In Europe, Levitt is feted as one of the authors of the “penalty-kick paper”. Probably only a trio of economists would have watched videos of 459 penalties taken in the French and Italian football leagues. The authors were testing a complex point of game theory. What they found was that the best place to put a penalty was the middle of the goal, largely because goalkeepers always dive. Yet few penalty-takers actually choose the middle. “I think one reason people don’t is that it’s just incredibly humiliating to a kicker if he kicks in the middle and doesn’t score,” guesses Levitt.
How about Levitt on Michael Lewis’s Moneyball?
There has been much hype recently about baseball clubs finding statistics to identify good players. Levitt read Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball about the supposed innovators, the Oakland As, and is unimpressed. “If you look at all the stats they say are so important, the As are totally average! There’s very little evidence Billy Beane [the club’s general manager] is doing something right.”
My recollection is that Lewis claims the small-market A’s put together a good team more cheaply, not that they win every pennant. In fairness to Levitt, a scrupulous researcher, perhaps this quotation is pulled out of context.