Keep Your Eye on the Game: The Impact of Distraction and Scoreboard Watching during Major League Baseball Playoff Races
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This study examines 11 years and 26,370 of Major League Baseball’s (i.e., MLB) game outcomes to test whether distraction, through scoreboard watching, causes teams to choke under pressure. Results indicate that scoreboard watching significantly impacts the probability of winning a game, especially in playoff races. Specifically, teams in a playoff race had a 0.158 lower probability of winning games when the division leader won its game the previous day. Consistent with distraction theory, the analysis also shows that the distraction effects are 0.224 greater on home teams. There is evidence of increased distraction as criticality of games increase. When there are fewer than 10 games remaining in a playoff race, the impact of a division leader win reduces a team’s win probability by 0.243. Changes to league structure reduced win probability by 0.039 for seasons starting in 2012. This involved the addition of a Wild Card team to each league and an increase to the value of winning a division. This study helps fill a gap in the literature in relation to research on external factors and their impact on game outcomes. If a team can account for factors related to winning a game then it could be possible to gain a competitive advantage over the opposition. The findings also have practical applications. MLB teams can take initiatives to eliminate distraction and keep players’ attention on the task at hand surrounding critical games.