Why Second is Better, as in the Home Run Derby

This past Monday, eight of the greatest home run hitters in Major League Baseball took the stage in Cincinnati for the Gillette Home Run Derby. Featuring a new format with a clock and head-to-head competition, this derby had the most action and excitement since its outset. The night made for a great story as Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds—the hometown guy—won the title. In their bracket set-up, a total of seven head-to-head competitions took place, in which the guy who hit second won all but once. While one may argue that the reason for the second batters’ high success rates were due to those batters being higher seeds, we cannot neglect the power that comes with watching your competition.

Now, think about it. In this competition, all you need to win is to just get one more home run than your opponent. If you bat second, you know what number you need to hit in order to advance to the next round. As the four minutes wound down, each of the sluggers knew exactly how many more they had to hit, and therefore knew whether they needed to press or had time to relax and wait for their pitch. As those four minutes passed, the second batters’ stress levels fluctuated much more than the first batters’ did. The first batters were charged with hitting as many pitches as they could, while those who batted second had to hit a specific number to stay in the game.

In economics, this scenario is referred to as the “second-mover advantage,” which means that Company X just entering a market has an upper-hand over those already in the market because Company X has the all-seeing eye. Company X has watched the market develop and knows the strategies of every other company. Therefore, they can tailor their product to one-up every other product already in existence. The same is true in sport—if you know what your competitor has done, you know exactly what you need to do in order to beat them. You can now formulate a strategy with more knowledge than your opponent had. You now have a strategy your opponent didn’t have. You have the upper-hand.

The next time that you’re in a situation where you want to go first to just get it over with, like giving a presentation at school or playing a scrimmage at practice, volunteer to go second instead. That way, you’ll see what you’re up against and can devise the best way to come out on top, just like six of the seven rounds of the 2015 Home Run Derby.

To learn more about the business and economic side of the second-mover advantage, check out this post from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

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