Baseball & Business

I love baseball. While I haven’t played in years, I still like to keep up with the game, watch my favorite teams (#RollTribe) and occasionally play in a softball league or pickup game. There is something about the game that I always enjoyed — it’s a team sport where each player’s impact on the game is high (think about hitting in the bottom of the 9th inning when you’re down a run or two!) and where a player can tremendously improve their own statistics over the course of a season.

But I’ll admit — baseball can be a pretty boring game to watch if you’re not a fan of the game or if you haven’t played it competitively. After talking to many people about this I’ve come to the conclusion that baseball is a “boring” game because gameplay can be slow because it’s so nuanced. Some examples:

  • The team can decide to switch their pitcher any time. Even in the middle of an at-bat.
  • Need a faster runner on base? No problem, just switch the runner out with a pinch-runner.
  • What do you mean there’s no play clock?

With all of these intricacies, what it really comes down to is just putting your best foot forward and knowing how to best compete against your opponent.

Baseball is full of statistics. Just loaded with them. Teams have started to use those statistics to keep a step ahead of the opposing team and beat them at their own game. You’ve seen Moneyball right? Same story.

To know how to defend against a hitter you have to know where they hit. By studying a batter’s spray chart we can see where a player is most likely to hit a ball — and decide if how you want to defend against the statistical probability of where they will hit it.

Here’s a wild example of an infield shift from a while back:

Dodgers playing a whacky 4-person shift to defend in a bases-loaded situation.

The infield is not supposed to look like that. It worked — sure enough, the batter hit to the Great Wall of Dodgers. Now, the next batter hit the game-winner, but the crazy shift worked nonetheless. This setup was to defend against a left handed “pull” hitter — one that tends to hit the ball to the first-base side of the field.

And that is what makes baseball so interesting to me. It’s a strategic game. And because home runs are awesome.

How’s this relate to business?

  • Baseball teams, just like businesses, recruit and attract the best players to help them win.
  • When you know what your competition is most likely to do, you develop strategies to combat against them.
  • One player can’t win the game — it’s a coordinated effort by all.
  • You can continually adjust your approach until things “click.”
  • If you’re not planning for the future, you’re already behind.
    This relates to recruitment, training and ongoing education, product/service development, etc.
  • If you see the opportunity to strike, take it.
    Dustin Pedroia steals second and third base on one play, exploiting a weakness in the infield shift.
  • It’s important to build loyal fans.
    The Chicago Cubs have one of the most loyal fan bases in baseball. The Cubs have not won a world series since 1908. For years Cubs fans would go to Wrigley Field, often enduring very tough losing seasons. This year, they have the best record in baseball. Fans are happy.

I encourage you to think about the nuances and strategy behind the game next time you’re at the park — I bet you’ll see it a little differently.

“Keep your eye on the ball and hit ’em where they ain’t!” — Willie Keeler

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