Some Nice Things I’ve Missed

Posted on May 21, 2007 by

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Frank Sinatra demonstrated in the early 1970s that retirement was not among his many, many talents. After emphatically announcing his retirement in 1971, he released “Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back” (one of my favorite albums) in 1973. The next year came “Some Nice Things I’ve Missed” (another one of my favorite albums – okay, I have over 60 Sinatra albums and they are all among my favorites). The 1974 release includes such great songs as “I’m Gonna Make It All the Way”, “Satisfy Me One More Time”, and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

What does all this have to do with today’s post? Like Chapter Eight of The Wages of Wins — which also begins with an obscure Sinatra reference — not much. I did borrow the title of this post from the 1974 Sinatra album. And I did this because a few weeks ago I had to stop regular posting. In essence, I went into a mini-retirement. Like Sinatra, the retirement didn’t take. While I was gone, though, there were “Some Nice Things I Missed.” Today I thought I would go over a couple of these.

Michael Lewis cites The Wages of Wins

One of the writers that clearly inspired The Wages of Wins was Michael Lewis. Lewis wrote Moneyball, the classic book about inefficient decision-making in baseball. In April he penned an article entitled “The Jock Exchange” for Portfolio.com. This article examines the idea of publicly trading stock in athletes. It’s a fascinating story, with the following paragraph the clear highlight:

“In sports other than baseball, games are far messier, from a statistics viewpoint at least, and the problem of valuing players even bigger. Fifteen years ago, the left tackle was the lowest-paid player on the football field; now he is the second highest, after the quarterback. Why? Did the game change that much, or are teams just following a fad? Basketball teams have always paid top dollar to the players who score the most, even though three professional economists, in their analysis of pro sports The Wages of Wins, argue that scoring average is the single most overvalued trait in a basketball player.”

Okay, this probably isn’t the most fascinating paragraph. But it’s the one that mentions The Wages of Wins, so for me that was my favorite part of the article.

Seriously, the Lewis article is an excellent read and once again highlights the problem with player evaluation in professional sports.

Kevin Roberts Imitates John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes (perhaps the most influential economist of the 20th century) was once asked about his habit of adopting a position at one point in time only to reverse himself later on. In response to this critique Keynes famously replied: “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”

In April, Kevin Roberts of CourierPost Online, did a wonderfully impersonation of Keynes.

Malcolm Gladwell’s review of our book focused on our analysis of Allen Iverson. As The Wages of Wins asserts, when we consider every aspect of Iverson’s game (scoring, steals, shooting efficiency, turnovers, etc…), Iverson is only as productive as an average NBA player. In other words, he is not one of the 50 most productive players in NBA history.

Needless to say, this viewpoint was not embraced by all basketball fans. One of the early critics of our take on Iverson was Roberts. Last July he wrote a column (which I can’t find on-line anymore) and exchanged a series of e-mails with The Wages of Wins authors (which I did find) where Roberts expressed some skepticism of our analysis of Allen Iverson.

The events of the past season offered further evidence that our analysis of Iverson was correct. Just to review… the 76ers were 5-10 with Iverson and 5-19 when Andre Miller took the floor in Iverson’s place. At that point I predicted the 76ers would finish 30-28, which indeed they did. Looking at Wins Produced, this outcome was not a surprise. Miller has historically been more productive than Iverson, so Philadelphia should have improved with this trade.

Although Roberts did not agree with our assessment of Iverson last summer, 58 games with Miller leading the team led him to write: Miller the anti-Allen who gives team hope

As Roberts states:

The main reason the Sixers got respectable this season, and will be respectable next year, is Miller.

Although few dared to predict it, this was not entirely unexpected. David Berri, one of the authors of The Wages of Wins (a brilliant book that takes apart a number of conventional sports wisdoms and includes a method of evaluating NBA players that argued Iverson was a below-average player) called it exactly.

“I think the Sixers can be a .500 team the rest of the season,” Berri said in an e-mail exchange way back in January, and predicted the Sixers would then finish at 35-47.

The Sixers finished 35-47.

A full accounting of this can be found on Berri’s Wages of Wins Journal online, but of course this was not a guess. The reason for Berri’s prediction?

Andre Miller, who has been “consistently more productive than Iverson,” Berri said.

The column marks a sharp departure from the position Roberts took last summer. In other words, as the facts changed, Roberts changed his perspective. Just like Keynes.

The Lewis and Roberts articles were not the only things I missed. Tomorrow I will be back with a comment on predicting the NBA playoffs.

– DJ