Research / BFI Working PaperDec 26, 2022

Nothing Propinks Like Propinquity: Using Machine Learning to Estimate the Effects of Spatial Proximity in the Major League Baseball Draft

Majid Ahmadi, Nathan Durst, Jeff Lachman, John List, Mason List, Noah List, Atom T. Vayalinkal

Recent models and empirical work on network formation emphasize the importance of propinquity in producing strong interpersonal connections. Yet, one might wonder how deep such insights run, as thus far empirical results rely on survey and lab-based evidence. In this study, we examine propinquity in a high-stakes setting of talent allocation: the Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft from 2000-2019 (30,000 players were drafted from a player pool of more than a million potential draftees). Our findings can be summarized in four parts. First, propinquity is alive and well in our setting, and spans even the latter years of our sample, when higher-level statistical exercises have become the norm rather than the exception. Second, the measured effect size is consequential, as MLB clubs pay a significant opportunity cost in terms of inferior talent acquired due to propinquity bias: for example, their draft picks are 38% less likely to ever play a MLB game relative to players drafted without propinquity bias. Third, those players who benefit from propinquity bias fare better both in terms of the timing of their draft picks and their initial financial contract, conditional on draft order. Finally, the effect is found to be the most pronounced in later rounds of the draft, where the Scouting Director has the greatest latitude.

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