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According to a new study from Monmouth University, climate change could negatively impact America’s favorite pastime. Professor of Economics Eric Fesselmeyer analyzed 18,907 Major League Baseball (MLB) games and found that when temperatures were above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, umpires were more likely to make call pitches incorrectly. Fesselmeyer is still investigating how heat impacts pitch-calling, but one thing is for sure: baseball fans everywhere may see the game change for good.
Why This Matters: It’s easy to think of climate change as big events like wildfires, hurricanes, and drought. But many may not realize the small ways that climate change is sneaking its way into our daily lives.
Baseball is now the latest victim of rapidly rising temperatures. In 2020, MLB pulled in $3.66 billion and employed thousands of people. Any threat to the integrity of baseball impacts not only fan enjoyment but also the billion-dollar baseball industry and the livelihoods of thousands. Fesselmeyer says his findings have implications beyond baseball and that worker performance could be negatively affected by heat in other sectors, including agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.
Changing the Game: Fesselmeyer’s examination found that pitch-calling accuracy suffered at low and high temperatures but suffered the most above 95 degrees.
Pitch-calling was 86.3% accurate below 50 degrees, 86.4% between 50 and 60 degrees, and 86.6% between 70 and 80 degrees.
Temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees saw the most accurate calls, with 86.9% accuracy. Accuracy then fell to 86.5% between 90 and 95 degrees and 85.9% above 95.
Although these changes seem small, Fesselmeyer says they’re significant enough to change the game. “The drop in accuracy may seem small, but it is nontrivial for this high-revenue, high-stakes industry,” he said. “Moreover, high temperatures cause an even greater decrease in accuracy on close call pitches along the edges of the strike zone.”
Fessselmeyer investigated other factors that could cause these disparities. He hypothesized that umpires might be calling pitches differently to shorten games in uncomfortable heat, but he ruled that possibility upon further analysis. He also found that factors like experience level, workloads and age of umpires, game attendance and duration, and weather conditions didn’t impact the way umpires called pitches in hot temperatures.
Automated pitch-calling is already in the works, and baseball experts say it could bring average accuracy up significantly. “MLB is indeed considering robo-umps, which would have the added benefit of eliminating the effect of high temperatures on pitch calling,” said Fesselmeyer. “But it is not clear whether the technology will be adopted because baseball purists prefer to preserve the human element in the game.”
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