Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why I Can't Take Dave Berri Seriously

I was hoping Noce might comment on this fantastic FreeDarko post on Dave Berri's The Wages of Wins, as sussing out the points where economics becomes ideology is really his bag. But that post aside, there's a much simpler reason that I've decided not to invest any time reading The Wages of Wins: By Dave Berri's calculations, Chris Duhon produces more than 4 times the number of wins than Ben Gordon.

No. I'm serious. See for yourself.

You'll also note that his calculations predicted that the Bulls would win 64 games this year. (If they go undefeated from here on out, they'll win 63.) Now, in that graph's accompanying article, he makes the caveat that the Bulls probably won't win 64 games, only that the "evidence suggests the Bulls will be better next season." To which any Bulls fan off the street could have replied: "No shit, Sherlock."

None of this would piss me off that much if I hadn't read that his book concludes like so:

"Without statistical analysis, one cannot see how the actions the players take on the court translate to wins. One can play basketball. One can watch basketball. One can both play and watch basketball for a thousand years. If you do not systematically track what the players do, and then uncover the statistical relationship between these actions and wins, you will never know why teams win and why they lose. Staring at these players play is not a method that will ever yield the answers that the proper analysis of statistics will yield. And this is true if you stare for one day, or as we said, if you stare for a thousand years."

When you come across prose as hubristic as this, it makes you wonder if any of the Anti-Intellectualism in American Life might be well warranted.

And that's a shame. Because I imagine Dave Berri's work shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Serious statistical analysis of basketball is really just starting to gestate, and that Berri's work recognizes the contributions of players like Ben Wallace, Adrian Griffin and, yes, Chris Duhon, in a way that other statsmasters might overlook is salutary. But a little humility is in order, as is ceasing the wholesale dismissal of players, like Ben Gordon, Melo, or AI, who don't fit neatly in your chosen metrics.

For my money, one of the best statisticians out there who fulfils all of these requirements is Kevin Pelton. Check him out.


Anonymous Patrick said...

If that paragraph is any indication, I could not imagine reading a word more of Berri's book.

As for Pelton, he’s the man. A couple months ago, I had an inspired thought about calculating a VORP-like value for basketball players similar to the baseball measure. After a quick google, I saw that Pelton had already created such a measure at least four years earlier. I felt a lot less cool after that.

8:24 PM  
Blogger Big Sweet said...

I'm not as familiar with the Wages of Wins as I should be, but it doesn't look too convincing. Anyone that truly thinks Tyson was worth 10 more wins than BG last year has to go back to their micro intro class. As long as we're jocking Noce, this reminds me of the controversy with the 9/11 truth folks. There is lots of good statistical work out there, but one whack job goes overboard and takes everyone else down with him.

10:48 PM  
Blogger BenGo07 said...

In Berri's defense, he was basing Thomas' Wins Stat on a new formula he'd only recently created that hoped to predict how college players would perform in the pros. I'm pretty sure he'd admit that he has to go back to the drawing board on that.

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