Friday, April 16, 2010

Three Final Points about Race Biases in Baseball

Is Jermaine Dye a decent example of a player that might have been affected by race biases in baseball? I think so, and especially so this year.

I would characterize Dye as an aging, defensively challenged corner outfielder who can still mash. This year, there were three other players on the market who have that same skill set: Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, and Vladimir Guerrero. Let’s just quickly draw up the most relevant facts about each:

Dye – 35 years old, 793 OPS in 2009 & UZR was -20,
Abreu – 35 year old, 825 OPS in 2009 & UZR was -11 (signed for $19M/2 years)
Matsui – 35 years old, 876 OPS in 2009 & he really only played DH (signed for $6M/1 year)
Guerrero – 34 years old, 794 OPS in 2009 & her really only played DH (signed for $6.5M/1 year)

Dye has two characteristic that I thought made him more like Abreu than Matsui and Guerrero: he’s stayed healthy and he’s stayed in the outfield. The two are related, by the way. Both Matsui and Guerrero were just as shaky in the outfield as Dye, but what really moved them to DH is that they couldn’t stay healthy out there. Dye remains an option in the outfield, or at least he and his agent thought so.

But there aren’t huge differences between these guys, and I can understand and respect others opinions. I suspect it is the same in GM offices. They look at these four guys, and if they need that type of player, they give the offer to whichever one their gut tells them they like best.

Of course, that’s where an unconscious bias might play a role. “I’ve always like Guerrero’s makeup”, one assistant GM will say, and everyone else will nod. And for some reason, he didn’t say “I’ve always liked Dye’s makeup.” Not because he disliked Dye, but just because he never thought of him quite the same way as he thought of Guerrero, for whatever reason.

On the other hand, if you’re a GM, and any of those guys look good, maybe you’re willing to sign the guy that says “yes” at the price you want. There is ample evidence that guy repeatedly wasn’t Dye, so maybe he and his agent are the victims of their own bad driving. We can’t tell, but I’m personally puzzled why Dye was ultimately valued lower in the market than these other guys. And I don't think it's crazy to think an unconscious race bias could have been a subtle contributing factor.

~~~~

And while we’re taking a look at the free agency market, anyone want to guess who was the top free agent second baseman in our Offseason GM Handbook? Yep. It was Orlando Hudson. But he certainly wasn’t the guy that signed the best contract. Think that might be in the back of his mind?

Orlando Hudson is a couple years younger than Placido Polanco, who signed a 3-year/ $18 million contract (compared to Hudson’s $5M/1 year deal). Of course, Polanco was able to sign that deal in part because he was moving to third base.

Mark DeRosa signed a 2-year/ $12 million deal with the Giants. He’s three years older than Hudson, had a lower OPS, doesn’t have a gold glove and was hurt a good chunk of last year. Of course, he’s also switching positions away from second base, moving to left field. So maybe in both of those cases it’s their arm strength that made them worth the extra years and millions.

The Giants also made a commitment to Freddy Sanchez, who they paid $12 million over two years to not be a free agent. He is Hudson’s age, and spent the end of last year not playing because of knee problems.

Hudson didn’t necessarily get a raw deal this year. And there was plenty of rumors that indicated that he and his agent needed to adjust their market expectations, which Dye apparently needed to do too. But I find it interesting that Hudson himself might be looking at the free agent market from last year and wonder how MLB teams were evaluating him lower than some other players. And what might have caused it.

~~~~

OK, follow my math here…

According to Major League Baseball, 73% of all major leaguers are American born. And it's my understanding that 12% of the US population is black. So 12% of that 73% should be black if African-Americans are to be fairly represented by major league baseball players. 12% of 73% is 8.8%.

But according to the stories I read yesterday, 10% of major league rosters are black players. So doesn’t this mean that black are overrepresented on major league baseball rosters? Is this really a problem?

25 comments:

SoCalTwinsfan said...

So now every race is being valued higher over blacks? Not just whites, but Asians and Latinos as well? I also find it interesting that the first GM to say no to Dye was Kenny Williams, who is black. The thing with the comparables is that two of them are left-handed and the Angels signed them to help their right-handed heavy lineup. Their only other left-handed power is switch-hitter Kendry Morales. And the Angels are the last team to accuse of racial bias since their last three big signings of veteran free agents are Matsui, Abreu and Hunter.

Now, as for Vlad, he has just owned the Rangers over the years and has an OPS of over 1.100 at the Ballpark. Like we've seen with the Twins, teams will often overvalue a player in their own division who they see more often due to the unbalanced schedules. If you can't beat them, why not sign them?

Dye's biggest problem is he 's aging and he was just awful at the end of last season. He had a .590 OPS in the second half.

And don't forget, Orlando Hudson lost the starting second base job while with the Dodgers to Ronnie Belliard, which didn't help Hudson's value.

AK47 said...

I'm confused, are you saying white GMs and front-office people would have a race bias that favored Latinos? Because none of the players you mentioned in your comparison with Dye (Matsui, Abreu, and Guerrero) are white.

Also, only mentioning their production from last year is kind of a light treatment of the differences between these four players. For example, here are the career OPS for these four players:

Dye - .826
Matsui - .854
Abreu - .895
Guerrero - .954 (he missed 62 game last season)

Matsui and Abreu are strictly DHs. Abreu is still trying to play the field and not doing a terrible job, but is not great either, probably the most similar comparison to Dye, but the difference between a .895 OPS and a .826 OPS is significant...oh and Bobby Abreu stole 30 bags last year, something Dye can not do. Dye was 2nd to last in the league in UZR last year. I guess in my mind the evidence speaks for itself and says that Dye really doesn't compare favorably to any of these guys.

Like I said yesterday, I agree with you that we all have race bias, but you're talking about teams that are, for the most part, all trying to win baseball games. I mean Milton Bradley has a job for God sakes and he's one of the biggest clubhouse cancers out there. If that's not proof that 'you'll have a job if you can play' I don't know what is. A team is going to bring the talent that will help them win. Dye isn't that guy for the price he wants.

Nick N. said...

I'm confused, are you saying white GMs and front-office people would have a race bias that favored Latinos? Because none of the players you mentioned in your comparison with Dye (Matsui, Abreu, and Guerrero) are white.

That's exactly why this argument doesn't float with me.

greenmachine said...

"I'm confused, are you saying white GMs and front-office people would have a race bias that favored Latinos?"

"That's exactly why this argument doesn't float with me."

Why is it hard to imagine that a GM might have a racial bias that favors latino players over black players? Race isn't a fixed, absolute concept. Non-white people are capable of racial bias. I know of a palestinian convenience store owner who expressed prejudice towards his black customers. White people are capable of racial bias against "white" people: once upon a time a lot of European immigrants in the US held racial bias against Irish immigrants - at that time and place they were not really considered "white" (which obviously makes no sense to us now).

Research has shown that people are capable of holding a variety of racial hierarchies in our heads (often subconsciously). A GM could certainly carry less bias against Latino players than against African-American players. It's not like a person is either a racist (and automatically hates every person of a different skin color) or not.

Given the complex cultural currents and tensions around race, and given that there is no single official theory of racial hierarchy that prevails in the US (at this time), it follows that individuals and groups probably hold varying and sometimes contradictory subconscious racial preferences.

I'm not saying anything about the substance of the Geek's post; I'm just trying to address the idea that it's not conceivable for an individual to hold some bias against one racial group and no bias or less bias against another racial group. Unless you're a member of the KKK, it's probably not all or nothing.

Anonymous said...

"OK, follow my math here…

According to Major League Baseball, 73% of all major leaguers are American born. And it's my understanding that 12% of the US population is black. So 12% of that 73% should be black if African-Americans are to be fairly represented by major league baseball players. 12% of 73% is 8.8%.
But according to the stories I read yesterday, 10% of major league rosters are black players. So doesn’t this mean that black are overrepresented on major league baseball rosters? Is this really a problem? "

I follow the math, but have a question about the sources. With all the hype given to the 2010 Census (you may have seen a commercial or two), one of the things I've heard is difficulty in accurately capturing those of Caribbean descent. So does the 12% figure include those of African (through the Caribbean) descent? Does MLB (or those who summarize the players’ backgrounds) use the same category? The MLB sample size is small enough that I think a discrepancy between the two could make a big difference. Black players could make an even larger percentage than you mention or quite a bit smaller (validating O-Hud).

John said...

So does Twins Geek subscribe to the Torii Hunter theory that Vlad Guerrero is not black?

This idea of subconscious GM bias is ludicrous. Even the academics TG cites in his previous article don't believe it- they think white players are consciously preferred because it brings in more fans.

Twins Geek is the first Twins blog I read, oh so many years ago. But it's hard to respect someone's opinion after seeing garbage like this.

TT said...

"a lot of European immigrants in the US held racial bias against Irish immigrants"

My favorite line is from a journal by a logger in Northern Minnesota. Paraphrasing: "it was odd to be among no one else of my complexion and race. All the others being Swedes."

Geek - I suspect that 10% includes any Latin players who are black. The other problem is that you are comparing entire populations, rather than young men between the ages of 20 and 40. If I remember right, the older the population, the whiter it tends to be.

"it's hard to respect someone's opinion after seeing garbage like this."

I agree. But its your opinion that is garbage, so maybe you should just go away.

Sam Hell said...

In the rush to blame racism, common sense gets left behind. Recent performance would seem to be a reasonable way to predict an older player's future performance.
Post 2009 All-Star break OPS of the example players.

Abreu .798

Matsui .867 plus WS MVP

Guerrero .845

Dye .590

greenmachine said...

I don't know that anyone has stated a firm conclusion "blaming racism." The Geek concluded his first part saying "We can’t tell, but I’m personally puzzled why Dye was ultimately valued lower in the market than these other guys. And I don't think it's crazy to think an unconscious race bias could have been a subtle contributing factor."

Being "puzzled" and being willing to consider race as a "subtle contributing factor" seems like a pretty reasonable place to stand. Calling that kind of position "garbage" is a bit extreme.

I don't pretend that I have a good analysis or answer for racial bias in MLB contracts, but I'm glad the Geek took some time to think on it and share his thoughts. The merits of Orlando Hudson's implied argument are maybe not that strong, but race in sports is an issue area worth investigating and I thought the post here was an interesting and measured stab at it.

John H said...

Frankly, I'm tired of hearing about racism every time something doesn't go the way a black person wants. Sure there's racism in the world but no where near the degree we hear about. Also, it's mostly middle aged or older people that bring it up. Vlad is probably still a good player but who would want to pay him the money he wants. For instance is he worth 10% of the Twins payroll?

Nick N. said...

Why is it hard to imagine that a GM might have a racial bias that favors latino players over black players?

It's not hard to believe that a GM would have that bias. It's hard to believe that such a systematic bias exists across the league, which would seem to be Hudson's implication.

John H said...

Here's another take on Hudson's comments thank to that Lipgloss babe. Looks like a blogger from the Bitch Sox. http://www.wrongedmanout.blogspot.com/

I enjoyed her blog.

TT said...

Nick -

Systematic bias is the logical result of individual bias.

"Frankly, I'm tired of hearing about racism"

And frankly I am tired of hearing that racism no longer exists. Like holocaust denial, I think it tells you something about the person protesting. The possible existence of that which they deny is deeply threatening.

John said...

An argument that GM's preferred Guerrero to Dye because of race is definitely garbage. They are the same race. Any kind of subconscious bias would respond equally. Only a conscious bias could differentiate based on place of birth, though it's dubious to think anyone would care.

Who here is denying that racism exists? No one. People of all races and ethnicities have biases of various kinds. There is nothing "threatening" about that basic fact. The problem is that there is no evidence that MLB front offices are so afflicted.

David Wintheiser said...

"According to Major League Baseball, 73% of all major leaguers are American born. And it's my understanding that 12% of the US population is black. So 12% of that 73% should be black if African-Americans are to be fairly represented by major league baseball players. 12% of 73% is 8.8%.

"But according to the stories I read yesterday, 10% of major league rosters are black players. So doesn’t this mean that black are overrepresented on major league baseball rosters? Is this really a problem?"

Sometimes, leaving numbers as percentages overstates a case. Let's break this one down:

Let's first assume that the '73% of all major leaguers' and '10% of all major league rosters' are referring to the same universe of players. That universe would consist of 30 teams x 25 slots per team, or 750 players. (If '73% of all major leaguers' refers to everybody with major league service time in a given season, then that number is going to be larger than 750 players, and thus the two measures aren't really comparable.)

So 10% of major league rosters is 75 guys. The 8.8% that would seem to signify fair representation would mean 66 guys (750 x .088 = 66).

So the difference between the existing number of black players on MLB rosters and the hypothetical 'fair' number of black players is nine guys.

10% vs 8.8% sounds like a big difference, especially to a sabermetrically-inclined guy who's used to one or two percentage points being a big deal. But nine guys? Out of over 700? That seems like a non-issue to me.

AK47 said...

Like "Sam Hell" said, why do we have to complicate seemingly simple issue by over-thinking it?

At 35, Jermaine Dye is not very good at baseball, but wants to be paid as if he is. Nobody wants to pay that amount, so he's not playing. It is really that simple people. He's been offered short-term deals and not taken them. End of story.



"And frankly I am tired of hearing that racism no longer exists. Like holocaust denial, I think it tells you something about the person protesting. The possible existence of that which they deny is deeply threatening."

TT, have you ever considered that perhaps the reason racism is still even an issue in this country, is because people keep talking about it ALL. THE. TIME.?? If we all started 'doing' instead of 'talking' we wouldn't have to have endless arguments about whether racism is still an issue. To continue to talk about it is to continue to allow it to be in the forefront of our thinking whereas if we just treated one another with respect, it would cease to be an issue.

David Wintheiser said...

At the risk of feeding the troll:

"An argument that GM's preferred Guerrero to Dye because of race is definitely garbage."

Nobody here is making that argument but you, John.

TG's question is, what factors influenced the decisions of big-league GMs to offer Dye a smaller contract than other players? Related to this is the obvious follow-up, can we see this same effect with other players? And we do, with Hudson, which also may explain why Hudson had the issue on his mind even before he was asked about it.

Is race the only factor? Obviously not, since there's questions of handedness, career norms, roster needs, and other things that go into such a decision. But I think it's just as obvious to say that racial preference is a factor, since it informs a number of other decision points (character, work ethic, chemistry).

John said...

"But I think it's just as obvious to say that racial preference is a factor"

Well, you can think whatever you want. You can think the moon landings were faked or that the sky is purple. There is simply no evidence that race is a factor for MLB front offices. None at all.

Speculation without facts is rarely an accurate method of analysis.

greenmachine said...

"An argument that GM's preferred Guerrero to Dye because of race is definitely garbage. They are the same race. Any kind of subconscious bias would respond equally"

OK, so you perceive Guerrero and Dye to be the same race, but that doesn't mean that others necessarily do. Guerrero is a dark skinned latino man from the Dominican. Dye is a dark skinned African-American man from Oakland, California. Those categories/labels I use are not set in stone, but it gives you a sense of the kind of divisions that others may be encoding into a racialized perception.

Not that I liked Torii Hunter's comments earlier this year, but he made it pretty clear that he wouldn't see Guerrero and Dye as being the "same race." So it would follow that maybe more players and maybe some in front offices also don't see see them as being of the "same race."

moopdog said...

The percentage of blacks in the country vs. % in MLB is simplifying things a bit too much, methinks. What would be more helpful is looking at how many black players were in the bigs 10, 20, 30 years ago compared to now. Also, look at the % of players in the NFL, and, of course, the NBA- it does not mirror society at large whatsoever.

greenmachine said...

I want to recommend a couple links because, again, I think the discussion is interesting and worthwhile. These both come out of the Torii Hunter comments on race last month, but I think the offer some pretty useful perspective on the current topic:

Guest post on Joe Posnanski's blog by Adrian Burgos: http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2010/03/12/guest-post-oh-brother-where-are-thou/

MP3 audio interview between Dave Zirin and Andrian Burgos: http://www.edgeofsports.com/audio/media/03-19-10_segment3.mp3

Anonymous said...

TT wrote: "I suspect that 10% includes any Latin players who are black."

It does not. Caribbean players are classified as Hispanic by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, which is where these numbers come from. So, the aforementioned Guerrero, for example is not considered black by their standards.

walter hanson said...

You know a couple of things that still haven't been mentioned:

* Abreau got the contract in part because he has set a good example for the team. The Angels followed Bobby's lead to take pitches and become more discplined hitters.

* Val wasn't the only high price OF that the Angels got rid of. They also got rid of Gary Matthews Jr. who last time I looked was black.

* Aren't there other free agents who either didn't get contracts or had to accept a horrible contract. Johny Damon's contract with Detroit is a good example.

I think Orlando was using this racism to vent because he didn't get once again the contract he thought he deserved especially with people who he thinks he is better than.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

Anonymous said...

I am going to make comments right now that some folks might consider racist. I appologize if it is offensive. I am a white mid twenties male from the Twin Cities and realize that my life experiences don't necessarily make me an expert. This is just my opinion even though I state it like a fact. This opinion developed from personal experience and logic through my twenties as a student and professional.

Racism in America is not dead. However, this idea that racism is a barrier to success is no longer true and simply exists as an argument by prideful African Americans trying to explain how Asians, whites, Jewish, or even Middle Eastern folks can be generally having success while their population has not made the same progress. I mean it is a little bit true, but any individual can have success regardless of skin color. At worst it is a slight disadvantage or advantage to be black other than white. Now growing up with bad parenting in a crappy neighborhood is going to hurt you regardless of race. That is a big deal. Racists employers not hiring based on race is not a major issue.

In the US today, a black man can be President. That was true 3 years ago but 99% of African Americans didn't believe it. They were wrong as Obama won that thing by a landslide. The same truth is in other industries. If you are a hard working, good attitude, skilled man or woman in today's America your financial and job success probably will come given a titch of luck.

How you turn out job wise has almost nothing to do with your race. Many companies prefer to hire minorities to meet a quota and I can tell you first hand that a skilled minority that speaks the business version of English fluently is absolutely coveted. Talking inner city ebonics and slang or having a rough accent and poor english in general is a great barrier to business success but that is true any race of American. Sometimes that is confused with racism imo. Poor communication skills make you a less desireable employee.

In the MLB blacks are over represented compared to whites. It is maybe because African Americans have better physical genes as they relate to sports. I'm not sure and nothing is proven but it just seems that way. More power and speed generally. Not a huge edge, but enough to get them a slight over representation.

I'm tired of having to pretend crap exists that doesn't just because of political correctness. I write my opnions here on the internet because I can get away with it. I respect all races and think African Americans are great but they are currently lagging slightly behind in certain areas like education and career success, in industries other than sport obviously, and it isn't "our" fault anymore.

If I were to say this at work I'd be sitting in HR. Yet most of it is probably half true and hardly offensive if you said this type of thing about Asians or Whites. But in today's America everyone needs to be able to have an excuse and if you challenge that excuse you are an a-hole.

Anonymous said...

Dye is unemployed b/c he had a horrible second half and has a very poor understanding of what he's worth. He could have a job if he was willing to take 2 or 3M, but he wants 12, and he won't get it. This isn't racism, this is unrealistic expectations.