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Are Judges & Stews Biased For the Big Barns & the Chalk?

Good morning everyone.

Tobias Moskowitz is a Yale professor, and he's looked at some interesting data about bias in pro sports officiating.

In general, he's concluded that there is a bias towards primarily the home team, but also for other teams when they're the team that's expected to win, or a subtle bias for a team that a league might want to win a game.

One famous way this was illustrated was in major league baseball. Historically, for the home team, strikes and balls were called differently at crunch time. The home team had an edge, both hitting and pitching, and this subtle difference resulted in an extra 7.3 runs per season. This might not sound like much, but home teams outscore visitors by about 10.5 runs per season. In effect, he concludes about 70% of the home field advantage can be explained by the home plate umpire's bias.

Technology changed a lot of this of course, although it proved a supposition at the same time. Questec - the ball and strike technology used that we see on television now - was used quietly and behind the scenes for a period at some ballparks for some games. Umpires who knew the technology was being used cleaned up their bias; the next game, in a different park, the bias was back.

When we saw the Patriots get flagged for only one nondescript penalty against the Jaguars while the Jags got penalized six times (one of them a less than clear cut game changer PI), we saw twitter light up like a Christmas tree. It's easy to be conspiracy minded, because, well, the data shows that game would likely be officiated with bias - Super Bowl ratings could be down with an underdog Jags win (the officials don't want to rock that boat) and it's the home team (the Jags themselves get this bias at home, so why not the Pats?).

I'm sure by now you think I have a tin foil hat on my head, but despite me egging on @gregreinhart on the twitter about his beloved Penguins, I never really remotely believed this stuff. I encourage you to read Moskowitz's work. He covers all major sports, and in all major sports he sees the exact same thing, and he provides a compelling case.

Switching over to racing, I can honestly say I have not seen a bias. I see people on twitter grumbling about the chalk being left up because taking him down would cause a riot, and the stews would be disappointing a lot of people. I see others grumble about horses from big barns being left up, because, well, they're from big barns.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we need to get the tin foil hat out.

If the Sword Dancer debacle a couple of years ago was a team-up, rabbit barn job by a 4% trainer with an owner like me or you, and not a high percentage trainer with stock from a massive breeder, do we get in trouble?

If mine or your Chuck Simon trained gelding wins a grade one race, and perhaps caused a foul, is he more likely pitched than a blue blooded stud for a big barn, where a grade one win can be worth an extra couple of million dollars at stud?

Is pitching a 90-1 shot because people have not bet much on him easier than a chalk?

With the absence of data (there should be data on this really, when we think of it) we'll never know. But from reading Moskowitz's conclusions across all other sports, human nature is human nature. It would not surprise me one bit if that's happening.  Maybe the yellers and screamers at simo centers and on social media have been right all along.

Have a great day everyone.


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