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March 6, 2013 5:00 am

Pebble Hunting: How Baseball Returns Our Investment


Sam Miller

A review of a book about betting on baseball.

In 2010, a writer named David Bentley Hart wrote an essay about baseball for the theological magazine First Things, in which he argued that baseball “captures traces of eternity’s radiance in fugitive splendors here below.” That is to say, as I understand Hart’s piece, baseball reflects God and is Godly. It’s a beautiful piece with big and hopeful ideas, but that’s not to say that it isn’t also pompously romantic. For instance:

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If it doesn't make sense to call for pitchouts, why do major-league managers keep doing it?

Last week, my colleague Sam Miller ran a few numbers on the pointless, yet poignant play that is the pitchout (a billion points to whomever catches that reference) and concluded that pitchouts are actually a net loser: they cost the defense/pitching team more in runs than they gain. Sure, individual pitchouts sometimes nab a would-be base stealer (and that's a good thing), but overall, managers guessed wrong so often that the expected payoff wasn't high enough to justify the strategy. Rule number one of strategic thinking is that just because you got lucky on a stupid bet, it doesn't negate the fact that it was a stupid bet.

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