*Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing*

by on March 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm in Books, Economics, Sports | Permalink

The authors are Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman and the Amazon link is here.  If you’re like me, by this point you have “popular behavioral economics book” fatigue.  Still, I bought and read this one through.  It doesn’t fall into the “designed to erase all doubts” category, but still it has some interesting ideas which you won’t find in the other popular behavioral economics books.  I am glad I bought and read it.  Here is one bit:

…Fehr also noticed a difference between children who’s grown up as siblings and those who were only children.  Contrary to the presumption that only children are more selfish than children raised in larger families, Fehr found the onlies to be the more cooperative and selfless.  They were completely untroubled by handing over toys to another child, whereas the siblings flatly refused.  Fehr came to the conclusion that the onlies didn’t know to be competitive because they’d never had to compete…They weren’t afraid of sharing toys, because they didn’t understand if you gave Barbie to another child, she might come back missing her leg or head.

It is claimed that, between the ages of three and seven, siblings clash 3.5 times per hour, on average (unless you are in the Caplan household).

Here is another interesting section:

…one study of every single pitch thrown during the 2005/2006 Major League Baseball season — some 1, 374,923 pitches — showed that most MLB pitchers are secretly prevention-focused.  As they get closer to finishing out innings, their pitch locations become more conservative.  A similar study of over 2 million PGA tour putts showed that pro golfers tend to leave it short as the stakes and pressure rise.

1 albert magnus March 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Don’t know what it says in the book, but if batter is at 2 strikes, he’ll choke up on the bat and try and foul off pitches or hit a single, rather than a faster, more powerful swing; therefore, it makes sense to throw off the plate or pitch more conservatively.

2 Chappy March 15, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Agreed, but, while I can’t see the context in the whole book the concept strikes me as silly. The point of being a pitcher is being “prevention focused.” I’m also curious by what they mean by conservative pitch locations? I see no way to define this. Each batter will have a different scouting report which defines the relative riskiness of a pitch. Additionally, as you point out the level of risk a pitcher will voluntarily take is conditional on previous events in the inning. Purely speculating, I assume they mean that pitchers pitch differently with two outs than when there are 1 or less outs. This should be comically obvious to anyone that has ever played or watched baseball that I’m not sure why anyone would ascribe a winning/losing tendency to a pitcher when situational tendencies are simply a condition of the game itself.

3 john March 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Phil Mickelson being the most obvious outlier.

4 Steve Sailer March 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm

I remember watching Phil five-putt from 18 feet. He’s the genuine Tin Cup.

5 Marta Podemska-Mikluch March 15, 2013 at 12:58 pm

From what I understand siblings are happy to share their toys as long as the property rights are clearly defined. When the ownership isn’t clear, lending you my toy is a much more risky business.

6 Andrew' March 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I think it was the prior Po Bronson book where they said that fighting over toys is the biggest cause of sibling fights.

7 Go Kings, Go! March 15, 2013 at 1:20 pm

It would seem that learning how to compete (how to achieve victory, handle defeat, build overwhelming coalitions, defend in depth, hoard assets, cut losses, etc) is a useful quality. I hope I’m right, and not just lazy, because my standard response to the hourly kerfuffles is: “Not my problem, sort it out…quietly”.

8 Andrew' March 15, 2013 at 2:15 pm

But OTOH, I decided that clear roles and defined property rights are beneficial. Families are to an extent communist and those are the parts that suck about them.

9 DocMerlin March 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm

“Families are to an extent communist and those are the parts that suck about them.”

10 Go Kings, Go! March 15, 2013 at 5:23 pm

You don’t feel better about yourself as a husband and father, as a man, because you ably provide for those incapable of doing it themselves? That doesn’t suck to me, I derive satisfaction from it.

Alternatively, you freely produced these little needy munchkins, now you bear the responsibility for them, which are the twin pillars of libertarians (freedom, responsibility).

I could be missing the point, it’s one of my traits.

11 Willitts March 15, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Yes, but do the winning pitchers in baseball and the winning golfers make more conservative choices when the pressure is on? If they tend to take more chances, then we note that strategy and tactics are decisive. If they don’t take the chances, then apparently not taking them is optimal.

Maybe the book discusses that. No time to read it. I can’t go through a book during my morning commute like the blog author.

12 Roger March 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I wonder how they did that MLB pitch study. As far as I know, the only technology that can create pitch-level location information is Pitch f/x, but that wasn’t fully implemented until 2006, and probably doesn’t have reliable data until 2007/2008, as they had a lot of calibration problems at the beginning.

13 RPLong March 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

“some 1, 374,923 pitches”

I don’t want to be “that guy,” but typically when you preface a number with the word “some,” you provide an estimate of the number, not the exact number itself. They should have said either, “some 1.4 million pitches” or “1,374,923 pitches in total”.

Oh god. I am that guy…

14 Gi Kings, Go! March 15, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Oh god. I am that guy…

+some 1,374,923

15 joshua March 15, 2013 at 7:30 pm

” during the 2005/2006 Major League Baseball season”

I don’t want to be that other guy, but unlike NFL or NBA no part of an MLB season crosses the new year’s.. Are we missing a plural to indicate both seasons? Based on a, uh, ballpark estimates the number of pitches sounds more like two seasons than one, but I could be off.

16 Foobarista March 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm

figure about 300 pitches per game (both teams, all pitchers) x 162 x 15 (30 teams, 2 per game :), and you get 729K pitches in a season. So, that number does sound like two seasons.

17 sam March 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm

“They were completely untroubled by handing over toys to another child, whereas the siblings flatly refused.”

This general result has been known for a while by evolutionary psychologists under parent-offspring conflict.

18 Mike March 15, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I enjoyed the Caplan HH counterexample.

19 Karyn S March 15, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Well if it weren’t for siblings, Michael Jordan wouldn’t have been Michael Jordan.

20 Steve Sailer March 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I’ve long been fascinated by how the Coen Brothers remain so productive without killing each other in sibling fights. I suspect they have a conscious strategy of downplaying their own individualities so that the outside world doesn’t drive a wedge between them.

This public blurring of their personalities has worked so well that when they came to my son’s college to receive some kind of award, the students were amazed that the two brothers arrived in … separate limos. The kids talked about the separate limos for days. The idea that the Coen Brothers are individuals who live in separate houses (and even have separate wives and separate children) hadn’t really occurred to the movie-crazy students before.

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