An ex-Wall Street trader improved on Moneyball’s famed sabermetrics to place bets that would beat the Vegas odds on Major League Baseball games–with a 41 percent return in his first year. Trading Bases explains how he did it.
After the fall of Lehman Brothers, Joe Peta needed a new employer. He found a new job in New York City but lost that, too, when an ambulance mowed him down as he crossed the street on foot. In search of a way to cheer himself up while he recuperated in a wheelchair, Peta started watching baseball again, as he had growing up. That’s when inspiration hit: Why not apply his outstanding risk-analysis skills to improve on sabermetrics, the method made famous by Moneyball–and beat the only market in town, the Vegas betting line? Why not treat MLB like the S&P 500?
In Trading Bases, Peta shows how to subtract luck–in particular “cluster luck,” as he puts it–from a team’s statistics to best predict how it will perform in the next game and over the whole season. His baseball “hedge fund” returned an astounding 41 percent in 2011– with daily volatility similar to funds he used to trade for. Peta takes readers to the ballpark in San Francisco, trading floors and baseball bars in New York, and sports books in Vegas, all while tracing the progress of his wagers.
Far from writing a dry, do-it-yourself guidebook, Peta weaves a story that is often humorous, and occasionally touching; the topic may be “Big Data” but it’s as entertaining as a Bill Simmons column. Trading Bases is all about the love of critical reasoning, trading cultures, risk management, and baseball. And not necessarily in that order.
Towards the end of the baseball season last year I was introduced to Joe by mutual baseball lover and
betting dork friend, Gill Alexander. The three of us grabbed a burger (this is when I discovered the awesome “Gold Standard” burger) at Holsteins at Cosmopolitan. After we grew tired of watching gamecasts on our phones we walked across the hall to watch the games at the sportsbook.
It was pretty awesome watching and talking baseball with such great baseball minds. Joe was kind enough to answer a few questions about “Trading Bases“.
What do you think readers will take away from the book?
If I’ve written it well enough, I hope they’ll realize there is a lot of overlap between those who apply sabermetric theory and those who trade stocks and those who bet on sports. Each set of people, even though they might think they operate in a vaccum, could actually learn from the other groups as well. Sabermetrics can help the bettor, Wall Street could learn a lot from the sabermetric community in terms of evaluating talent, baseball managers (and some GMs) could stand to learn a little game theory from traders and so on. In the end, the book really celebrates critical reasoning, regardless of the pursuit. But if the reader gets there without laughing, without reminiscing about the connection sports means to the relationship with their parents or children, or without smiling about the times he’s been in a sports bar or a casino with his buddies, then I didn’t write it well enough and that’s on me.
Explain the DIY guidebook that’s in the description for the book.
I spend about six chapters at the beginning of the book describing how I came up with a model to bet baseball games on a daily basis. Believe me, I knew how dangerous an undertaking that was – how many readers who pick up a book about golf would care how the clubs are made? Yet, I figured I had to establish some credibility in terms of logic and critical reasoning with other gamblers and sports bettors who picked up the book. So those chapters are filled with pop culture references, Wall Street and NFL analogies and in general try to make it read like a story instead of a data dump. I’ve always thought that was the underrated strength of Bill James — his ability to weave stories around his data. Between those chapters and a couple later in the book — which take up roughly a third of the pages — there is plenty of material in there for a would-be model builder to create his own model, with plenty of room for his own modifications. I love what one early reviewer of the book said, however in discussing the DIY nature of the book, “The topic may be Big Data, but it reads like a Bill Simmons column.”
What are your favorite sportsbooks in Vegas to do bet games? watch games?
Boy, do I love watching sports with like-minded sports bettors in Vegas — doesn’t even matter if I know them well. I view the experience like rating my favorite pizzas. Even the ones that are bad – - – are still pretty good! However, my favorite place to watch a slate of summer baseball games is at the Venitian sports book. It’s a Cantor-run property so the aesthetics are great. To top it off, it’s entrance is on the strip, next to a Walgreens so the ability to get in-game hydration is unparalleled There is a noodle shop adjacent to the sportsbook and a Grimaldi’s Pizza shop upstarts in the Palazzo mall for take-out. It’s simply perfect.
Honorable mention to the LVH Man Cave, especially if you use a car to get around. And, as you know, if you have a group of guys coming from out of town, Legasse’s Stadium takes the sports bar experience to an entirely new level. In general though, I avoided that location unless I wanted a restaurant experience.As far as placing bets, any Cantor property, especially if you utilize their mobile technology along with the LVH and the Wynn give a baseball bettor access to three different dime lines. Those three books captured the lion’s share of my handle last year.
I decided to do a preview of “Trading Bases” so that I can let you know about the book before the baseball season begins. I read slowly and I have no idea when I’ll finish the book to give it a proper review. If I get pressed for time I may just skip to the DIY Guidebook. Shhhh.
- If you prefer reading an actual book you can buy “Trading Bases” at Amazon.
- If you read on a tablet you can buy “Trading Bases” from iTunes for iPad or buy “Trading Bases” for Kindle.
If you can’t wait for the book check out the Trading Bases blog where he just started going season previews.
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