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The Baseball Economist

Posted by Doug on April 2, 2007

My good friend John-Charles Bradbury has written a book called The Baseball Economist, which just hit the shelves a few weeks ago. There are a couple of reasons why I can't call this post a review of the book, or at least not an objective review: (1) as I've already admitted, the author is a friend, and (2) some of my own work is included.

Still, if you have any interest in baseball books or thoughtful baseball analysis, please read on. Hopefully I can pique your interest enough to convince you to go out and pick up a copy. If you need a less biased review or endorsement, you can find several on the web: [Wall Street Journal] [Division of Labour] [Was Watching] [Baseball Crank] [The Sports Economist] [Wages of Wins blog] [Marginal Revolution] [Braves Journal]

Most of you are probably not aware that I used to be as intensely into baseball analysis as I currently am into football. I wrote for a few sabermetric sites and publications and I like to think I came up with a few nifty little studies along the way and contributed a bit to the field. But it's now clear that my biggest contribution (by far) was that I introduced John-Charles Bradbury to the existence of sabermetrics.

I could drone on about how much of a hero I am for leading J.C. out of the wilderness of RBIs and pitchers' wins, but I'll spare you. It is worth mentioning, though, that the fact that J.C. didn't encounter sabermetrics until relatively late in life probably prevented him from becoming Just Another Sabermetrician. Rather than viewing things through a traditional sabermetric lens --- as those of us who grew up with Bill James tend to do --- he started to look at them in light of his training as a professional economist. When combined with the tools of sabermetrics, it leads to a fresh perspective.

If you're turned off by "the business of baseball," don't let the title of the book scare you. While it does contain a few chapters about issues traditionally associated with economics --- salaries, the reserve clause, the anti-trust exemption, and so forth --- it's not just about the economics of the game; it's also about the economics in the game.

What does that mean exactly? It means that economics isn't about money. The best-selling book Freakonomics has made the general public aware that there is virtually no topic into which economists won't stick their noses (including the fourth-down decisions of NFL coaches and draft day trades in the NFL). Economics isn't about GDPs and discount rates and money multipliers; it's a framework for studying human behavior. Since baseball players (and managers, and owners, and umpires, and fans) are human beings, economic theories often attempt to predict how they will behave in certain situations.

If you're like me, you like to read books that introduce you to the core concepts of different disciplines. But you're not willing to work too hard. I don't want a PhD in economics (or psychology, or linguistics, or whatever), I just want a brief introduction to the general mode of thought. J.C. provides this in a clear and easy-to-read way. But, while this book is easy to read, don't get the idea that it's trivial. Economists and hard core sabermetricians will undoubtedly read a few things that are not news to them, but everyone will find plenty of new ideas in this book. I know I did, despite the fact that I ate lunch with J.C. every Friday during the entire time he was writing it!

The Baseball Economist does a very nice job of clearly explaining various economic theories and concepts and examining how they play out on the baseball diamond and in the front office. If you're not an economist, you probably won't agree with all his conclusions, or even his methods, but if you have an analytical mind, his arguments will make you think.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2007 at 4:01 am and is filed under Non-football. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.