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Monday, July 31, 2006

SR: Birnbaum: Are pitchers from the South too politically correct to hit black batters?

“Southern man when will you pay them back?”

Are pitchers from the South too genteel to plunk black batters? Maybe.

In this academic study posted at the Retrosheet research page (and filled with psychological jargon about “social identity,” “hostile attributional bias,” and such), author Thomas A. Timmerman studies a few decades worth of Retrosheet HBP data and finds some anomalies among Southern-born pitchers.

...So black batters are treated very, very nicely by Southern pitchers. Timmerman suggests the southerners are motivated by a stronger desire not to appear racist. Or, he says, perhaps it’s that pitchers from the South are afraid of blacks, and worry that they’ll charge the mound if hit. Personally, I think the first explanation is more likely.

 

Repoz Posted: July 31, 2006 at 12:05 PM | 27 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Chris Dial Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:11 PM (#2119395)
Tom Timmerman? Any kin to Bob?
   2. Eraser-X is emphatically dominating teh site!!! Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:11 PM (#2119397)
Very interesting research. Regardless the explanation, certainly valuable in advancing understanding of the dynamics of race in the game.

The study not only suggested that Southerns were less likely to hit African Americans, but that non-Southern whites were more likely to hit African Americans than other ethnicities of hitters in "justifiable situations". So it's important to note that it's not just a difference between Southerners and "normal" people, but that non-Southerns actually target African Americans MORE often than other ethnicities.

This could also fit with the "desire to not appear racist" as non-Southerns might be more convinced of their own lack of racism, allowing them to feel more comfortable justifying racially desperant behavior.

This is particularly important as the researcher notes that this is not a baseball-specific dynamic, but rather a case where baseball supports general societal racial research and theory.

It'd be interesting to perform similiar studies in NPB.
   3. Eraser-X is emphatically dominating teh site!!! Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:18 PM (#2119402)
Finally, I found the headline of the blog fascinating. Written as is, "Too PC" implies that the normal, "non-PC" behavior is to disproportionately hit black batters.

This is one of the most interesting aspects of the framing of social behavior as "too PC"--often it seems to be used to justify or promote racially inequitable behavior.
   4. Mister High Standards Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:22 PM (#2119404)
Shocking eraser-x found time to comment on a race related thread. Intresting enough this time the thread actually has something to do with race.
   5. gef, talking mongoose & vexatious litigant Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:30 PM (#2119414)
tom timmerman hit 15 batters in a 6-year career. not sure of his victims' racial profiles ...
   6. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:52 PM (#2119431)
Agreed with Eraser-X that this blogpost oddly covers only one-half of the findings related to racism. From the original article:
Figure 1 shows that southerners were much more likely to hit a player in the plate appearance
following a homerun, but only if the batter was White. In fact, estimated marginal means show
that White batters were 55% more likely to be hit by a southerner if the previous batter hit a
homerun. African-American batters, on the other hand, were approximately 4% less likely to be
hit and Latino batters were 5% less likely to be hit in the same situation. When the pitcher was
not born in the South, White and Latino batters were 13% and 14% more likely to be hit,
respectively, if the previous batter hit a homerun. African-American batters on the other hand,
were 30% more likely to be hit in this situation by pitchers not born in the South.

Figure 2 shows a similar pattern when the batter hit a homerun in his previous plate
appearance. Specifically, White batters were 50% more likely to be hit by a southerner after they
hit a homerun. African-American batters were 10% more likely to be hit and Latino batters were
5% less likely to be hit by southerners in this situation. When the pitcher was not born in the
South, White and Latino batters were less likely to be hit (5% and 29%, respectively) after they
hit a homerun. African-American batters, on the other hand, were 40% more likely to be hit in
this situation by pitchers not born in the South.
Basically, there should be two questions here, not one:

a) why are pitchers from the South more likely to aggress against non-African-American batters?
b) why are pitchers not from the South more likely to aggress against African-American batters?

I think Birnbaum's post badly misses the point in asking only question (a) and not question (b). I honestly don't have a hypothesis beyond the pulling-out-of-my-ass method, though E-X's theory that non-Southern players believe themselves not to be racist and have less of a check on their behavior sounds reasonable to me. Given that, though, the disparity in the Southern pitcher data is fascinating.

(The author also found that while African-American batters were more likely to be hit overall, this tendency was because of data from the 50s and 60s, and it dissipates in the following decades. So, basically, effect (a) and effect (b) even each other out over the full sample.)
   7. Traderdave Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:54 PM (#2119434)
Born in the South isn't necessarily Southern. I was born in Louisiana and nobody would ever consider me Southern at all. In fact I often express dislike for the South.
   8. 185/456(GGC) Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:56 PM (#2119436)
Shocking eraser-x found time to comment on a race related thread. Intresting enough this time the thread actually has something to do with race.


Well that's his bailiwick. CBW posts with the perspective of a pitcher.
   9. Mister High Standards Posted: July 31, 2006 at 01:58 PM (#2119437)
Well that's his bailiwick. CBW posts with the perspective of a pitcher.


One of which is about baseball, one of which is about his personal agenda. One has a place on a baseball site, the other well I'll leave for the readers to judge.
   10. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: July 31, 2006 at 02:05 PM (#2119443)
One of which is about baseball, one of which is about his personal agenda. One has a place on a baseball site, the other well I'll leave for the readers to judge.
The linked article is very specifically about how racial issues play out on the baseball field. The implication is certainly that race and baseball are intertwined.

What makes BTF great, to me, is that we can have these discussions about cultural impact of baseball and about the impact of our culture on baseball, as well as discussions about Manny Delcarmen's thumb injury and plus(?) curveball and minor league equivalencies. Without all of that, it's a far weaker website.

If you disagree, that's all right, but I'd rather if the discussion about whether we should be having this discussion could get sidelined. Because the Timmerman's article is absolutely great work, and I'm quite excited to see what other people think of it.
   11. Mister High Standards Posted: July 31, 2006 at 02:18 PM (#2119452)
The linked article is very specifically about how racial issues play out on the baseball field.


MCOA - I completely agree. His points were fair and spot on in this thread. I have no issue with those.
   12. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: July 31, 2006 at 02:43 PM (#2119480)
we can have these discussions about cultural impact of baseball and about the impact of our culture on baseball, as well as discussions about Manny Delcarmen's thumb injury

and how it affects Frank Tanana
   13. Passed Ball Posted: July 31, 2006 at 02:48 PM (#2119488)
Is there "charging the mound" data?
   14. Swedish Chef Posted: July 31, 2006 at 02:53 PM (#2119495)
I don't like this study, statistically. All correlations are significant, it says, because of the huge sample size. But when you look at it there aren't, for example, more than a couple of hundred instances of a batter being hit by a pitch after a home run (1.9% of the total # of HBP). And about 29% of that is black batters, and 25% by southern pitchers. About 7,5 % (they're pretty independent variables) of the total number HBP:s after a home run of which there already are pretty few in the study.

So, the right point of the diagram (why the hell do you draw a diagram when you got two data points?), is based on a very rare occurence, I would guess there is about 30 HBP on black players by southern pitchers and about 90 by non-southern pitchers after a HR(my omission is because these numbers aren't in the paper, why not?).

This is flimsy ground to build your house of cards on.
   15. Phil Birnbaum Posted: July 31, 2006 at 02:57 PM (#2119499)
Matt Clement of Alexandria,

Agree with you on point #6, that I should have also mentioned that non-Southern pitchers show the opposite effect, hitting blacks more than expected instead of less. It does follow from the facts that (a) there was no overall race effect, and (b) the southern pitchers hit fewer blacks than expected. But I should have mentioned it explicitly.

My thinking when I wrote the post was that I was unconvinced that the study actually showed that there was no overall race effect. For instance, suppose OPS doesn't properly capture the types of batters who get hit? For instance, maybe it's *power* hitters that attract beanballs more than singles hitters, and black players are overweighted among power hitters. The study might then show that Northerners hit blacks more than they should, when they're actually hitting them in proportion to their power. I don't know if this is true, but it's as plausible as racism, isn't it?

And, for the "hitter after the home run" case, the study didn't consider that black players might be overweighted here too. Homers are hit disproportionately, say, by the number 3, 4, and 5 hitters. The following batters are numbers 4, 5, and 6. Are these more likely to be black? I don't know that either, but the study didn't check.

So I'm not convinced that blacks are getting hit more than they "should" by the non-southern pitchers -- I don't think the study is strong enough to show that.

But I DO think the study is strong enough to show a huge difference between Southern and non-Southern pitchers, even if it's not convincing enough to show a difference between black and white hitters.

On hitters, it's possible that the imprecision of the study goes the other way -- that *whites* hit with more power, not blacks, and therefore Blacks are getting a really raw deal even though the study doesn't find it.

So there are three theories:

1. Northerners hit blacks appropriately, but Southerners hit them less because they don't want to be seen as racist.

2. Southerners hit blacks appropriately, but Northerners hit them more because they're racist.

3. Northerners hit blacks more than they should because they're racist -- Southerners hit them less because they are afraid to be seen as racist.

I don't think the study is strong enough to distinguish among these three possibilities. #1 seems most plausible to me, as I mentioned in the post. And I intuitively don't believe there can be that much racism in baseball, even unconscious racism.
   16. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: July 31, 2006 at 03:11 PM (#2119511)
Thanks for the response, Phil.

I am not a statistician, so maybe that's the base issue here, but I'm having trouble disentangling two of your statements:
1) It does follow from the facts that (a) there was no overall race effect, and (b) the southern pitchers hit fewer blacks than expected.

2) So I'm not convinced that blacks are getting hit more than they "should" by the non-southern pitchers -- I don't think the study is strong enough to show that. But I DO think the study is strong enough to show a huge difference between Southern and non-Southern pitchers, even if it's not convincing enough to show a difference between black and white hitters.
That there's no overall race effect in recent decades seems to be one of the strongest conclusions of the article, based on a huge chunk of data. Given that, it seems unlikely that there could be a Southerners-don't-hit-blacks effect of any particular magnitude that wasn't balanced out by its complement.
   17. Phil Birnbaum Posted: July 31, 2006 at 03:22 PM (#2119526)
Hi, Matt,

re: post 16:

In (1), I mean there was no overall race effect *found by the study*. I am arguing that this is not conclusive, and there still may be a race effect, or there might not. My intuition says that there is a race effect *in favor of blacks*, that the study didn't find because, among possible other reasons, it used OPS as a measure of which players "should" get plunked, and OPS isn't that great a predictor.

That is, you write, "That there's no overall race effect in recent decades seems to be one of the strongest conclusions of the article, based on a huge chunk of data." I disagree. I don't think that's a strong conclusion of the study, because of the methodology used.

(Further to that, if batters are getting hit because they previously hit a home run, shouldn't *home run rate* be included in the study? But I digress.)

I agree with you completely that because the study found an overall zero effect, the southern pitchers are balanced entirely by the northern pitchers. But I argue that the "real" zero point is not necessarily in between the two.

Does that make sense?

Phil
   18. Swedish Chef Posted: July 31, 2006 at 03:24 PM (#2119531)
This study needs some error bars.
   19. Swedish Chef Posted: July 31, 2006 at 03:41 PM (#2119562)
Notice how close together the "curves" (####### two point diagrams) are at the left side of the diagrams, thats because you got are fairly robust set of HBP data there (all HBP by pitcher regionality-batter ethnicity, except for current game situation), at the right side you have shrunk your data set to a fiftieth or so of the original size (just the current game situation), and when you do this you see some variation but it's just noise, that's what you are debating, noise, the sample size is tiny there.
   20. Phil Birnbaum Posted: July 31, 2006 at 04:05 PM (#2119604)
Hi, Dan Ugglas #1 Fan (Swedish Chef),

He's still got statistical significance, even with the small sample size.

But you have a point. If the sample is small enough, it could be just one or two pitchers causing the entire effect.
   21. Phil Birnbaum Posted: July 31, 2006 at 05:07 PM (#2119704)
I'll probably post a follow-up on my blog tomorrow, mentioning some of the comments here (especially Swedish Chef's comments about sample size -- that's a huge deal, and I hadn't noticed the samples were so small).

If that's not proper blog etiquette, please let me know.
   22. Bob T Posted: July 31, 2006 at 08:26 PM (#2120127)
For the record, my name isn't spelled like the author of this study nor is the former Detroit/Cleveland pitcher.
   23. Eraser-X is emphatically dominating teh site!!! Posted: July 31, 2006 at 09:13 PM (#2120257)
Thanks for pointing out the sample size issue, Swedish Chef.

Let's remember that often someone will appear to "bring up race" simply because they have a different racial perspective what the conversation is currently.

You need to take that into account, otherwise you are going to disproportionately harrass the posters with a minority viewpoint. In most of the threads on race, someone else starts by saying, "Of course race has nothing to do with this!"

Why don't you follow them around accusing them of race-baiting, instead of chatising others for responding?
   24. Eraser-X is emphatically dominating teh site!!! Posted: July 31, 2006 at 09:20 PM (#2120278)
Mr. Birnbaum, I can't speak for everyone, but general etiquette says that long as you give some mild props, you can use whatever you want.

Thanks for bringing this study to our attention.
   25. Swedish Chef Posted: July 31, 2006 at 09:40 PM (#2120333)
Thanks for pointing out the sample size issue, Swedish Chef.

I got a bit mad at the sloppiness in the presentation. :-)

Not that I think that this is a good way to find racism (it is largely absent in this data, even though we know it is present in society...).
   26. _ Posted: July 31, 2006 at 09:59 PM (#2120376)
Is Phil Birnbaum Canadian? That would figure. Canadians are 22% more likely to undertake a study like this.
   27. timmemant Posted: August 01, 2006 at 02:50 PM (#2121350)
Phil's update alerted me to this thread (I've always wanted to be the subject of a thread on BTF!). A couple of comments. I was concerned about sample size as well, but, as Phil noted, I still get the almighty statistical significance. The other thing that convinces me that the right side of the figures is due to more than noise is that the results are very similar across three pretty different situations. In all three situations, it looks like the "normal" reaction by non-southerners is to target blacks more often. For whatever reason, southerners are less likely to target blacks, but more likely to target whites. I'm working on an update with the most recently available retrodata. The other pressing matter: I'm only a one 'n' Timmerman. Bob and Tom are two 'n' Timmermanns.

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