Research: To win in baseball and business, spend more on pitchers

July 08, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Major League Baseball teams with more highly skilled and experienced pitchers and catchers fare better than those with equally skilled and experienced position players, according to a new report coauthored by a professor at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. The study suggests that baseball teams -- and teams, in general -- could do better by allocating more resources to their strategically core roles.
In a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Stephen Humphrey, Smeal assistant professor of management, and his coauthors look to Major League Baseball to examine how organizations can best leverage their limited resources to maximize performance. They found that certain roles within organizational teams are more critical for achieving success and should therefore be allocated more of the available resources.
Teams are frequently structured so that each member brings specific skills and experience to the team and this often means that some roles on the team are more tightly linked to the team’s overall performance than others. The authors identify these "core roles" as positions on the team that encounter more problems, have greater exposure to tasks, and are central in the workflow.
Teams that staff their strategic core roles with the most experienced and highly skilled individuals should perform better than teams that have more experience and skill in their non-core roles, the researchers postulate. To test their hypotheses, the researchers examined the performance and team composition of Major League Baseball teams from 1974 to 2002, along with salary data beginning in 1985, the first year that MLB began releasing all salary figures.
On baseball teams, the core roles are pitchers and catchers, according to Humphrey and his colleagues. They identify these positions because all baseball play begins with the pitcher and catcher, their performance through calling and delivering pitches is vital to the outcome of the game, and pitchers and catchers serve as the communication hub for the entire team.
The data show that teams with more experienced and highly skilled pitchers performed better -- won more games -- than teams with the same amount of skill and experience in their other team roles (i.e., position players, such as infielders and outfielders). Additionally, they found that teams which allocated more financial resources to their pitchers and catchers (i.e., paid them more) significantly outperformed those who did not leverage their assets as effectively.
These findings have considerable implications outside of baseball, according to Humphrey and his colleagues, because baseball teams are like organizational teams in several ways.
"First, just as organizational teams often have long life spans, baseball teams operate continuously for seven months," they write. "Second, baseball teams are intense action teams, such that they work together for three hours a day, six days a week. Third, baseball teams have numerous performance episodes with situationally relevant outcomes. Similar to organizational teams, individual team members are rewarded based on both their own and the team's performance; they can lose their job if they no longer perform to an acceptable level."
With these similarities in mind, the authors argue that their research may be able to help organizations determine how to best allocate their resources among team members. "Not all roles are created equally," they write, observing that "some roles in teams are more important than others."
"Our results suggest that resource allocation in many organizations may be inefficient, suggesting that firms may benefit from a reallocation of investments toward strategic core roles," they write. "Investing more heavily in the core roles of teams results in significantly higher performance than investing resources in non-core roles."
The research also provides guidance for managers who are staffing teams. The findings indicate that "it is particularly important to take into account role composition issues when making placement decisions in teams” and that priority should be “placed on the strategically core roles when building or changing teams."
Along with Humphrey, "Developing a Theory of the Strategic Core of Teams: A Role Composition Model of Team Performance," is written by Frederick P. Morgeson of The Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University and Michael J. Mannor of the Department of Management at the University of Notre Dame.  The paper is available online at

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Last Updated March 19, 2009