The Effects of Changing Teams on the Performance of Major League Baseball Players

By Nicholson, Craig; McTeer, William et al. | Journal of Sport Behavior, March 1998 | Go to article overview

The Effects of Changing Teams on the Performance of Major League Baseball Players


Nicholson, Craig, McTeer, William, White, Philip, Journal of Sport Behavior


The present study examines the effects of changing teams on the performance of major league baseball players. As established in previous research on professional hockey players (White, McTeer & Vagi, 1991) and also in earlier work on professional baseball players (Bateman, Karwan and Kazee, 1983; Jackson, Buglione & Glenwick, 1988), there is some evidence that the performances of players tend to improve following a trade made during the course of a season. Trades made between seasons seem to have a lesser impact on the performances of baseball players (Bateman, et al., 1983). The purpose of the current study is to both replicate and expand upon the existing research by (a) examining the effects of different types of movement of baseball players between teams (mid-season trades vs. between-season trades vs. movement of free agents), (b) extending the investigation to both pitchers and batters, and (c) broadening the time frame of study to include performance data from 1970 to 1989.

Theoretical Arguments

This paper takes as its point of departure the literature on the effects of employee job transfer on job performance (see, for example, Brett, 1980; Pinder, 1981). A good proportion of this literature has used professional sport franchises as the empirical basis for research because their organizational records include various measures of team and employee performance. The records of sport organizations also confer the added advantage of providing job performance comparability because when employees (i.e., players) move between organizations their jobs are invariably similar and carry the same expectations. For example, an established outfielder and power hitter would not usually be expected to play second base and hit for average on joining a new team.

As Bateman et al. (1983) suggest: "When a baseball player is traded to a new team, the move represents an incident of the more general concept of career transition to a new location and employment environment" (p. 517). While the process of relocation can be potentially disruptive for employees and their families (Pinder, 1981), it has also been suggested that job transfer can have a positive effect on motivation. Although a player may move between teams for reasons not related to performance (e.g., a team may wish to reduce its payroll by divesting itself of a player who is being paid a high salary), it is plausible that players who are more productive are less likely to be traded than less productive players.

On a psychological level, players may respond in different ways to being traded. On the one hand, they may feel rejected by the organization that traded them leading them to question their abilities and to perhaps suffer an erosion of self-confidence and motivation. On the other hand, they may psychologically frame the trade as evidence that their skills are valued by the organization to which they had been traded and respond with feelings of enhanced confidence and determination to justify the faith placed in them by the owners, managers and coaches of their new team. In terms of the latter, more positive, scenario, it has been suggested that a move to a new work environment might stimulate levels of psychological activation because there are new challenges to address and uncertainties to be accommodated (see Pinder, 1981). Bateman et al. (1983) suggest that raised activation levels may generate heightened levels of achievement motivation toward job performance.

In a related line of reasoning, White et al. (1991) used attribution theory as a framework for explaining performance variations during job transfer. For example, underperformance tends to be attributed to environmental factors and not to ability or level of effort.(1) Moreover, once this type of causal attribution is established, it can also become self-fulfilling (see Weiner, 1985). If a player believes that something in his environment, such as incompatible teammates or an unsympathetic coach, is inhibiting his performance, he might let that stimulus further affect his performance.

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