Calling Attention to Umpires’ Inattention

New Research Shows Tough Calls Use Up Mental Resources—But Rests Help

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July 8, 2021 Annie Dankelson

If you’ve ever watched a baseball umpire whiff on a call and wondered “Is this guy even paying attention?!,” new research led by a University of Maryland expert suggests you might be on to something.

Just as pitchers might run out of gas, umps tend to use up available attention throughout the nine innings, allocating more as the stakes get higher, according to a working paper from Assistant Professor James Archsmith in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Along with co-authors Anthony Heyes of the University of Ottawa and Matthew J. Neidell and Bhaven N. Sampat of Columbia University, he analyzed millions of decisions made by home-plate umpires in more than 26,000 Major League Baseball games to determine how effort exerted on earlier ball or strike calls impacted later ones.

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