Birnbaum: Are umpires biased in favor of star pitchers?

From SABR member Phil Birnbaum at Sabermetric Research on January 18, 2015:

Are MLB umpires are biased in favor of All-Star pitchers? An academic study, released last spring, says they are. Authored by business professors Braden King and Jerry Kim, it’s called “Seeing Stars: Matthew Effects and Status Bias in Major League Baseball Umpiring.

“What Umpires Get Wrong” is the title of an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times where the authors summarize their study. Umps, they write, favor “higher status” pitchers when making ball/strike calls:

“Umpires tend to make errors in ways that favor players who have established themselves at the top of the game’s status hierarchy.”

But there’s nothing special about umpires, the authors say. In deferring to pitchers with high status, umps are just exhibiting an inherent unconscious bias that affects everyone:

” … our findings are also suggestive of the way that people in any sort of evaluative role — not just umpires — are unconsciously biased by simple ‘status characteristics.’ Even constant monitoring and incentives can fail to train such biases out of us.”

Well … as sympathetic as I am to the authors’ argument about status bias in regular life, I have to disagree that the study supports their conclusion in any meaningful way.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: January 18, 2015. Last Updated: January 18, 2015.