Monday, February 07, 2011


Recently I got a chance to read Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim's book, Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won. For those that regularly read this blog you know I enjoy statistics and looking at the break down of them when it comes to the game. Moskowitz and Wertheim take an incredibly deep look into statistics and break down many of the stereotypes of sports that most fans think of. They use statistics to challenge many of the the cliches and thought processes of sports.

The two look at all sports, but also look at soccer specifically at different times of the book. The main part being when they discuss home field advantage. In their study, the two found that soccer leagues around the world have some of the best home field advantages. But their studying finds that it's not some of the things fans think. They break down myths that the home support, travel, scheduling, and teams designed to take advantage of unique home characteristics. Each time backing them up with statistical analysis that is hard to argue with. The one point that I do struggle with in this part, is the way they went about establishing a base, when it came to the home support they used only situations that were the same from game to game, things like free throws in basketball or kicking in football. I think that's a very minimal sample to use when discussing home field advantage. The best thing that I can think of to counter would be offside, false start, timeouts called in football games because of crowd noise. I just think that they don't do enough in regards to dispelling the home crowd.

They do say the home crowd does play a part, but more so because they influence the referee. Moskowitz and Wertheim combine their statistics with psychology studies. From soccer referees giving more stoppage time when the home team is losing to baseball umpires giving home teams more balls when they are trailing. It's really a great look into how referees can be affected in games.

Speaking of the referee, they also looking to the "whistle swallowing" that referees do in big moments of the game. Mainly they find that this is because they don't to be the ones that decide the game, and the idea of the omission bias.

The book also works to try to break coaches of their cautionary attitude. They use the example of a football coach who ran the numbers and found that in high school he was better off never punting the football, going for it all the time on fourth down, never return punts, and always do an onside kick. It's crazy how they back all this up with facts to show why the coach that does this feels he is right. They give the main reason why coaches don't take many risks like this, and it's due to a lack of job security. For local KC people it kind of justifies Chiefs coach Todd Haley going for it on 4th down as many times as he does during the season.

They also discuss the theory of "icing" players or feeding the hot hand. They find that icing doesn't really work against players getting ready to kick crucial field goals or free throws. In regards to feeding the hot hand, they explain that no player is more likely to make their next shot than any other player.

Overall Scorecasting is a great read for anyone that enjoys statistics and sports in regards to breaking down the sports you love. Still you find yourself wanting to argue with them throughout the book as they go through breaking down different beliefs that you have in sports. But when you have the facts to back them up it's hard to argue their point.


MOUFWASH said...

"In regards to feeding the hot hand, they explain that no player is more likely to make their next shot than any other player."

How do they explain that?

A player who makes more buckets percentage wise than another player, is a player who has a hot hand, so in turn, because he shots better, he he more likely to make the next shot. I guess you could frame your arguement to fit the stats by choosing when "hot hand" applies.

Mike said...

Basically they explained it by saying that any player that was on a hot streak was no likely to make their next shot than any other time during the game.

Yeah I didn't explain that too well.