Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Book review: Scorecasting an interesting read

As teammates during summer camp, Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim ignored conventional wisdom when they decided that their weakest defender should not be stuck in softball Siberia, right field.

Instead, they made him the catcher, where he would have fewer opportunities to make critical errors. Their team started winning.

Decades later, Moskowitz and Wertheim are teammates again, examining many assumptions, traditions and curiosities in the world of sports. “Scorecasting” is the product of impressive number-crunching, clear and entertaining writing and a belief that just because everybody “knows” something in sports is true, it is not necessarily the case.

The authors are eminently qualified for the task. Moskowitz is an award-winning University of Chicago finance professor and Werhteim writes for Sports Illustrated and teaches at Princeton.

Among their many topics:

• Why .299 hitters in Major League baseball are rarer than .300 hitters. (Hint: It all comes down to the last game of the season.)

• Why having the No. 1 pick in the National Football League draft is not all it’s cracked up to be.
• Home-field advantage is real, but it has nothing to do with the crowd.

• Does “icing” the free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker by calling a timeout before a critical play?
• Are the Chicago Cubs really cursed?

“Scorecasting” contains just the right blend of statistics and narrative in examining these and other sports “truism.” For anyone who likes to holler coaching instructions at the TV set, it’s a must-read.

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