“Baseball is like church. Many attend but few understand” as baseball great Leo Durocher famously said.  

While spring training gets underway, let’s explore how three little-understood strategies of baseball have major league applications in winning at business.

Stealing second

Stealing second is a high-risk maneuver that is over in an instant and physically dangerous when players collide. But with any great risk comes great opportunity for reward, as a successful steal moves a runner into scoring position.

According to All-Star base stealer Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, stealing bases isn’t about being the fastest player.

The key to stealing bases is about opportunity. If you’re intelligent and pay attention to the game, you’ll pick the best situations to run when you have the highest likelihood of being safe.

When deciding to make critical decision in baseball as in business, understand your risk by applying data, your Key Performance Indicators. Braun understands that his risk is determined by several pieces of performance data:

  1. Distance between himself and the next base
  2. Physics of his running posture and stance
  3. Response time as the pitcher goes into his wind-up

The lesson for business here is that when making critical decisions, look to your data to minimize risk and understand likely outcomes.

For example, advertising campaigns need compelling analytics to drive creative and media strategies, improve results over time and increase return on investment.

Fielder's choice

A fielder’s choice is a critical defensive play with both benefits and consequences. The defensive player fielding the ball must make a split second decision to make an out, but which one?

In business, we often must make similar decisions. For example, reducing staff may benefit profit margin, but hurt productivity. Business leaders, like fielders, make these decisions everyday.

In baseball as in business, there is always an if/then scenario that must be considered. For example, if the fielder throws out the lead runner, then that runner will not score. But if the nearest base is the easier out, then the lead runner may score.

In business, we must always look at the if/then scenario and work to understand consequences of our actions, minimize downside and look ahead to the next play.

Play the game one out at a time

According to G.R. Lindsey, author of A Scientific Approach to Strategy in Baseball (1959) the objective of baseball is to win, not to score. This may seem confusing but when data is applied, we see that the strategy of baseball is nimble and changes with each out.

Lindsey’s data tells us that scoring three runs by the third inning gives a team a 70% likelihood of winning a game, emphasizing the need to score many runs early in the game.

As the game goes longer, each point has exponentially less value as 10 points scored late in the game only increases odds of winning by 20%. This means that it is crucial to score many runs early and not as important to score late.

According to Eric Brickel at the University of Texas “if the score is tied in the 9th, I only need to score one run. Strategies that make sense late in the game may not be preferred early in the game.”

The business application here is that companies need a different strategy at different stages of their growth.

For example a startup must be run differently than a late stage company. Being nimble and quick scoring could get your business ahead, but long term success may be about staying a single run ahead of the competition.

Lori Goldberg

Published 17 April, 2015 by Lori Goldberg

Lori Goldberg is CEO at Silverlight Digital and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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