What can MLB’s bigger bases teach us about risk prevention?

What can MLB’s bigger b…

Quite a bit, in fact, if you’ve got a calculator handy.

As we head towards opening day, there has been quite a bit of buzz about Major League Baseball’s new rules, including the newly expanded bases. The new bases aren’t quite the extra-large pizza boxes you use in your Wednesday night softball league, but they have been expanded from fifteen inches square to eighteen inches square. In addition to providing three more inches between a sliding player’s studs and the second baseman’s shins, this change drastically decreases the distance between first and second base by a whole four and a half inches!

Not a huge difference? Perhaps. But consider life at the margins. The distance between first and second base used to be 88 feet and 1.5 inches, or 88.125 feet (and not ninety feet, as has been said in error for over a century). It takes a player, on average, 3.5 seconds to get from first base to second base, which breaks down to roughly 25.17 feet per second. But with the new distance sitting at 83.625 feet, a player traveling at 25.17 feet per second will reach second base in 3.32 seconds.

Does two-tenths of a second mean anything? Surprisingly, it does – last season, the major leagues saw 1.36 stolen base attempts per game. The minor leagues, where the larger bases were already in play, saw 2.83 stolen base attempts per game. The reason why is simple: while the time it took to go from first to second decreased by about 6%, the time it took for the defense to react – i.e., for the ball to go from pitcher to catcher to second base – stayed relatively constant, at roughly 3.2 seconds.

Perhaps more interestingly, this increase in attempts took place despite the relatively low utility of actually stealing a base. A 1989 book called Total Baseball postulated that a successful stolen base would add .3 runs to a teams expected run total for a game. In the old world of fifteen-by-fifteen inch bases, this represented minimal potential utility compared to the risk of getting thrown out. Even when that risk was as low as 25% (as it was in 2022) the cost benefit analysis just didn’t add up. But now, as we’ve seen in the minor leagues, the analysis has changed simply because first and second bases are now 4.5 inches closer together. And in the aggregate, over the course of a season, the difference is even more pronounced – where 1.36 attempts would produce an additional expected run total of 49.57 per season, 2.83 stolen base attempts per game would produce an additional expected run total of 103.15 runs per season before even accounting for the higher chance of success with the new bases. And in a game with margins as fine as baseball, any team not understanding this brave new world is at a real disadvantage.

Okay, but what are you talking about?

The takeaway from all this math is this: as a business owner, especially in an industry teeming with risk, you are falling behind if you fail to constantly reevaluate the cost-benefit analysis behind every choice you make. You should be asking yourself several questions:

  • Are my assumptions up to date? Have any regulations changed that would make the expected utility of doing something more or less desirable? Has a greater allowance for parts-per-million of something your shop creates opened the door for you to operate more efficiently? Or has a speed-limit dropped somewhere, making a longer route ultimately more efficient for your drivers?
  • Am I recognizing the value of incentives correctly? Do I make the utility of appropriate safety measures apparent to my employees? Are they given encouragement and recognition for wearing their PPE correctly, or does your lax enforcement policy fail to disincentivize non-compliance?
  • Am I recognizing that small changes applied in efficient ways can have cascading and wide-ranging benefits? Do I make sure my drivers stick to sixty-five miles per hour, adding two hours to their journey but lowering your spending on diesel by 25%? And do I perform those little maintenance tasks like checking tire pressures regularly to make sure that efficiency is not wasted?

Where the lawyers come in.

But perhaps the most important question is this: are you remembering to evaluate risk from multiple angles?

A plaintiff’s lawyer has many ways to keep you awake at night. One of those tactics is to convince a jury not to view a risk-benefit analysis from your point of view, but from their point of view – and their perspective is often a lot more stringent than yours.

Let’s go back to bases, so to speak, and consider the Yankees. Last year they hit 254 homeruns – more than 1.5 per game. Stealing bases is therefore considerably riskier for them because any runner caught takes a potential RBI for Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton off the board. Conversely, Cleveland Guardians only hit 127 home runs in 2022, giving them more incentive to manufacture runs by stealing bases. Both teams made the playoffs because they appropriately appreciated where they best fit on the risk-benefit curve.

You, as a business owner, need to appreciate and understand the simple fact that people evaluate risk differently, and that your calculations will not always match up with someone else’s. An example: something in your shop throws off 30 decibels of sound, so you grab your Grainger catalogue and order one-thousand 30 dB rated earplugs for thirty cents apiece. To you, a business owner that lives on the margins, this makes perfect sense – you don’t need to provide protection for more than 30 dB, so to pay anything more than thirty cents per earplug provides no marginal advantage.

But then something happens to your machine and one of your employees is seriously injured. His lawyer finds an expert to say that the equipment was outputting 31 decibels, and you find yourself sitting in a deposition having to explain why you didn’t spend $100 more to give your employees a bit more protection.

Average people – especially those not in your industry – are more like baseball managers than business owners. Where you see $100 that could have been better spent elsewhere, they see a failure of cost benefit analysis. Their appetite for risk is much more like the Yankees than it is like the Guardians. And because you’ve failed to appreciate that, you may be stuck writing the equivalent of a Steinbrenner-esque check.

The good news is that lawyers earn their all-star votes by anticipating those failures and mitigating them before they happen. If you need guidance or advice on drafting policies with which you can apportion and tackle the kinds of risks that put your business into the firing line, the attorneys at Setliff Law are here to help. Please contact Anthony Tamburro (atamburro@setlifflaw.com) at (804) 377-1268 or Steve Setliff (ssetliff@setlifflaw.com) at (804) 377-1261.