Don’t fear Stumbling on Wins

Last night I gave my brother a copy of the outstanding book Stumbling on Wins.  He’s a banker and he’s very well connected, and I thought if he or his clients read the book, it would have a “sneeze” effect as Malcolm Gladwell would say.

He was grateful, but he kind of acted like I just handed him an economics textbook.  I’m very good at reading nonverbal language, so I told him “Its a great book, its like Freakonomics but its about sports.” 

That didn’t move him.  So I said “Have you ever heard of the book Moneyball?”  He had.  That moved him a little.

Then my sister in law read the blurb about Marginal Win Score.  “Oh, this is over my head,” she said, and she’s very intelligent. 

Its not over her head.  And its certainly not over the head of the readers of this blog.  (excepting when the Kobe Defense League comes in to play, some of them are either flat dumb or I’m getting translated comments).

If you like the stuff I write, and you like sports, you will love that book.

The arguments made in the book are clear, concise, and powerful.  And the text is not only understandable, its quite enjoyable.

My “Beef” with Professor Berri

There’s a blurb about Marginal Win Score in the book Stumbling on Wins.  Mentioning my derivation of their basketball win calculation was a very generous act by the authors.  The pair do work that must meet strict academic standards.  Marginal Win Score wouldn’t meet those standards (stop your laughing).  Its based purely on Professor Berri’s work, then logically extended by me.  I think its right, but its not academic right, if you get my meaning.

Nevertheless, if you think about it, there’s no beef at all between Win Score and Marginal Win Score.  MWS is a full throated endorsement of Win Score’s validity. 

All Marginal Win Score says is “You’re statistical measurement of win production is absolutely right.  I’m going to use it and rely on it.  But I’m going to try to take account of the fact that each player can also help his team win by having an impact on his opponents ability to accumulate those “win statistics”.  I think that”s a necessary element in the calculation”.

And thus Professor Berri’s work has allowed me to carve out a little niche for myself in the world of professional basketball, for which I’m grateful.

My Funny History with Win Score

If you’re a reader from the infantile days of the original Bucks Diary, the one with the hideous graphics, the one where I would sit at the computer, punch something out and get about 12 hits a day, you will remember that I started out as a big proponent of the NBA’s Efficiency statistic.  I thought it was a breakthrough.

Then I started computing the team Efficiency averages, and I discovered Efficiency had nothing to do with winning games.  The best teams, or the most successful, did not necessarily have high Efficiency averages.  WTF?  I said to myself.

So I’m monkeying around with it, and I can’t get it to reflect wins.

So I happened to be at B&Noble checking out books.  I leafed through The Wages of Wins.  I saw their formula and I dismissed it as BS, because it didn’t reflect what I thought ought to be the truth.  Cognitive dissonance its called.  It didn’t match my preconceived notions.

So about 2008, the Bucks are in a huge ditch.  I’m thinking the only way out is to utilize some kind of a Moneyball strategy.  They have to be smarter. 

So I’m driving around in Milwaukee and thinking “Has anyone done any kind of Moneyball work in the basketball field?”

I remembered The Wages of Wins.

I drove to B&N at Mayfair Mall and picked it up.  Then I opened myself up to the possibility that their approach was correct.  In other words, I could be convinced, but it would take a strong argument to do it.

I read the book.  They blew me away.  “Holy shit, they’re right!”

I’ve played, watched, and loved the great American game of basketball since I was 3 years old.  The force of the argument the authors made in that book, and the evidence they backed up those arguments with, were so strong they revamped my thinking completely.

And then of course later on I extended their argument to MWS, but I’m not going to go into that story today.

Have a great Easter basketball fans!!

5 Responses to “Don’t fear Stumbling on Wins”

  1. brgulker Says:

    Ty, can you clarify one point?

    (I haven’t read the new book just yet)

    Isn’t Dr. Berri’s criticism grounded in the idea that he doesn’t trust the statistics you use to calculate MWS and not necessary MWS itself?

    Let me know if I’m wrong.

    • tywill33 Says:

      That’s exactly right… but I think he was being nice. If you read it, its a brilliant bit of nice recognition with gentle criticism. There are other things that he might have added but declined to do so, which I appreciated.

      But his criticism is right. At this point the “foundation”, as you would say in a courtroom, for the counterpart opponent statistics has not been established.

      That doesn’t mean the statistics are “inaccurate”. It means I can’t tell you with certainty that they are accurate.

      I’ve tried on several occasions to get somebody at to tell me their methodology and how rigorous their observations are, and how they determine position, etc., without any luck. Either they think I’m trying to steal trade secrets, or I’m not sure.

      But I give up. As I said, I’m hoping to get to come up with an independent method, or I’ll just continue to rely on their data.

      Generally, I think its accurate, because a lot of it is consistent from season to season, and they’d have to be either lucky or conniving to pull that off with bogus stats.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Addendum to my last reply:

      As I wrote that, I thought of this.

      There is no possible way he could adopt MWS under its current methodology.

      Could you imagine if he turned in a piece of academic work whose central insight was based on information gathered in secret at some website? He would be laughed off the stage.

      Board: “Ah, Dave, how was this information that you are relying upon gathered?”

      Berri: “Ummmm, I think what they do is they hire a bunch of fans to watch games and those fans, I’m not sure who they are, jot down…”

      Board: “…Next!”

      LOL. But for our purposes, MWS is reliable enough, and I’m actually finding that the more rigorous, right off the transcript version I’m doing for the Bucks pretty much matches what produces.

      So in my mind its valid and reliable… but that’s the beauty of sports. We can never say for sure.

  2. dberri Says:

    What I take from all this is that you actually saw The Wages of Wins in Barnes and Noble. Never had that experience. I did just get back from Barnes and Noble and saw four copies on sale. That was pretty neat to see.

    Keep up the good work Ty. Not sure we have any real beef about anything important.

    • tywill33 Says:


      Funny story. I always look for it at Barnes and Noble, and I would say every one of the ones I’ve been at in Wisconsin, and I’ve been at several, have at least one copy. The trick is finding it in the sports section.

      They have no clue how to categorize it. They know it has something to do with sports, but the teenage girls they have managing the place are never exactly sure what it has to do with sports.

      So at some places they shelf it like a gambling book. In others its in the general sports. In others its in basketball (because it has a basketball hoop on the cover).

      Its the same deal with Wayne Winston’s book too.

      As I’m saying that, I just had a thought.

      I think your publisher might have made a monster mistake by not mixing some sports icons on the cover.

      I know it says “sports” and “wins”, but its black and looks forbidding and says “two economists” in the subtitle.

      I swear to God my brother, who loves sports, looked at the book and then looked at me like I had given him a homework assignment.

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