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Book Review - Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played And Games Are Won

Every once in a while a book comes along that alters how you see the world around you. Scorecasting does that relative to sports by, as the book says, "overturn(ing) some of the most cherished truisms of sports and reveal(ing) the hidden forces that shape how basketball, baseball, football and hockey games are played, won and lost."

Authors Toby Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim examine the stereotypes in sports, but then use statistics mixed with behavioral psychology to smash most of those stereotypes to bits. Given that explanation, you'd think the book would be as dry as a dead creek bed, but the writing and anecdotes are funny and entertaining. I hate to use the cliche - but this is one you'll have a hard time putting down because it's sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, and sometimes downright infuriating.

Some of the "cherished truisms" covered are:

Does Defense Really Win Championships?

Is There Really Such A Thing As "Momentum"?

How did some guy named Mike McCoy who never played, coached or managed in the NFL have such a heavy influence on the NFL draft for many years?

Should you ever punt in football, and if you do, what happens to your opponents chances of scoring? If NFL coaches are aware of these percentages, why do they make the choices they do - by almost never going for it on fourth down?

Is there a "hot hand" when it comes to shooting a basketball?

Are the Chicago Cubs really cursed?

Does "icing the kicker" work?

I particularly enjoyed the chapters about the sport I loved the most (football - gasp!). A chapter that proves that the first pick in the entire NFL draft is worth less than the first pick in the second round and exposes the difference in value between current and future draft picks is so convincing that if any coach or manager read it, you'd think they'd surely change how they approached the draft. Yet the book authors point out examples in which the exact opposite has happened!

The chapters on home field advantage are easily the most controversial in the book. While I'm trying to not give too much away, let me say that after reading Scorecasting, you will never watch or experience another sporting match the same way relative to the subject. Home field advantage does exist, but not for the reason you might think, and it's the same across all sports!

Granted - there were a couple chapters that I wasn't interested in, such as the chapter on the value of blocked shots in the NBA, but there were others that made for interesting reading despite my low interest in the sport. In particular was the chapter regarding why there are so few .299 hitters - compared to many who hit .300 - in Major League Baseball, or the difference in strike zones depending upon whether a batter is facing a 3-0 or an 0-2 pitch.

Scorecasting is fun to read despite a fairly massive amount of statistics. Hell, even the epilogue is entertaining. The authors discussion regarding their difficulty in coming up with a suitable title is hilarious (my favorite non-choice had me LOL - "Give Up Hope" - which was probably recommended by a friend who's a Chicago Cubs fan).

It's a long offseason. Nebraska's spring game is long ways away. You need entertainment. Read a good book. Read Scorecasting.