Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baseball, Statistics, and Economics

The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed by J.C. Bradbury

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I got to this book in a somewhat circuitous manner. When I saw Rick Porcello intentionally hit Kevin Youkilis with a pitch on August 11 it led me to make the commonplace observation that the designated hitter rule has led pitchers to be more likely to throw at batters in the American League because they don't have to worry about standing in the batter's box and facing retaliation.

This time I went beyond that to look for comparative statistics on hit batsmen in the American and National Leagues, and it turns out there is a debate in the field of economics about whether the DH rule does, in fact, lead to more hit batsmen. The debate involves, among other things, moral hazard, the conservatives' favorite insurance concept except when it applies to CEO's.

One of the links led to this book, and I ordered it online for dirt cheap.

If you're interested in baseball I recommend this book. The author, an economics professor and proprietor of the site Sabernomics. The approach Bradbury takes is that the principles of economics, and the methods of economic research, can help you understand other aspects of human behavior, including baseball. As he puts it, the fundamental rule of economics can be summarized in four words: people respond to incentives.

In The Baseball Economist Bradbury discusses aspects of game play, lineup construction (does a good hitter in the on-deck circle "protect" the batter?), and the big picture economics of baseball's monopoly status, expansion, and whether Major League Baseball acts like a monopoly.

The one part I found not entirely satisfying was the discussion of the antitrust exemption and the Reserve Clause. His discussion of this topic focuses mainly on monopoly principles and barriers to the creation of new baseball teams, but I don't think that squarely addresses the questions raised by Flood v. Kuhn, because that case was addressed mainly to the monopsonistic character of baseball's labor practices, and not to the monopolistic character of its team expansion and siting practices.

Nevertheless, any baseball fan who wants to learn more about baseball, new statistics like OPS, and the interplay between baseball and economics should read this.

Oh, by the way, that question about the DH and American League pitchers? No doubt about it: since they are protected from retaliation they do hit more batters than their National League counterparts.

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