Monday, December 10, 2007

"Super Crunchers" -- Bill James and oenometrics

A few minutes ago, I started reading "Super Crunchers," by Ian Ayres. It's a book about how sabermetrics is better than intuition for finding things out. Of course, Ayres doesn’t use the word "sabermetrics," but that's what he means.

I'm only a few pages in, but already there's a great example. Economist Orley Ashenfelter looked at wine ratings, and figured out that the quality of a given year's vintage can be easily predicted from rainfall data. He produced this formula, which appears to have been derived from a simple regression:

Wine Quality = 12.145 + .00117 * winter rainfall + .0614 average growing season - .00386 harvest rainfall

The reaction from traditional wine experts was not surprising. Robert Parker, perhaps the world's most famous wine critic, said the method "was so absurd to be laughable." A wine magazine said "the formula's self-evident silliness invites disrespect."

However, it worked. Ashenfelter used the formula to predict that the 1989 vintage would be exceptional, and that 1990 would be even better. He turned out to be right.

That's the first six pages. On page 7, Ayres notes that the technique of wine sabermetrics can also be applied to sports. He calls Bill James the "Orley Ashenfelter of baseball," and talks a bit about Runs Created and Moneyball.

So now I'm nine pages into the book, and it looks very promising.

P.S. Appropriately, I think I remember a Joe Morgan baseball card from the '70s that said Joe is a wine connoisseur ...

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At Monday, December 10, 2007 9:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you are just going to love it when Ayres uses Jeremy frickin' Brown and his career 364 OBP (in 11 whopping at bats) as a testament to the A's supercrunching ability.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 10:16:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Yeah, I did notice that. :)

At Wednesday, December 12, 2007 5:55:00 PM, Blogger Bob Timmermann said...


At Wednesday, December 12, 2007 6:19:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Fixed. Thanks.

At Saturday, December 15, 2007 1:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any updates on the book? I'm always on the prowl for another good book.

At Saturday, December 15, 2007 1:04:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Almost done it. Not bad, a quick read, but nothing earth-shaking. Maybe I'll have more to say when I finish.

The wine example at the beginning is the most interesting part so far.


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