Friday, March 2, 2012

Scorecasting by Tobias Moskowitz

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm catching up on my book reviews. I signed out the audiobook version of this title early in the month because I knew I had a lot of driving to do and wanted a change of pace. I don't like being read to but I thought I'd give it a shot. I was almost through the first CD and was ready to abandon it. The majority of the beginning was talking about officiating non-calls. Then, just as the disc was ending, the authors started talking about the Pulaski Academy football team.

Now, I don't follow football. Don't really care for the game at all. Might not be the case if every team played like Pulaski Academy. The high school, in Arkansas, is known for having an unconventional coach. The team does not punt or kick field goals and extra points. As their coach, Kevin Kelley, puts it, "They give us four downs, not three". He also makes the case that for most field positions, at least at the high school level, the difference in probability of the opposing team scoring from where a fourth down stop is made versus the 30 yards or so from a punt is far less than the increased likelihood of scoring by going for it on fourth down. The Pulaski squad has been extremely successful with their no-kicking game.

So I stuck with the book and enjoyed it for the most part. Some of it is interesting (home field advantage can statistically be attributed almost entirely to scheduling and ref bias), some of it is not particularly groundbreaking (the hot hand does not exist). For a multi-sport fan with some brains and willingness to question common knowledge, it's an interesting, useful and fun book. If you're like me and only really care about one sport, some of it might be a little boring, although there might be some applicability cross-sport.

I would recommend the book over the audiobook just to see any references cited (I suspect that there are some) and because a lot of the discussion is data driven and it is easier to see tables than hear them. Although the audience is limited, the fact that I made it through an entire audiobook speaks to how good it is so I'm giving it one star.


--Transfixed Ingress said...

I've read something similar, likely a newspaper article. Do they get into the meat of the actual statistics behind it or is only mentioned in passing?

Mad Guru said...

It's hard to say what the actual book shows since I had the audio version. If you're looking for tests of significance and such, no, nothing was mentioned in the audio version. But as I wrote in the final paragraph, I suspect there are actual studies with statistics cited. The studies had a feel of legitimacy.