cover image Game of Edges: The Analytics Revolution and the Future of Professional Sports

Game of Edges: The Analytics Revolution and the Future of Professional Sports

Bruce Schoenfeld. Norton, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-53168-8

This excellent study by New York Times Magazine contributor Schoenfeld (The Match) explores how data analytics has transformed professional sports. He suggests that the success of the Oakland Athletics’ strategy of using sophisticated statistical analysis to identify and recruit undervalued players to the cash-strapped team and determine its game plans turned sports franchises from “glorified hobbies” into booming businesses. One consequence, Schoenfeld contends, is that sports have become less fun to watch; he cites how the rise of data led to “more strikeouts and home runs than ever, and fewer extra-base hits and acrobatic fielding plays,” even though baseball fans say they would prefer to see the latter. Schoenfeld provides keen insight into how analysts upended traditional means of evaluating players, telling how in 2006 the Boston Celtics drafted college point guard Rajon Rondo after recognizing that his high number of turnovers indicated his coach played him frequently enough to accumulate them. Schoenfeld demonstrates a perceptive understanding of what draws fans to sports, and his sharp analysis illuminates what’s lost in big data’s takeover; he warns that overreliance on data sometimes misleads coaches and that the corporatization of teams risks turning fans’ emotional connections into transactional ones. A worthy spiritual sequel to Moneyball, this makes for a bracing look at a fundamental shift in professional sports. (June)