The Moneyball Bible and Other Sunday Thoughts

Posted on September 4, 2011 by


That's not a football or a basketball!

Dave Berri is the General Manager of the Wages of Wins Network.  He is a Professor of Economics at Southern Utah University, lead author of both “The Wages of Wins” and “Stumbling on Wins”, and past president of the North American Association of Sports Economists.

Over the past few days I have seen a number of stories where I thought: “that would make for a good blog post.”  But then I got busy doing something else (spending time with my wife, daughters, and dog, teaching classes, working on various research projects, etc…). And so the posts haven’t been written.

So tonight I thought I would just gather the stories I found and offere a brief story with the link.  In essence, all my ideas have been reduced to a Sunday Bullet list.

The above story is from Dan Peterson at Science 2.0 (Stacey Brook .  Peterson’s story is about the new Moneyball movie (starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane).  Beyond discussing Billy Beane’s work in baseball, he also notes how Beane has worked in soccer. And then Peterson transitions to basketball, where he refers to The Wages of Wins as the Moneyball-bible of the APBR movement.  Here is all that Peterson has to say:

 Not to feel left out (or safe from scrutiny), the NBA now has its own sport-specific zealots.  The Association for Professional Basketball Research (APBR) devotes its members time and research to finding the same type of meaningful stats that have been ignored by players, coaches and fans.  They, too, have their own Moneyball-bible, “The Wages of Wins ” by David Berri, Martin Schmidt, and Stacey Brook.  David Berri’s WoW journal/blog regularly posts updates and stories related to the current NBA season and some very intriguing analysis of its players and the value of their contributions.

None other than Malcolm Gladwell, of Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers fame, provided the review of Wages of Wins for the New Yorker.  One of the main stats used is something called a player’s “Win Score” which attempts to measure the complete player, not just points, rebounds and assists.

Win Score (WS) = PTS + REB + STL + ½*BLK + ½*AST – FGA – ½*FTA – TO – ½*PF.   (Points, Rebounds, Steals, Blocked Shots, Assists, Field Goal Attempts, Free Throw Attempts, Turnovers, Personal Fouls)

WS is then adjusted for minutes played with the stat, WS48.  Of course, different player positions will have different responsibilities, so to compare players of different positions the Position Adjusted Win Score per 48 minutes or PAWS48 is calculated as: WS48 – Average WS48 at primary position played.  This allows an apples to apples comparison between players at a position, and a reasonable comparison of players’ values across positions.

Will these statistics-based approaches to player evaluation be accepted by the “establishment”?  Judging by the growing number of young, MBA-educated GMs in sports, there is a movement towards more efficient and objective selection criteria.  It appears the evidence-based general manager is here to stay.


Yes, the Peterson story is my favorite in this list.  But it is not the only story I want to note.

Here are some football stories I found interesting.

  • It has been reported that Terrelle Pryor’s Wonderlic score was only seven.  Later reports denied this story.  Readers of Stumbling on Wins (not “the bible”, but hopefully a good read nonetheless), might wonder why we care.  Wonderlic scores are somewhat related to where a quarterback is selected in the draft.  But these scores are not related to future NFL performance.  And this shouldn’t be a surprise.  The Wonderlic test doesn’t seem to have much to do with the job of an NFL quarterback.  As I mentioned to someone a few days ago, it would be a bit like asking candidates for assistant professor positions in economics whether they understood the workings of the engine of a Ford Gremlin.  Yes, I know… people like to look at everything before making a decision.  But as we note in Stumbling on Wins, the human mind isn’t designed to look at everything.  Good decision-making requires that information be sorted systematically.  And when something isn’t relevant, it should be ignored (and better yet, not even collected).
  • Mark Martinez is a political science professor I worked with at Cal-State Bakersfield (Mark’s office was down the hall from mine).  Mark generally blogs about politics (not surprising). But he is also a fan of the Oakland Raiders.  So he wants you to know: Ken Stabler Should be in the Hall of Fame
  • Of course, I am a Lions fan.  And for the first time that I can remember, the Lions are not planning on starting any draft picks from the draft in April on opening day.  Part of this is due to injury.  But even without injuries, I am not sure Nick Fairly or Mikal Leshoure would have started on opening day.
  • Perhaps related to the prior point, the odds of the Lions winning the Super Bowl are much better than I can remember.  Here is one website which shows how Detroit’s odds have evolved over the past few months. The Lions opened at 60 to 1.  Now it is 30 to 1 (and I think it was 25 to 1 right after the Patriots game).  Gambling has never been my thing.  But even if one doesn’t want to place bets, Vegas odds do provide us a look into how a large number of people view the likelihood of a certain outcome.  Consequently, academic research in sports economics has made use of posted odds to evaluate what people think an outcome will be before it happens.  Today I want to follow the lead of my colleagues in sports economics.  I am not motivated, though, by the desire to solve some academic problem.  No, I have a far sillier desire.  I just wish to say “Damn those Lions look good!”
  • Of course, the Lions aren’t the only Detroit team to look good.  The Tigers are currently in first place.  Entering tonight’s game, though, the Tigers had only scored 11 more runs than they surrendered this year.  As Lee Panas observed at Tiger Tales, the Tigers in 2011 really aren’t that different from the team we saw last year.  Of course, right after Lee made this observation the Tigers defeated the White Sox 18-2.  And I would add, since the All-Star break, the Tigers have a won-loss record that is similar to what we have seen from the Yankees and Red Sox.  Does that mean the Tigers will do well in the post-season?  Well, post-season baseball is really hard to predict.  If I weren’t a Tiger fan, I wouldn’t predict a title for Detroit.  But as a Tiger fan let me say: “Damn those Tigers look good!”
  • Let me close with a comment on how labor disputes continue to be a part of professional sports.  Yes, we know about the NBA dispute (and I am going to offer more on this soon).  But did you know about professional cricket?  Yes, as Osman Samiuddin notes, professional cricket – like sports in North America – also has labor issues (and yes, I am working on research on this sport as well).

– DJ