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2011 Archives

Study shows white favoritism by major league umpires

Cox Financial Economist Johan Sulaeman analyzed 3.5 million pitches

Johan Sulaeman of SMU's Cox School of Business
Johan Sulaeman

September 15, 2011

When it comes to Major League Baseball's pitchers, the more strikes, the better. But what if white umpires call strikes more often for white pitchers than for minority pitchers?

New research findings provide an answer. Analysis of 3.5 million pitches from 2004 to 2008 found that minority pitchers scale back their performance to overcome racial/ethnic favoritism toward whites by MLB home plate umpires, said economist Johan Sulaeman, a financial economist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a study author.

The study found that minority pitchers reacted to umpire bias by playing it safe with the pitches they throw in a way that actually harmed their performance and statistics, said Sulaeman, a labor and discrimination expert.

Specifically, minority pitchers limited the umpires' discretion to call their pitch a "ball" by throwing squarely across the plate in the strike zone more often. Unfortunately for the pitcher, such throws are also easier for batters to hit.

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