Why Major League Baseball is Like a Big HR Lab – 3 Lessons to Remember

Major League Baseball is back, which means I now have something to do each night until November! Yeah me, I’m winning!

More importantly, MLB gives us some great things to write about throughout the season.

I don’t know of a sport where more there is more of a correlation to HR than Major League Baseball. Think about what MLB does as compared to our daily jobs as HR Pros across the country:

Baseball is like one giant HR laboratory

  • No one does more analysis and assessments before hiring (drafting) than the MLB.
  • No one has a larger succession plan in place than the MLB (minor leagues).
  • Pay for Performance compensation (Ok, I’ll give you a pitcher who has a 9-13 record and a 5.79 ERA should not get paid $5.6 million per year – but we all have our market).
  • Constant employee motivation and leadership development – Employee Relations Issue (hitters in an 0-21 slump at the plate, Manager calls him out in the newspaper, etc.)

You get the picture; MLB is like one giant HR laboratory, but with an unending budget and a heck of lot more Dominicans than your average U.S. workplace.

The one thing I wonder is how long we (HR/talent professionals) would have our job if we had the same success rates in selection as our MLB counterparts?

There are up to 50 rounds each year in the Major League draft – and a MLB team can sign as many free agents (those who didn’t get drafted or no longer have their rights held by another team) as they want. In the end the failure rate of selection is astronomically high. From a Sports Illustrated article in 2010:

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Major league teams selected 436 high school players after the 13th round. Only nine of those kids signed a contract that year and eventually made it to the big leagues — a 98 percent failure rate. After Round 26, teams selected 213 high school players, only one of whom, Victor Diaz, an outfielder who appeared in 147 games for the Mets and Rangers, played even a day in the big leagues — a 99.5 percent failure rate…

3 lessons from the MLB’s selection process

Can you imagine a 99.5 percent failure rate in hiring in your organization? You would have your job for about 26 minutes!

If you think you have a hard time assessing talent, the folks working for MLB teams, it would seem, could use some help from some HR Pros and assessment vendors in revamping their selection process, because something isn’t working right – and you thought the athletes weren’t held accountable!

There are good lessons to learn from their failure of MLB’s selection science (or should I say lack of selection science):

  1. Don’t get caught up in the hype. What happens when 13 old guys stand outside the fence watching some 17 year-old kid throwing 91 mph fastballs? They all lose their minds, and HR folks aren’t much different. Have you been to a college career fair for hard to find grads? Just because they have one skill doesn’t make them a star, and even if they have more, they might not be the fit for your “team.”
  2. Past performance doesn’t always predict future performance. Oh, that one stings a bit. It’s definitely one major criteria to look at, but it doesn’t always ring true, because many factors come into play – culture of the previous organization, former leadership, position, industry, etc.
  3. Don’t overlook small town, small school kids. It’s easy to pick up great business hires from Harvard. But what about one from Northern Iowa? Not every kid who goes to an Ivy League school is going to be great, and not every kid going to B and C level business schools are idiots, either.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


3 Comments on “Why Major League Baseball is Like a Big HR Lab – 3 Lessons to Remember

  1. Moneyball : The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. This book is a diamond in the rough on how to be an effective business partner in HR. I’m guessing you are a fan of this book Mr. Sackett.

  2. Great article, Tim. As an HR Pro and a fan of Pro baseball, like your analysis. I’ll share with my network. And you aren’t the only one glad to be watching baseball again. It helps when your team (Rangers in my case) jump out to a great start. Keep sharing.



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