Did prejudice hamper Greenberg?

Howard Megdal wrote a nice little piece for this Sunday’s New York Times, in which he analyzed Hank Greenberg’s walk rates in 1938, the year Greenberg threatened Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Megdal’s conclusion was that pitchers discriminated against the Jewish Greenberg by walking him more often in September. Megdal showed that Greenberg’s walk rate jumped in September more than the walk rate of Roger Maris or other players who later threatened (and broke) Ruth’s record.

But Doug Decatur’s blog (MLB Expert Analysis) also analyzed the same data earlier this year and came to a different conclusion. Why the difference? Because the folks at Decatur’s blog broke out walk rates by month and showed that Greenberg actually had higher walk rates in April and May. In other words, the rise in September walks could have been within a normal range of statistical fluctuation.

What’s more, Decatur’s blog looked at specific games and found that the increased walk rate was the result of walks in four specific games in the beginning of the month. His walk rate didn’t increase during the month.

So was anti-Semitism at play in 1938, and did it impact Greenberg’s final home run total? It seems to me that the best you can say is that the data is inconclusive.

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  1. Ian said...

    Greenberg himself dismissed the notion that he was pitched around due to anti-Semitism. It’s funny that people are still discussing it all these years later.

  2. Kampfer said...

    if I were the pitcher I would have pitched around him regardless of races. Who wants to be “the pitcher who gives up the record-tying(or breaking) homerun to Greenberg”?

  3. Devon Young said...

    First thing I did after reading that NY Times article a couple days ago, was to check Greenberg’s strikeout rate in September & pre-Sept. It was actually 1% higher in Sept. Now, maybe that’s coincidence, but if people aren’t throwing you strikes (so you can’t hit HR’s), you’re probably going to have less K’s per AB too. So the whole religious predjudice thing just doesn’t seem reasonable. It’s a non-story.

  4. mosho said...

    i’ve read noodle’s article in mlbexpertanalysis and i was impressed. noodle has a few other theories that don’t always fly according to baseball traditionalists but the math guys love. check out his stuff!

  5. Noodle said...

    Just look at the data. The spike in walks, if any, was early in the month when he only had 46 HRs and his chances of catching the Babe were remote.  Non-story indeed.

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