Stumbling on Wins Thanksgiving Promotion and Study Questions

The publisher of Stumbling on Wins – Financial Times Press – is making an offer this week that I don’t think many can refuse.  If you have Kindle, you can download Stumbling on Wins until November 27 for $0.00.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This week – if you have Kindle – Stumbling on Wins is free at          

What if you don’t have Kindle?  The hardcover price is only $16.49.  At this price, I think this would make a great Christmas gift.  Well, not for me… I have already read this book :)

To give everyone a good idea of the many topics covered in Stumbling on Wins… this past semester I had my students in Sports Economics at Southern Utah University read Stumbling on Wins (for those interested… I didn’t make any money because of this book assignment).  I thought it would be interesting to pass along the questions I asked my students to answer after reading the book.  Again, these questions essentially outline the entire book.

Chapter One

  1. Why is the sports industry an ideal place to study the ability of people to make decisions “rationally”?
  2. How is a “rational decision-maker” described by Thorstein Veblen and Cass Sunstein/Richard Thaler?  What is “instrumental rationality”?         
  3. According to George Miller, how many items can individuals track at one time?
  4. What is the “wrath of randomness”?     
  5. What is “at the heart of the Moneyball story”?
  6. Jahn Hakes and Raymond Sauer asked the following “two” questions.  “…was the adjustment in returns to skill observed at the end of the period in our earlier paper robust? Are subsequent seasons consistent with mis-pricing or efficient pricing? Second, while Michael Lewis focuses his argument on the seasons around the turn of the century, how far back did the alleged mis-pricing extend? Provide the answers to these questions and detail how those answers were reached.

Chapter Two

  1. What is the relationship between payroll and wins in the major North American sports?  How has that relationship changed in baseball over time? From chapter two and three of Stumbling on Wins… how is the payroll and wins relationship explained?
  2.  Isiah Thomas was not very successful as general manager and head coach of the New York Knicks.  Review the argument that the size of the player budget given Isiah Thomas led to the failure of this team.
  3. With respect to professional basketball, which productivity factors consistently explain player salary? 
  4. With respect to professional basketball, which productivity factors explain the voting by the coaches for the All-Rookie team? How consistent is this voting record with various statements made by head coaches?

            Chapter Three

  1. Why do sports teams track statistics for individual players?
  2. According to J.C. Bradbury, what makes a player statistic “useful”?
  3. How do we evaluate two competing player evaluation metrics?  Why do we not use the “residual” (in the fashion discussed in class) in testing a model?
  4. Why is Earned Run Average not a good measure of a pitcher’s performance in baseball?  Answer the same question for batting average and hitters in baseball.
  5. What is “DIPS”?  Discuss how and why this is calculated.
  6. How consistent are player statistics in the National Football League?  Why do we observe this level of consistency and how does this impact decision-making in this sport?
  7. What is the problem(s) with employing plus-minus as a measure of player performance in hockey and basketball?  According to Berri and Bradbury (2010), does adjusted plus-minus overcome this problem(s)?
  8. Relative to the NFL, NHL, and MLB; how consistent are player performance measures in the NBA?  Why do we observe this level of consistency and how does this impact decision-making in this sport?
  9. What is “the Most Important Position” in professional team sports?
  10. Martin Brodeur is considered the greatest goalie in NHL history. 
    1. How does Brodeur’s performance compare to the performance of an average NHL goalie? 
    2. How does Magic Johnson’s performance (and Magic might be the greatest player in NBA history) compare to the performance of an average NBA player?  Note: One can answer this question with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.
    3. Why are these comparisons different in hockey and basketball?
  11. With respect to NHL goalies…
    1. How consistent are goalies from season-to-season?  from regular season to post-season? from post-season to post-season?
    2. What factors explain the current salary of a goalie? 
    3. What is the relationship between current performance and current salary of goalies?
  12. In hockey, baseball, and football wins and losses are assigned to three positions. What are these three positions and why would we suspect that wins and losses are not just about these players?

from Chapter Four…

  1. Why is racial integration a story of “innovation”?  In Major League Baseball, how did the performance of teams that integrated faster compare to those who were slower to add African-American players?
  2. Prior to 1994, how many black quarterbacks had ever attempted 100 passes in a single season? How does the performance of the average black quarterback historically compare to the average white quarterback? 
  3. Ten NFL quarterbacks who entered the league after 1969 were eventually enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame.  How does the story of Warren Moon differ from the nine other Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks?
  4. According to Berri and Simmons (2009), what factors determine the pay of an NFL quarterback?  How does this story change for black and white quarterbacks?

from Chapter Five…

  1. How (and when) was the NFL draft instituted?  Be sure to compare the justification of people in the NFL to the story told in the economics literature.
  2. Should NFL teams want to pick first in the NFL draft?  Review the research of Cade Massey and Richard Thaler.
  3. What is the relationship between where a quarterback is drafted and how the quarterback performs in the NFL?  Why should we examine this relationship with per-play statistics? What explains this relationship in the NFL?
  4. What is the relationship between where a quarterback is drafted and how much he is paid?  How long does this relationship persist in a quarterback’s career?
  5. What factors determine where a quarterback is selected in the NFL draft? What is the relationship between these factors and future NFL performance?

            from Chapter Six…

  1. What is the “Pareto Principle” and how does this apply to the NBA?
  2. According to Price et. al. (2010), do NBA teams “lose to win”?  Briefly explain this study?
  3. With respect to the NBA draft…
    1. what is the relationship between draft position and future per-minute performance in the NBA?
    2. what factors explain where a player is drafted?  Discuss explicitly the choice of Gordan Hayward by the Utah Jazz in the 2010 NBA draft.
    3. what explanation is offered for the insignificance of rebounds?
    4. should decision-makers try and look at “everything”? Briefly explain your answer.
  4. Major League Baseball look at four categories of players: pitchers, hitters, high school players, and college player.  According to Burger and Walters (2009), which groups generate the highest returns?  Which groups, though, tend to be chosen first in baseball?  Briefly explain this study.

from Chapter Seven…

  1. What are the costs and benefits of stealing bases in Major League Baseball? When we look at the historical data, how do the benefits of stealing bases compare to the costs?
  2. Rickey Henderson set the record for stolen bases and walks (the latter record was eventually broken).  Which record – in terms of wins in baseball – is the most impressive?  Briefly explain your answer.
  3. According to David Romer (2006), what are the costs and benefits associated with the decision to “go for it” on fourth down in the NFL?  Discuss how often NFL teams “go for it” to how often the costs and benefits suggest teams should be “going for it”. 
  4. Kickers in the NFL are typically responsible for kick-offs and kicking field goals.  Of these two activities…
    1. which has the largest impact on wins in the NFL?
    2. which factors has the largest impact on a kicker’s salary?
  5. Is there a “hot hand” in the NBA?  Briefly discuss the research of Gilovich, T., R. Vallone, and A. Tversky (1985).
  6. According to Huizinga and Weil (2009), do teams behave as if they believe in the “hot hand”?
  7. Do sunk costs matter to NBA coaches?  Answer this question with respect to draft position and the allocation of minutes in the NBA.
  8. What is the relationship between age and player performance in the NBA?  What is the relationship between age and minutes played?  Briefly explain each answer. 
  9. What factors determine how many minutes a player will play in the NBA?  How does this result contradict the rhetoric of NBA coaches?

            from Chapter Eight and Nine

  1.  Who is Adam Smith and how does something he said in 1776 relate to the evaluation of coaches in professional sports today?
  2. Berri, Leeds, Leeds, and Mondello (2009) examined the impact of NBA coaches from 1977-78 to 2007-08.  Briefly explain how the study was conducted and the results reported.
  3. Given the analysis of coaching reported in Berri, Leeds, Leeds, and Mondello (2009), can teams replace NBA coaches with “deck chairs” and achieve the same results?  Why or why not?
  4. According to JC Bradbury, where does a baseball player’s performance peak?  Why would we expect a basketball player’s peak performance to occur at a younger age?
  5. Do productive players like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Kevin Garnett make their teammates more productive?  Explain the relevant economic theory and empirical results.
  6. Compare the view of coaching offered by Red Auerbach and the empirical evidence reported.
  7. How did baseball teams ultimately learn about the relative merits of batting average and on-base percentage?  What does this story tell us about how information is adopted in a professional sports?
  8. Economists traditionally assume that people are perfectly rational.  What does it mean to be “perfectly rational” and what does the study of sports tell us about this assumption?

Appendix A and B

  1. Why won’t a regression of regular season wins upon points scored and points surrendered have an R-squared of one?
  2. Define the following:
    1. Possessions Employed
    2. Possessions Acquired
    3. Offensive Efficiency
    4. Defensive Efficiency
    5. Efficiency Differential
  3. List the steps in the Wins Produced calculation.  Be sure to define AdjP48 and WP48.
  4. What are the basic lessons Wins Produced teaches about how wins are produced in the basketball?
  5. Define NBA Efficiency, Game Score, and the Player Efficiency Rating.  Why are these models not highly correlated with team wins? Why are these models highly correlated with player salaries?
  6. What are three objections to Wins Produced?  How are these objections answered?
  7. What are three issues identified with the NFL’s quarterback rating?
  8. How does one calculate for NFL Quarterbacks: Net Points,  Wins Produced, QB Score, and Relative Wins Produced.

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