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The Economist on statistical analysis and sport

The Economist magazine has a story on statistical analysis in sports. Most of the article will be familiar to people who have been following this trend. The story pays appropriate respect to our intellectual godfather, Bill James, and mentions the contributions of economists David (4th down) Romer and Steve (down the middle) Levitt.

I'm an advocate of the proposition that economics sheds light on sport, and that sports shed light on economics. It's a two way street, and the article shares that view:

Shrewd observers seek understanding not through received wisdom but from the statistics that accrue over weeks and seasons. Analysing those statistics allows one better to determine which players are better than others or what the best strategy might be against a certain team. ....

And the cross-pollination between sport and social science works both ways. In September 2002, a group of economists at the University of Chicago wrote a paper in the American Economic Review arguing that in taking penalty kicks in football, strikers would do better to aim at the centre of the goal, as goalkeepers invariably dive one way or the other in a desperate blocking attempt. Steven Levitt and his colleagues had an added motivation for their subject: game theory, their discipline, often lacks real-world examples, and in sport they saw a rich set of unbiased, real-world data with which they could validate their theoretical constructions. They saw, in other words, the opposite of what those grizzled scouts and coaches see: a field of data rather than a field of dreams.

Thanks to Mark at Rational Explications for the tip.