There’s a University of Texas study out now, done by an economist, that is claiming a subtle bias on the part of umpires in calling balls and strikes — this is similar to a recent study on NBA officials in that the researchers found that umps subconsciously call more strikes than balls for a pitcher of the same race. It only happens in about 1% of pitches thrown, but that one percent can make a lot of difference in how the pitcher approaches the hitter. The interesting bit is that technology can help take the subconscious out of the whole decision, according to Texas prof Daniel Hamermesh:
When a game’s attendance is particularly high, when the call is made on a full count or when ballparks use QuesTec, an electronic system that evaluates the accuracy of umpires’ calls after the game, the biased behavior disappeared, according to the study. “The umpires hate those [QuesTec] systems,” Hamermesh says. “When you’re going to be watched and have to pay more attention, you don’t subconsciously favor people like yourself. When discrimination has a price, you don’t observe it as much.” Right now, the QuesTec system is used in 11 of MLB’s 30 ballparks, mostly in the American League.
QuesTec may be a pain in the ass, but it’s definitely cut down on the favoritism call on the corner nibbling since its inception — ask Tom Glavine, who had to figure out new ways to get around this and get to 300 wins. Again, the study says the biases are ingrained and subconscious, so if you’re interested in combating that, why not use technology to monitor those kinds of calls in all sports, or at least develop technology to take some of the simpler calls off the plates of officials?