Offseason Book Review: Scorecasting


Looking for something to read? Puckett’s Pond is here to help. Today we’ll continue the Offseason Book Review series with a quick summary of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games are Won.

There are two types of sports fans in the modern world: those who watch because they appreciate the beauty and athleticism of the game, and those who are more interested in analyzing numbers and data to try to explain things (for example, Sabermetricians). This book was definitely written with the second group in mind. I sympathize with both types, but like 90% of the people who write about baseball on the internet, I lean a bit more toward the second group. And that’s why I give Scorecasting a 4 out of 5 on the esteemed TC Bear Literary Scale.

AUTHORS: L. on Wertheim is a seasoned veteran writer for Sports Illustrated. He teamed with University of Chicago economist Tobias Moskowitz to write Scorecasting. The economist knows about the data and numbers, and the journalist helps make the whole thing readable for normal human beings. It’s a repeat of the formula that made Freakonomics a super-platinum bestseller (I don’t know if books can be considered “platinum,” but I’m just going to go with it), except that this book is devoted entirely to sports, while Freakonomics covered a whole range of unrelated topics.

OVERVIEW: The goal of this book is to explain why some the games are played the way they are. Moskowitz and Werthem delve into the hidden (and often subconscious) motivations that drive players, coaches, and officials. We take it for granted that home teams win more often than visiting teams, but we rarely ask ourselves why (hint: according to Moskowitz and Werthem, it has nothing to do with travel fatigue or rowdy fans’ effect on the players).

There is no unifying theme behind this book. Instead, it is composed of 18 separate chapters, each one analyzing a different phenomenon in the world of sports and offering an explanation for why it occurs and what the implications are on winning and losing.

HIGHLIGHTS: Scorecasting takes a look at all major sports – basketball, football, hockey, and soccer included – but there are are plenty of interesting insights about baseball as well. They talk about the psychological motivations behind PED usage, hidden factors that might influence umpires’ ball and strike calls, whether or not there is such a thing as a streak or a clutch performance, and whether or not the Chicago Cubs are cursed. Some of their arguments and theories are more persuasive than others, but they all make the reader think.

NEGATIVES: If you don’t want to start second guessing everything that happens on the field of play the next time you watch a ballgame, you probably shouldn’t buy this book. I first read Scorecasting last spring, and for the next two months, I couldn’t watch a baseball game without thinking that there was some sort of hidden agenda to the ways umpires made calls.

The other negative is that there are some sections of the book that get pretty dry. It is well-written overall, but certain passages dive pretty deep into facts and figures, and those sections are a little hard to read.

CONCLUSION: As I mentioned above, this book will definitely appeal more to the the type of people who are into stats like WAR and WHIP than it will to traditionalists. But if you are the type of person who likes to question and analyze the games you watch, you should definitely read this book. It’s not a life changing experience, but it certainly could change the way you view sports.

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