Hey Read This… My Hits Don’t Lie

Posted on December 12, 2011

Scorecasting by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim

The numbers don’t lie.

I allow myself 1 sports analysis book a year. And this one was a doozy. “Scorecasting” breaks down a great deal of the prevailing wisdom about sports in general and explains some phenomena that have been real mysteries. Using specific examples and an astonishing amount of statistics, this is one of those books that will have you shaking your head at the TV because you know that a coach has made the wrong decision. And you’ll be right!

The central theme of this book is that we have never really taken the idea of ‘loss aversion’ and applied it to sports.  Fact: humans get way more upset if they lose something than if they do not gain it, even if the final result is the same.

In an experiment that has been run countless times, two groups play a game that they are designed to lose. Group A is given $100 at the beginning and has to give it back when they lose. The other simply doesn’t get the $100. Group A is significantly more angry than the other.

On top of that, humans are significantly more likely to commit sins of omission rather than sins of commission. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. In another experiment, Moms were told that there was a disease out there that meant that their children had a 10% chance of dying. However, they could inoculate their child but there was a 5% chance that it would die. Even though it makes no sense, the moms overwhelmingly chose to not inoculate their children. Why? Because if they gave their child the vaccine and it died? Then it would be their fault. But it wouldn’t be if the disease did it.

So how does this work in sports? I’ll start with football, because that’s the only sport that matters. You’re a coach and your team is 4th and 2 on the opponents 30 yard line. 99.9% of the time the coach is just going to say ‘kick the field goal.’

That is a bad decision. Why? Well first, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to make the 4th and short. On top of that, if you screw up, there is a less than 30% chance that the team is going to score (not just score a touchdown, but score any points). There’s more to it than that, but the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of going for it.

So why do coaches not go for it? First, when you’re inside the 30, there’s an assumption (by the fans) that you’re going to make the kick. So there’s your loss aversion, you don’t want to take points away. On top of that, if you don’t make it and the other team marches down the field and scores, you are probably going to be known as a Grade-A screwup for the rest of your life.

Moskovitz and Wertheim take this concept and apply it to baseball swings, homefield advantage and Tiger Woods. They also talk about why the Cubs suck so bad. And that is my favorite part. You know why? Because it is the fan’s fault. Ahahahahahaha.

‘Scorecasting’ falls into the elite group of books that I have read in 24 hours. It’s that good. However, I’m a sucker for all sorts of behavioral economics, so take that with a grain of salt. I would go so far as to say this is a must read for any sports nerd, though.

Like this book review? I’ve got a whole lot more. Here you go!

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