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Predicting the Winter Olympics with Economics

How many medals will U.S. athletes win at the Sochi Winter Olympics?

To answer this question, one might want to think about the abilities of the athletes involved in each competition.  And then use that information to forecast who is going to win each event.

Of course, that approach requires knowledge of the athletes involved in a wide variety of sports.  Furthermore, even if you knew how to measure ability, you would also have to figure out some way to forecast each athletes’ performance.

In a recent paper by Madeleine Andreff and Wladimir Andreff — “Economic Prediction of Medal Wins at the 2014 Winter Olympics” (PDF) – an approach advocated by a number of sports economists is employed.  Read More »



Why Masahiro Tanaka’s Yankees Contract Is Good for Baseball

A few days ago, the New York Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a $155 million contract. As Bryan Hoch of MLB.com notes, this is the fifth-highest salary for a pitcher in Major League history.  But the Tanaka contract is different from the top four on the list.  The top four contracts went to pitchers who were already playing Major League Baseball.  Tanaka played last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league.  And while his 24-0 record – and 1.27 ERA – helped the Golden Eagles win the Japan Series title, we do not know how he will fare against MLB hitters. Despite this uncertainty, there is still a sense that this signing illustrates that the Yankees have an unfair advantage. Read More »



Losing Is Not a Winning Strategy in the NBA

The NBA season is beginning this week and fans of each team are, of course, optimistic. At this point, everyone can hope a title is possible come next summer. 

Although everyone could theoretically have dreams of a title in 2014, it is clear that every NBA fan isn’t actually hoping their team is successful in 2014. Some NBA fans are actually dreaming of an event that happens just after the conclusion of the NBA Finals.  For fans of a few teams, the focus is already on the 2014 draft.  For example, some fans of the Philadelphia 76ers seem convinced that not only are the Sixers not trying to win this year, but that this is actually the best course of action for this franchise.

Proponents of “tanking” dream of such number one picks as Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James. Each of these players were selected number one and went on to win multiple NBA titles.  Of course, other number one picks – like Yao Ming, Michael Olowokandi, Allen Iverson, Joe Smith, Glenn Robinson, Chris Webber, Larry Johnson, etc. –  played their entire careers and never won an NBA title. Read More »



Book Review: Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest — David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants – came out this week.   Like every other book by Gladwell, it is already a best-seller. And having read – and very much enjoyed — the book, I can see why. Gladwell once again presents a variety of interesting stories, this time centered on the question of whether underdogs are as disadvantaged as we believe (the opening story on David and Goliath – which makes this observation – is worth the price of admission).   My sense – from the few reviews I have seen – is that critics have primarily focused on whether the argument they think Gladwell is making is valid.  I am going to argue that this approach misses the fact that the stories Gladwell tells are simply well worth reading (i.e., these stories are interesting and make you think). 

The range of stories Gladwell presents is quite impressive. From the opening biblical story to a discussion of the number of students in a school classroom, the impact of dyslexia, the curing of leukemia, the battle for Civil Rights, French revolutionaries during World War II, etc… One has to wonder: where does Gladwell find these stories? Read More »



A Former NBA Coach Argues That Coaches Are Not Responsible for Outcomes

The coaching carousel continues to spin in the NBA.  In recent days, the Los Angeles Clippers – coming off the best season in franchise history – have decided not to bring back Vinny Del Negro as head coach.  The Phoenix Suns — coming off their worst season since they were in expansion team in the late 1960s – have decided to turn to Jeff Hornacek to lead their team back to respectability.   And the Atlanta Hawks – who were essentially average this last season – have turned to Mike Budenholzer to lead the team next year.

These are hardly the only teams to make a change.  Since the end of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers have all decided that the person who coached the team at the end of this past season shouldn’t be around for the next season. In all, at least nine of the 30 NBA teams will have a new coach next year. 

These changes – as I have argued before –will probably not make much difference.   A study published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) – which I conducted with Mike Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello – found that most NBA coaches across a sample covering 30 years did not have a statistically significant impact on player productivity. And in other sports, we also have evidence that coaches cannot systematically change outcomes. Read More »



Seattle Is Frustrated By the NBA’s Command Economy

For 41 years, the city of Seattle enjoyed NBA basketball.  And then the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.

Across the past year, though, there was hope that the NBA was returning to the Emerald City.  Sure the team was the Kings, a team that has lost at least 65 percent of their regular season games in each of the past five seasons. But if the Kings came to Seattle, other NBA teams would have to come as well (hey, the Kings-SuperSonics have to play someone).  And since the prospective owners (a group led by Chris Hansen) of the “Seattle Kings-Supersonics” offered a purchase price equivalent to an enterprise value of $625 million – more than anyone else (and more than anyone has ever offered for an NBA team) – it seemed likely that in a market economy (where the highest bidder tends to get the product) that the NBA was coming back to Seattle.

Unfortunately, Seattle learned this past week that the NBA doesn’t quite follow the rules of a market economy.  For Seattle to get the Kings, the other 29 owners had to approve the deal.  And when the dust settled, a majority of those owners thought an inferior bid from another group that wanted to keep the team in Sacramento was preferred.  Consequently, Seattle has been frustrated again. Read More »



What’s a Wall Street Executive’s Wins Produced?

LeBron James was recently given his 4th Most Valuable Player award by 120 sportswriters.  Well, at least 119 sportswriters agreed LeBron was MVP.  Gary Washburn – of the Boston Globethought Carmelo Anthony was the league’s MVP in 2012-13.

It doesn’t take much effort to establish that LeBron was more valuable than Melo.  The numbers tell us (numbers taken from theNBAGeek.com) that LeBron in 2012-13 was a much more efficient scorer from the field; and a better rebounder, passer, and shot blocker.   LeBron was also better with respect to steals and personal fouls.  Yes, Melo scored more.  But that is just because Melo took many more shots than LeBron.  Unfortunately, people tend to think that players who take many shots have a huge impact on outcomes in basketball (consequently, players have an incentive to take as many shots as their coaches and teammates will allow).

Although no other sportswriter shared Washburn’s view that Melo was MVP, 102 of the 120 voters thought Anthony was one of the five most valuable players in the league.  So Washburn was not alone in his belief that Anthony is a “great” player.   Read More »



How to Fix College Coaching?

Rutgers University fired Mike Rice – the head basketball coach – last Wednesday. This firing came about after ESPN released a video that showed Rice abusing his players. Such a video had already been seen by Rice’s boss at Rutgers in November, but until the video was shown to the public, Rutgers did not feel compelled to fire Rice.

Former NBA player Paul Shirley (author of Can I Keep My Jersey?) observed the following about the Rutgers case in a recent interview at HuffPost Live (around 13:30):

The thing that people don’t want to hear, but which is true, is that this is probably closer to the norm than not. 

Shirley goes on to note that he doesn’t think many coaches are actually hitting players. But he does note that coaches do tend to have a certain approach in conveying information to players (an approach Shirley describes in the interview).

Is this general approach to coaching effective?  To date, I am not aware of any study of the effectiveness of college coaching.  A study I co-authored with Mike Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello and published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) looked at 62 NBA coaches across thirty years of data. Across this sample, only 14 coaches were found to have a statistically significant and positive impact on player performance. So most NBA coaches do not appear to make their players more productive. Read More »