Process Flexibility in Baseball: The Value of Positional Flexibility

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This paper introduces the formal study of process flexibility to the novel domain of sports analytics. In baseball, positional flexibility is the analogous concept to process flexibility from manufacturing. We study the flexibility of players (plants) on a baseball team who produce innings-played at different positions (products). We develop models and metrics to evaluate expected and worst-case performance under injury risk (capacity uncertainty) with continuous player-position capabilities. Using Major League Baseball data, we quantify the impact of flexibility on team and individual performance and explore the player chains that arise when injuries occur. We discover that top teams can attribute at least one to two wins per season to flexibility alone, generally as a result of long subchains in the infield or outfield. The least robust teams to worst-case injury, those whose performance is driven by one or two star players, are over four times as fragile as the most robust teams. We evaluate several aspects of individual flexibility, such as how much value individual players bring to their team in terms of average and worst-case performance. Finally, we demonstrate the generalizability of our framework for player evaluation by quantifying the value of potential free agent additions and uncovering the true “MVP” of a team.

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This paper was accepted by Vishal Gaur, operations management.

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