Q&A with 3 Shades of Blue, Opposing Views, and More Reviews

Posted on April 17, 2010 by


Across the past few weeks I have participated in a number of Q&A sessions.  The process for each was as follows:  A number of questions were sent along and then I spent some time thinking about my answers.

Chip Crain – of 3 Shades of Blue – has just posted another Q&A (see Interview with David Berri – Author of “Stumbling on Wins”).  The approach, though, was a bit different.  Rather than send all the questions at once, Chip spent several days sending me one or two questions at a time.  Often I would answer these questions fairly quickly, resulting in a Q&A that really was just a conversation about our book and the state of the Memphis Grizzlies.  Once again, I encourage everyone to click on over to this Q&A and leave a comment (or two or three).

Posting at Opposing Views

Opposing Views has started a sports section and will be posting stories from the Wages of Wins Journal. So far, four stories – originally posted here – have been re-posted.  If you click on each story below you can see what the posts in this forum would look like if a) we had a qualified editor and b) we had someone willing to add pictures to the story.  In other words, Opposing View is making what is posted here look professional.

David Berri’s First-Round NBA Playoff Forecast

‘Meaningless’ Scoring Plagues End of NBA Season

NBA Player Analysis: Minnesota Timberwolves’ Corey Brewer

Is Raptors Hedo Turkoglu a Disappointment?

Many More Reviews

And now for something that I really enjoy reading (that may not be as entertaining for everyone else).  A number of reviews have been posted on Stumbling on Wins.  What follows are a few that I found from At the Hive, Hornets247, CelticsHub, Hot Hot Hoops, and Owen Breck (writer at both Knickerblogger and frequent commentator in this forum).   It is unlikely that anyone will enjoy these reviews as much as I do, but nevertheless, I hope everyone finds these reactions interesting. 

At the Hive Review

The statistical revolution in sports has swept across the NBA world in recent years. While it hasn’t reached Major League Baseball’s level yet- where most teams reportedly hire advanced statistical scouting- the work of many in the APBR community has not gone unnoticed.

Sports economist and statistician David Berri (who we interviewed way back in the day) was kind enough to send along some hardcover copies of his latest book, Stumbling on Wins. Without a doubt, it’s one of those books you read cover to cover without putting down, and whether or not you agree with every sentence, it makes you re-evaluate the way you watch any given play in basketball (or really, any other sport). 

I can’t emphasize how accessible it is to the average sports fan either; while everything is statistically grounded, there’s nothing too number-y about it.

Hornets247 Review by Ryan Schwan

First and foremost, you have to understand that Berri and Schmidt are economists.  Their focus isn’t on coming up with a tool to ranking players for overall effectiveness, but instead on using available measurement tools to identify cost efficiencies and minimizing financial risks.  Their work aspires to be similar to the Moneyball sort of work that has impacted Major League Baseball’s player evaluation so heavily.  The premise of that work?  Identifying cost efficiencies using tools that can predict player production in the future.  Unsurprisingly then, that is also is the focus of Stumbling on Wins: using predictable measures to evaluate players and how they are paid. 

It is generally true that player production in the NBA are predictable over time.(See the unvarying David West) In their book, Berri and Schmidt detail the types of production that are more predictable than others.  Armed with this information, the authors then use a series of fascinating tables to list the factors that have significant impacts on player salary and then compare them to predictable production factors.  The two lists do not line up – or even come close.  In fact, the two tables show that many of the predictable factors have very little impact on salary, while several significantly unpredictable factors(pure scoring numbers primarily) have a tremendous impact on salary.  That disconnect – between predictability and player salary – is the basic failure of logic Schmidt and Berri are trying to illustrate, and they present a compelling argument.

Here’s how I would put the situation the illustrate into a business world scenario:  Over the course of a year, I work on five projects.  On three of those projects, I am the team lead and a key resource, but the projects are for smaller clients.   On the other two, I am part of a large team, and just a small part of the whole, but the projects are for big clients.  My manager knows how each project turns  out.  In order to be apply the logic of an average NBA GM, it appears my manager would ignore or take into little account the outcomes of the smaller client projects, while basing my review, salary increase and bonus on the outcomes of the larger client projects.  That, however, doesn’t really make sense.  The smaller projects reflect my personal abilities more realistically than the larger projects do.  Yet Berri and Schmidt’s book illustrates that this is pretty close to what average General Managers do every day.

The book as a whole contains many nuggets of fascinating information.  It’s also small and a fast read. My only quibble is that a couple of the chapters are a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.  Using Isiah Thomas’s tenure as GM in New York to illustrate an incompetent GM or taking black quarterbacks in the NFL and showing that they are underpaid and underappreciated is a bit like taking the Yugo and attempting to prove it was a bad car.  Those cases are so obvious, and the failures so grand, that those chapters lack any of the shock or surprise that inspire people to think differently about things.  They are still fun, though.  Unless you’re a Knicks fan.  Or Black.  I’ll move on now.

I do wonder at one thing, however.  One of the primary criticisms of the WP48 and Wins Produced statistics that I’ve seen from other statisticians was the seemingly inordinate focus on rebounding and lesser focus on scoring numbers.  Elite rebounders show better in WP48 than in any other general player evaluation statistic.  This book, however, gives me an inkling as to why this is:

If Berri and Schmidt want their evaluation tool – WP48 and wins Produced – to be used in a similar fashion as the Moneyball factors in the MLB to evaluate players, then they would want it to take into account risk.  One of the most risky production factors to pin salary decisions on is pure scoring numbers.  Those numbers can go up and down, and have a small correlation to what has happened in the past.  Rebounding, however, is predictable over time.(as are a few other stats that weigh heavily in WP48)  A player who is an elite rebounder this year is very likely to be one next year.  So if you are deciding where to spend your resources – limited by a salary cap – and you are using WP48 as a primary evaluation tool, Berri and Schmidt appear to have already built in risk management into the tool – it will rate those players whose numbers shouldn’t change more highly than many of those who could see strong variance.

Limiting risk.  Economists to the core.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is a good or bad thing.

Review by CelticsHub by Brendan Jackson

Do you like to read?  Do you like advanced statistics explained to you clearly using real-life examples from your favorite sports?  Do you like winning free stuff?

If you answered “Yes” or “Hell Yes” to any of these questions, this contest is for you.  Economists/statisticians/authors David Berri and Martin Schmidt (The Wages of Wins) have written their second book and want to give it away to basketball fans.  Stumbling On Wins is currently on sale now at your local, national, and online bookstores, but Berri, Schmidt, and Financial Times Press have also provided the TrueHoop Network with copies of the book to give away to our loyal readers.  Right now, CelticsHub is set to give away four copies.

I am no stat geek, but I am thoroughly enjoying this read and am now encouraged to go out and buy their first book, The Wages of Wins, once I am done with Stumbling.

Review from Hot Hot Hoops by Surya Fernandez

It’s likely a given that you’re the smartest and most well-informed NBA fan in your inner circle if you’re reading this blog as well as all the other great work put out daily on our ESPN Truehoop Network. Now it’s your chance to prove your worth among all of our readers and put your analytical skills to the test. And what better reward (besides bragging rights) than to win a copy of the brand new book Stumbling On Wins written by professors of economics Dave Berri and Martin Schmidt? Friends of the Truehoop network and the writers of the excellent WofW Journal, Berri and Schmidt follow up on their first book Wages of Wins with an examination of the sports industry through the prism of behavioral economics. So it’s not just a fancy book filled with numbers that will make your head spin, it’s an examination of the psychology behind the economic decisions made by sports teams and what statistics are overrated and which ones really do help a team make informed decisions. So if you’ve ever wondered why general managers, coaches and execs in sports make the questionable judgements that they do then this is required reading.

Review from Owen Breck

Reading the previous offering from these two authors, The Wages of Wins, had a profound impact on me. As a Knicks fans and a lifelong lover of basketball, I was perhaps uniquely primed for their message, but it was nevertheless a real revelation to see the empirical case made that scoring is overvalued in the NBA and that decision makers make systematic errors rather than incorporating all the information available to them. Watching Isiah Thomas operate after reading the book was as fascinating as it was painful and sparked me to take a serious and very rewarding interest in the use of advanced statistics in basketball and other sports as well.

Needless to say, I have been excited for a long time about the arrival of their second book. Stumbling on Wins definitely didn’t disappoint. I picked it up and didn’t put it down before finishing it. It is immensely readable and very entertaining, full of the kind of sports stories that make it very clear there is ample room for improvement at the top or your favorite franchise and plenty of insight into human behavior to be garnered from a study of sports. It really builds and improves on their first book by focusing on the core insight about irrationality in human decisionmaking and by drawing on many different sports to illustrate the point.

For both casual and serious sports fans, I think this will be a very enjoyable read which should deepen your understanding and enjoyment of sports for the long term. I guarantee you won’t look at any of the decisions made by your local sports franchises in quite the same way again. Highly recommended.

– DJ

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