A Numbers Game

A Q&A with Jon Wertheim, co-author of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won

BI: The average fan that still loves the traditional stats may be your most important target, but they may also be too stubborn to purchase a book like this. How do you sell your book to that fan?

Wertheim: Good question. I think if we can convince the traditional fan that they may be missing something big if they don't look a little more carefully or a little differently at the games they love, then it will be an easy sell. We aren't trying to change everything about the way they look at sports, but rather enhance what they are already doing. We don't think our stats based approach is the only way to look at sports either. Both traditional and new aspects of sports can make watching as a fan more enjoyable. The more we learn about our favorite sports, the better in my opinion. We're just bringing (I hope) a new perspective to the games that may uncover things we never knew before. I hope that would get even the most stubbornly traditional fan to take a look at it. Hey, if nothing else they can argue and complain how we got it all wrong!

BI: I have heard Scorecasting referred to as “The Freakonomics of Sports,” and I can certainly see the similarities. Was that something you had in mind when you guys started this project? And what was the ultimate goal of Scorecasting? Are you trying to change conventional wisdom or just giving the fans another way to look at the games they are already watching?

Wertheim: Yes. Certainly Freakonomics, which was co-authored by my close friend and colleague Steve Levitt, was an inspiration and something we emulated. But, we also think the book is quite a bit different from Freakonomics. Sure, some of what we do is topple or at least challenge and try to understand current conventional wisdom in sports. But, we also tried to break new ground on topics—such as referee bias, the lure of round numbers, the economics behind steroid use, etc. We hope to give fans a new or fresh perspective on how we watch sports and part of that is to challenge and understand conventional wisdom.

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