Students in introductory economics courses tend to have two complaints: that the material is too abstract and that the “real world” examples used in class to elucidate economic theories don’t really help because they aren’t very relevant to students’ lives.

But for the sports fans among us, we now have an interesting source that combines economics with sports. Think “Freakonomics” meets football.

In their book “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won,” University of Chicago professor Tobias Moskowitz and Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim use theories from economics and other social sciences to explain a number of different phenomena observed across the sports landscape.

In reading this rather accessible book (little economics knowledge or math skills required), it becomes clear how the abstract principles taught in economics and business courses apply to sports, which allows the reader to understand these academic disciplines in new ways.

Many of the chapters are short, barely a handful of pages, and serve to either confirm a truism (there is greater parity in the NFL than in baseball) or debunk a misconception (momentum in sports doesn’t exist — or so the writers say).

One of the more interesting sections is on the rounding of statistics, most notably how .299 hitters are more valuable than .300 hitters. Moskowitz and Wertheim cite how teams will vastly overpay for hitters who reach certain milestones (.300 average, 30 home runs, 100 RBIs), just because we overvalue these thresholds. But players recognize this too. In fact, since 1975, no player who entered his final at-bat of the season with a .299 average walked. They all swung away, knowing the value of that one hit to their bank accounts.

In one chapter, the authors examine the flaws of the NFL’s regular season overtime procedure (the coin flip often determines the outcome). In another, the pair says we are more like Tiger Woods than we realize, because all of us, including Woods, are more likely to make a putt for par than the same identical try for birdie.

While many of these shorter chapters are intriguing and perhaps provide a chuckle, some of the more extensive chapters leave the reader with a rather disconcerting feeling about sports. If many of the authors’ conclusions are correct, then the average player, coach and fan knows much less about how sports work and what influences the outcomes of games than they would ever like to imagine.

Two of the more profound chapters deal with officials. Moskowitz and Wertheim use a myriad of statistics to suggest that officials are much more influential (and biased) in deciding games than we might think.

Even though officials do not think about this consciously, the authors use analysis of ball-strike calls from baseball to argue that officials in all sports are hampered by omission bias: the belief that it is better to make the call (or no-call) that allows the players to decide the result of the game for themselves. Fans often demand that officials “let them play,” and it appears umpires and referees actually do this.

They justify this claim by analyzing how ball-strike calls change based on the count. On all counts, umpires call 49.9 percent of borderline pitches strikes, a number to be expected on close pitches. But when an umpire’s call would end the at-bat, his call varies wildly depending on the count. When batters face two strike counts, umpires call only 38.2 percent of these borderline pitches for strikes. However, on three ball counts when another one would lead to a walk, these same debatable pitches are called strikes 60 percent of the time. These statistics suggest umpires do all they can to make sure that they are not the ones deciding the outcomes of at-bats.

In another fascinating chapter, Moskowitz and Wertheim argue that home field advantage exists not because of the drain of travel on road teams or because visitors are intimidated by the jeers of raucous crowds.

They believe instead that officials are the ones who are affected by the home team’s fans, subconsciously channeling the crowd’s influence to give home teams the edge. After using statistics to flesh this out, they also highlight that the amount of bias officials show is positively correlated to the number of fans in attendance and their proximity to the field. When fans are not permitted to attend a game, the home field advantage completely disappears.

Books like these are fun because they are filled with neat tidbits that make for good sports discussions. There is always the danger, though, of reading this type of book in a vacuum, because many of the studies cited assume that players and coaches are all the same, not taking into account the ability, makeup and intangibles of the teams involved. Character and chemistry have no place in statistical analysis, but players are not robots.

The authors’ stated goal is to help us view sports in a different way. Perhaps a better goal for readers would be to understand sports in a clearer way. To do this, the reader must understand the pair’s arguments in light of the unquantifiable aspects of sports that their analysis cannot take into account.

Only then do we appreciate this book for what it really is: a source with interesting facts and statistical anomalies, but not something on its own that should radically alter our approach to sports.

Nick Macri is a senior in the College. THE BIG PICTURE appears in every other Friday edition of HOYA SPORTS.

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