Rebounds per game, or rebounds per minute? (not a post about basketball)

When someone wins the Cy Young award with a 13-12 record, you reconsider the reliability of particular statistics and also the meaning of the award.  In economics we are taught, correctly, that Ronald Coase is a world-class economist, despite his relatively small number of publications.  Virtually each piece is a gem.

In the NBA, which is a better or more important stat?  Rebounds per game, rebounds per minute, or how about "total rebound percentage"?  Should not some measure of rebounding rate win out here?

Nonetheless, I still look first to total rebounds, whether in a game, in a year, or even in a career.  How much time you are on the court is endogenous.  If you are a superb rebounder but cannot play more than ten minutes a game — because of injury, uncooperativeness, or other missing skills — you will have a low number of total rebounds and that will reflect your broader deficits.  

Greg Oden has a high rebound rate but he hardly plays, due to recurring injury.  No one calls him the Ronald Coase of rebounding.

Similarly, Yao Ming has high success rates, but cannot stay on the court for very long, due to his bad feet.  His team has plenty of talent but has not won much and it probably needs to be dismantled at this point.

In other words, it is often "brute total" statistics which are underrated (think about evaluating a potential spouse).  And brute total statistics are most important when you must cooperate with others in complementary fashion and maintain their productivity as well as your own.  They are least important when, like Wittgenstein, Coase, or Sraffa, you occasionally issue a missive of brilliance and then retreat for years.  Coase did make his Chicago colleagues much more productive, but that effect would be weaker today in this age of specialization and co-authorship.

Both experimental economics and field experiments involve a lot of researcher cooperation and both are fields on the rise.  Does this mean that total output statistics will/should become more important for assessing economists?

Circa 2010, should we be looking more for economists who are more like Nolan Ryan and less like Ronald Coase?

Addendum: Angus comments.


You need something more like the plus-minus statistic from hockey - if a player is genuinely good, the results show up in the scores, regardless of the player's time played.

Felix Hernandez had plenty of brute total statistics.

The Mariners were 44-84 when Felix did not start. Yikes. 17-17 when he did. Thats pretty darn significant.

Yankees were 24-11 when Sabathia started 71-56 when he didn't. Also, significant.

These are brute total statistics that involve a huge amount of randomness not at all attributable to the performance of either pitcher. The award is supposed to go to the "best" pitcher, not the "most valuable" so semantic games are less on the table. Still, it's not obvious that brute total statistics are being underrated.

It is the fact that "brute total statistics" are endogenous that makes using them problematic as causes of success, while being highly reliable as indicia of success. This lies behind the Gladwell-statistician debate on QB draft picks in football.

Often when Tyler discusses a subject I know about, his posts are fairly terrible. What does that indicate about the many posts regarding subjects I have little or no knowledge of? Can I infer that they are also terrible, or is it just that the subjects I know about, Tyler does not? If Tyler will blog about anything regardless of his expertise, maybe it is very important to know what Tyler is expert in and what he is not.

what kind of brute stats for potential spouse evaluation is tyler talking about?


This is an intriguing argument, but I would interpret your argument as being one that would focus on persistent productivity rather than bursts of brilliance. And you ask what sort of economists we should be looking at given this point. I happen to agree with you about this, it is about persistent and consistent productivity combined with increasing the marginal productivity of team members.

In the game of basketball, this is often referred to as "glue guys". I think economic research units need "glue guys" as well. What characteristics do you see as making a "glue guy" in economics?

This analysis works for badness, too. The reason I'm not the worst pitcher in major league baseball is that I'm so bad no team would give me a shot. The really bad players are either those who are just good enough to get a lot of playing time which they waste or those who get little playing time and take up a spot on the roster that someone better could fill.

Not familiar with this Coase fellow. Is he akin to Sandy Koufax? Excellent for a short period of time?

I believe that the reason no one ever hears Greg Oden referred to as "the Ronald Coase of rebounding" is not entirely due to whether the analogy is a good fit.

George Karl's Supersonics used plus-minus extensively. George Karl's Sonics were known for being one of the biggest wastes of talent in NBA history, and for giving inexplicably vast amounts minutes to retreads like Sam Perkins and Terry Cummings. Not sure it's a good stat for basketball.

Also Tom Weir is an idiot and you make the world infinitesimally stupider by linking to him.

The Rockets have plenty of talent but need to be dismantled? Huh?

Houston is not particularity talented but has spent the last couple of years pooling assets and cap space to make a play for a star. They made a big push for Bosh, and will make another one for Carmello.

Solution: VAR (not Value at Risk). It combines rates with playing time. You can quibble over how a replacement player is defined, but otherwise, what's not to like? Not sure how to apply this to economists, famous or othewise.

And the backlash against Sabermetrics begins...

As far as choosing a spouse goes I'm assuming he means we want spouses who are more often seen "on the court". I can see why this would apply to women choosing men, but not sure why this would apply to men choosing women.

Can someone please elaborate on what Mr. Cowen meant regarding spouses and this subject?

"Can someone please elaborate on what Mr. Cowen meant regarding spouses and this subject?"

Whenever Cowen mentions choosing spouses and he doesn't elaborate we must assume he means: read Roissy.

In regard to Dr. Coase - In today's high co-authorship environment, would it be reasonable to expect that he would have been credited as a co-author often enough to significantly change his brute total?

I think your example may be an instance where the environment has changed enough to warrant a re-evaluation of the relative weights of the statistics.

One of the greatest rebounders of all time was Paul Silas of the Celtics. He was a game changer on the offensive boards. Using statistical analysis might prove misleading since many times he would shoot and miss and rebound his missed shot, shoot and miss again and rebound yet again and then score. His Celtic teammates loved him and opponents feared his relentless attack and he did everything possible to deliver the only stat that matters, a win for his team.

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