Stealing Second

Brian Goff points to an interesting play-by-play study (using Retrosheet data) of player/manager decisions to steal second. The paper, A FIELD TEST OF PROSPECT THEORY: STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, 1985-1992, is an example of how social scientists can use the excellent data sets in baseball to test theories of human behavior. I don’t have time to comment on it—I barely had time to glance at it—but, I wanted to pass it along.

Here is the abstract.

Much of the insights and advances in the decision making literature have been
based on lab studies. The scant literature that applies the findings of this literature to
field settings does so at the aggregate or organizational level. Since decisions are made
by individuals but not by organizations per se, research is needed to shed light on the
intricacies of individual decision making in the real world. This study examines decision
making under risk in a field setting. We compare the predictions of prospect theory for
making a risky choice with the predictions of expected utility theory. Using a sample of
Major League Baseball (MLB) teams and a decision situation involving whether or not to
attempt to steal second base, we conclude that prospect theory provides a better
explanation of the decisions that are observed. We argue that, since decisions in the
game of baseball are made under uncertainty, are complex (i.e., rely on a number
interrelated parameters), and require quick actions, our results have important
implications for decision-making in organizations, as within a wide range of
circumstances most business decisions share similar characteristics.

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