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Best of Howard Schwartz

Gaming Guru

 

'Mathletics' -- breakthrough use of stats to bet on hoops, football, baseball

26 November 2009

Mathletics -- How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball and Football by Wayne Winston ($29.95, hardbound, 358 pages) could be the best book ever written on the subject for people who love to crunch numbers before making a bet. Winston, who teaches at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, picks up in part where Michael Lewis's Moneyball left off and continues on the same thinking avenue as Jeff Sagarin (he's a good friend of the author) before he retrorockets ahead with thoughts on evaluating teams, players and game strategy.

What's most important to those who purchase the book is how Winston directs those who want to rank sports teams and evaluate their sports bets.

Here's what Winston examines for each sport:

For basketball he looks at linear weights for evaluating NBA players, adjusted player ratings, lineup analysis, team and individual matchups, are officials prejudiced, are college games fixed, which games did Tim Donaghy fix. One vital section focuses on the fatigue factor, NBA back-to-back games and NFL bye weeks. He discusses great sports collapses, why one NBA referee may hate the San Antonio Spurs, the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), the Kelly Criterion and money management as well.

For football, Winston gets right to the bone marrow with what makes NFL teams win, the various stages (or as he calls it "states" or turning points) of a game, why the pro overtime system is flawed, whether it's best to kick for one or go for two on the conversion, and the impact of high draft picks in producing wins.

For baseball, Winston zeroes in on evaluating hitters by linear weights and Monte Carlo simulation, evaluating pitchers and forecasting future pitcher performance, the value of replacement players, park factors, streakiness in sports, pitch count and pitcher effectiveness.

As clear as a bell, Winston also explains the basics of sports betting including what an arbitrage betting opportunity is, how the money line works, how bookmakers make money, what parlays and teasers are.

Equally timely is the section titled "Freakonomics (Steven Leavitt) meets the Bookmaker," which includes Betting NBA Totals.

There's something for everyone who fancies him or herself a "thinking" handicapper -- where numbers and their evaluation factor into making a wager rather than emotion.

With 10 pages of references and resources (including helpful online resources) and a detailed six-page index, it's a fine reference book for those who want to know more.

I'd have loved to have seen a section on hockey, but that may be forthcoming from Winston or someone else in the future.

This may be the perfect gift book for a variety of people -- bettors, mathematical geniuses, managers or coaches, scouts or someone teaching college-level mathematics or probability.
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com