A controversial new study concludes minority pitchers hinder their own performance to overcome favoritism toward whites by Major League Baseball home plate umpires.
Johan Sulaeman, a financial economist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, helped author the study.
The report analyzed 3.5 million pitches at ballparks monitored by QuesTec, which accurately measures pitch placement, from 2004 to 2008. Results found minority pitchers dealt with umpire bias by playing it safe with pitches.
Science Daily reports the study showed minority pitchers threw the ball across the plate in the strike zone more often to limit umpires' chances of calling their pitch a ball.
Sulaeman says since most MLB umpires are white, the bias pushes minority pitchers performance down.
The researchers also found that umps favored pitchers of the same race only when the pitch won't terminate the batter's plate appearance.
Some weaker evidence says the bias is more among younger umpires.
The study says a racial match with the umpire helped a starting pitcher's performance by yielding less earned runs, fewer hits and home runs.
Since the minority pitcher's performance is negatively impacted by the favoritism of umpires, the researchers claim minority pitchers are underpaid relative to white pitchers by between $50,000 and $400,000 per season.
The study, "Strike Three: Discrimination, Incentives, and Evaluation," is published in the current issue of the scholarly journal The American Economic Review.
Here are more of the authors' conclusions, as reported in Science Daily:
*The direct effects on pitch outcomes are small. The indirect effect on players' strategies may have larger impacts on the outcomes of plate appearances and games.
*From the starting pitcher's perspective, a racial match with the umpire helped his statistics by yielding fewer earned runs, fewer hits and fewer home runs.
*Because the majority of umpires are white, teams with minority pitchers have a distinct disadvantage in non-monitored parks.
*In parks without QuesTec, pitchers of the same race threw pitches that allowed umpires the most discretion, apparently to maximize their advantage stemming from the umpires' favoritism.
*A batter who swings is less likely to get a hit when the umpire and pitcher match.
*Applying the effects of favoritism, and given that the average salary of starting pitchers in MLB was $4.8 million in 2006, the findings suggest minority pitchers were underpaid relative to white pitchers by between $50,000 and $400,000 a year.
"If a pitcher expects favoritism," the authors conclude, "he will incorporate this advantage into his strategy, perhaps throwing pitches that allow the umpire more discretion."