of years and years of research on how to quantify player efficiency/value/production for basketball is one of the stupidest straw-man arguments I have ever seen:

"This is the point we are making about decision making in the NBA. It is
not that people in the NBA are lazy or stupid. It is just that the tools at their
disposal do not allow them to see the value of various actions players take on the
court." (p.215)

And yet, Berri's purported values of rebounding (among other things) is, by every statistical model imaginable, absolute crap.

The problem here, like many reviewers have noted, is that basketball is NEVER a one-on-one interaction. To base values on the marginal production of a specific statistic continues in the future is absolutely stupid. Berri cites the "repeatability" of rebounding as reason to "believe" in it, specifically. But the confounding variables that make up rebounding are absolutely through the roof.

Some examples:

-Nine other players have the opportunity for the rebound, there are marginal returns on rebounding, especially defensive rebounds(Eli Witus)
-Defensive rebounds are frequently due to chance/non-skill related factors (Dean Oliver)
-Team pace, opponent team pace, opponent field goal attempts, team field goal attempts, position relative to basket: these all explain huge amounts of variation in rebounding (Obviously).

Here are two quick examples of this confounding:
-Imagine there are two players that are perfect clones, and will respond exactly the same given the same situation.
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