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The BASEBALL ECONIMIST by J.C. Bradbury May 16, 2007

Posted by a Wristfister in Baseball, Books, Non-fiction.
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Published by Penguin Group [2007], hardcover, 336 pages.Reviewed by Bowie.

Synopsis: Written by an economics professor, this book probes baseball questions from a statistical viewpoint to try to shed a light on possible answers. Several multiple regression analyses ensue.

Review:

“Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business, and too much of a business to be called a sport.” — P.K. Wrigley, former Chicago Cubs owner

Sabermetrics (the study of baseball through statistics) has been around a while, if not by name, at least in application since the very inception of the sport. Dr. Bradbury tackles very interesting questions in baseball from a cost/gain approach, that while evocative, results in very little conclusive answers. Questions like did steroids have a significant impact on recent home run records and is MLB a monopoly that can’t govern itself. Which players are ridiculously overvalued and does Leo Mazzone have a real and measurable impact on pitcher ERA? Some of these questions seem easy to answer from a common sense point-of-view, but this book is rigorous in its scientific approach to finding answers. It is this dry numerical coverage that hurt my overall enjoyment of the book. I should know. I’m a quantitative analyst (I love statistics and multiple regression models), and still this book found ways to make me fall asleep. It is unfortunate that the execution of the book’s objectives should come off as mediocre. Perhaps I wanted more concrete answers. Perhaps I wanted more in-depth analysis beyond the collegiate feel of its prose [it really did read more as a college thesis paper]. Perhaps it was the nagging suspicion that I was reading a 300-page advertisement for the author’s online blog which discusses the very same subject. Whatever the case, baseball is more fun than that. That’s not to say that there aren’t some very interesting insights into the game of baseball in the book. This book is a great addition to any Econ. 101 syllabus, just not the best as an entertaining read on the commute home from a long day at work.

Below is an excerpt from the preface:

In the economic way of thinking, the first rule in analyzing human behavior is that all choices have trade-offs. Baseball players have choices to make in their job just as most non-baseball players do in their workplace or around the home. Attempting to steal second base is a choice that involves sacrificing a safe position at first in order to move into scoring position. With this choice, the runner risks making an out; conversely, choosing to stay at first has the cost of not advancing to a better scoring opportunity. No matter what he does, the player must decide to sacrifice either his safe position on first or the better scoring opportunities of second base. There is no way to make a costless choice. There are many other aspects of the game to which economic thinking about trade-off applies. Should a manager play a left-hander or a right-hander at catcher? Should owners want Major League Baseball to act like a monopolist or a competitive firm? Should a player use steroids to enhance his performance or not? These are just a few of the choices that require trade-offs that people in the baseball world must make.

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