We were lucky enough to receive a review copy of “Scorecasting” at the Statesman Journal recently. The book’s intent is to be the “Freakonomics” of sports, down to pairing a journalist with an economist to try and find new ways to look at traditional questions in baseball, basketball, football hockey and soccer.
Of course, this isn’t a new idea. You could check out the Wages of Wins website, which at the top prominently features a reviewer calling it “Freakonomics meets ESPN.” There are also very active communities of online researchers doing this stuff for free in almost every sport.
The book hits such topics as homefield advantage, bias to round numbers, the value of blocked shots and why the Cubs suck. All of the chapters (more like short essays, some only a few pages) are well written and entertaining, providing some fascinating nuggets of information here and there.
Nothing in the book is groundbreaking, though. These are topics that have been well covered either by academic research or more recently online.
That second part has already led to a number of websites fact checking what has been the most headline-grabbing claim, that refereeing is one of the main components of home field advantage. Recently Beyond the Box Score and Sabermetric Research went after the claim that umpires call predominantly for the home team in high leverage situations, which accounts for much of the advantage. They’ve found that the claims are definitely exaggerated in the book based on their data.
My biggest problem though was the lack of credit giving to online sources such as BtB or “The Book” co-author Tom Tango. While any book like “Scorecasting” will stand on plenty of shoulders (there is an extensive bibliogrpahy), much of this recent research doesn’t get much credit.
Tango is one of a few mostly online writers cited in the book, but in a backhanded sort of way.
Any published in a magazine or academic journal in a statistician or a economist. Tango is reference as a “stats wizard.” Even Brian Burke, author of Advanced NFL Stats, is an “overlord.” The titles seems a tad condescending and D&D-like for two respected members of the sports research community. Tango is a consultant for the Seattle Mariners and Burke writes for the New York Times’ Fifth Down blog. What more do they need to do?
I enjoyed the book overall. The slights were minor in context and not likely to be noticed by anyone but a nerd like myself. The fact that I had read many o the studies before says more about me than the authors. If i had read something like this when I was 12 it would have changed my life. Instead I read Tango’s “The Book” when I was in college and it helped do the same thing.
My hope is that this book can help do that for a new generation of sports fans. Hopefully they take the ideas (look differently at old knowledge) and not the specifics (do umpires really call 50 percent worse in high leverage situations?).