All of the major professional sports have been played for well over a century. This has led to a long and hallowed tradition of how things are done. Unfortunately, in many cases the traditional way of doing things is not the statistically most effective. The primary topic is an analysis of how the home field advantage is acquired. Contrary to popular belief, crowd noise does not rattle a player shooting a foul shot as the players are generally so focused that the background noise is unheard. As one of the players says so accurately, "If that stuff bothers you, chances are you will never rise to this level anyway." As the authors conclude, home field advantage is partially due of the fatigue of travel for the visitors, lack of familiarity with the surroundings and in some cases the home team having players with skill sets tailored to the facility. However, the most important contributor to the home field advantage is unconscious bias on the part of the arbiters. The statistics clearly demonstrate that there is a slight but measurable bias in the outcome of judgment calls made by the arbiters in favor of the home team. Another myth that is routinely stated by commentators on all types of sports is the touting of momentum. The fallacy that because a player or team has been recently successful it will continue to do so because they are "hot" is common but unfounded. A winning streak just means that they have been recently successful and means nothing regarding the next game, shot or time at bat. One of the most chilling yet understandable conclusions is that for many players, the cost/benefit value of taking performance-enhancing drugs is economically worthwhile. This is especially true for the players coming from economically disadvantaged circumstances and their data leaves little room for doubt. Innovation and moving outside the perceived reality will get you pilloried, even by people that should know better. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been enormously successful the last decade, routinely called a genius as a coach. No coach or manager in all of professional sports is more secure in their position. Yet, when he decided to go for it on a fourth down and failed, he was ridiculed by the press and television commentators. Yet, a simple mathematical analysis of the situation clearly demonstrated that his move was the right one to make. With the current technology available, it is now possible to gather enormous amounts of data about major sports and then perform an extensive data mining analysis on it. The authors of this book are not the first people to reach conclusions that run counter to the perceived "best tactics" regularly executed in sports. Unfortunately, the fear of failure and ridicule are strong enough to prevent most of the conclusions from being enacted. Furthermore, sports commentators are also under pressure to find fault with a coach's actions when they lose, no one ever says "he did the right thing so it was a good try." This is a great book, worthy of being used as a supplemental text in statistics, mathematics, game theory, sociology and economics courses. The conclusions, how they were derived and why they are generally not implemented fit into all of these categories.
I've always been a fan of ideas that are contrary to popular belief. There are so many things that we assume are true and the way we perceive things are not necessarily how they actually are. Accumulating data is what helps us understand these things and the authors did an outstanding job of doing this. The reader will continue to wonder how the data will connect with the assertion made by the authors but in the proceeding pages, things are explained masterfully through … more
Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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“Defense wins championships!” So declared a triumphant Michael Jordan in 1991, invoking a hallowed sports mantra. But Jordan’s assertion melts into cliché when Moskowitz and Wertheim expose it to statistical calculations revealing that, regardless of the sport, offense proves just as decisive as defense. Indeed, in their wide-ranging iconoclasm, the authors repeatedly poke arithmetic holes in what everyone in sports supposedly knows. Typical is their number-crunching assault on the popular explanation of home-field advantage as a consequence of visiting teams’ road fatigue. Home teams win, the authors demonstrate, chiefly because referees tend to see plays their way—especially when the crowd of spectators grows large. Parsing of data illuminates off-field behavior, too, explaining which athletes use steroids and which ones use marijuana. Even the curse hanging over the Chicago Cubs comes into focus then the analysts ignore the billy-goat myth and statistically assess a management style fostered by fans perversely loyal to “lovable losers”! Sports buffs eager to win their next barroom argument will be lining up for this book. --Bryce Christensen