The Wages of Wins by David Berri, Martin Schmidt, Stacey Brook (Shane's book 28, 2009)

This is something of a niche title, I admit. If you're not interested in American sports and economics, you're unlikely to find much to detain you here. I'm not really interested in any US sports other than American football so I was a little disappointed to find that just one chapter is about football and that most of the book is about basketball. [amtap book:isbn=0804758441]

Nevertheless, I am interested in the way teams analyse the success of their players and whether factors such as wage bills and attendance can affect the success of teams. This book has plenty to say about those things.

The authors admit to being inspired by Freakonomics, which was the first book to achieve major success by focusing economic analysis on popular issues. Much of the success of Freakonomics comes from pointing to areas where popular assumptions can be shown to be incorrect. The Wages of Wins follows a similar approach, demonstrating, for example, that the huge amount the New York Yankees spend on wages doesn't explain their success in Major League Baseball.

The most interesting section of the book examines whether coaches in the National Basketball Association are properly able to judge which players are successful. What they discover is that coaches over-value certain actions, such as scoring points and under-value others. By failing to properly measure the effects of all the actions a player can take on the basketball court, coaches are misleading themselves as to the true value of their players.

The authors devise a metric for measuring how many wins a player is worth each season, taking into account every action a player performs on the basketball court. It's fascinating, though I'm in no way qualified to judge their economics skills, and it would be interesting to see similar theories applied to, say, Premier League football.

It's a potentially dry topic for most people, even sports fans. Unfortunately, the authors try too hard to liven things up. The book is written in a forced jaunty style and filled with awful jokes. Worse, the authors constantly remind you how boring their subject is and how dull economists are. I've bought the book so why not assume that I'm interested in what you have to say and get on with it? Instead Berri, Schmidt and Brook sound like teachers trying to keep the attention of a group of hyperactive five-year-olds. It's a little trying, I have to say.

Still, this is worth a read if you're interested in the topic.