Saturday, December 01, 2007

You know what Disraeli said about statistics, right?

The Baseball Economist by JC Bradbury (read the blog! Sabernomics) is a decent book. He does a good job of showing how economic methods can be applied to baseball to elucidate some of the more mysterious parts of the sport. Frankly, though, the book itself read to me less like a book about baseball from an economic perspective than a book about economics through the medium of baseball. And that was the biggest flaw, I think.

Still and all, a decent book (though it should have had a better proof-reader) and it did have some interesting things to say about the effect of pitching coaches on pitchers and the like. Probably of most interest to serious students of baseball is Bradbury's method of evaluating the worth of a player to his team. He does a good job (insofar as I'm a judge of such things) of calculating the effect an individual player has on his team's record and judging the difference in revenue that player has. It helps to put a lot of salaries into better perspective. Several million dollars a year for playing baseball seems excessive, but considered against the amount of money these players generate for the club, often the deals are bargains.

The most irritating flaw to me was Bradbury's refusal to consider the question of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs ("PEDs" he calls them) from anything but an economic perspective. Granted, this is a book that is supposed to mix baseball and economics, but I think he misses (or doesn't bother to mention) that the real outrage about PEDs (I hate that term) is not because of the competitive advantage granted to the user, but because it is a flagrant violation of the rules of the game and terms under which we, as fans, participate in the sport. There is a sense of moral outrage at the dishonesty being perpetrated rather a dispassionate disapproval at a mere technical infringement of the rules. Bradbury may well have considered this and didn't think it was germane to his topic, but at least a nod in this direction was in order, I think.

Ultimately, it's a bit of a flawed book, but well worth picking up if only for the few chapters where his work is actually ground-breaking because the innovative work is truly very good.

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Listening to: Seatbelts - Tank!
via FoxyTunes