Improving MLB’s Replay System

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Once upon a time after the World Series, we heard that MLB was serious about implementing an expanded replay review system.  This was welcome news because MLB remained the only major North American sport that did not use replay for close calls or blown calls.  What we weren’t entirely sure of was how it would pan out.

Lou Piniella, Rob DrakeAround my birthday, MLB released the rules of expanded replay after unanimous approval by all MLB clubs.  The expanded replay would cover pretty much everything except for balls and strikes, and would also encourage some managers to seek advantage from the new rules in case his team could benefit from a reviewed play.  The replay system seemed to work fairly seamlessly when tested in select games during Spring Training, with most reviews completed within two minutes, which was significantly less time than a manager grousing and eventually getting ejected after kicking dirt on the umpire.

Here’s the problem, though…check out the way the rules are set up:

  • If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game. No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.
  • Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call. In that circumstance, the Crew Chief is not obligated to invoke instant replay if requested by the manager.

Plus, according to the rule as released, there is no time limit to a replay review.  This is unlike the NFL rule, which specifies a hard 60 second time limit (though I don’t always see this enforced, imagine that) for an official to determine a ruling; the other issue may be where the ball is spotted and the time on the clock, but you’d think that wouldn’t take forever!  

The last thing I thought of is that in the NFL, replays are initiated by the review official (an eye in the sky, if you will) rather than the officials on the field if there is any doubt in the call on the field.  This can be done at any time, not just after the two minute warning.

The “manager challenge” rule screwed the San Francisco Giants and Bruce Bochy the other day on a play that was obviously wrong but could not be challenged given the wording of the rule.  The “no limit” rule after the seventh inning basically allows managers to prolong the game at any point on any reviewable plays (even if correctly challenged), which happened to the Cubs in Pittsburgh last night.

Replay challenges: There were several, including a 4-minute, 40-second delay while looking at whether a pitch to Starling Marte hit him or the bat. It was initially ruled a foul ball and upheld, but the delays — including one in the 13th inning — added to the length of the already-extended game. However, the Cubs’ first run of the season came on a reversal, so they aren’t complaining.

I’m cool with getting the calls right, but using nearly five minutes to determine a call is stupid.  If it’s not immediately evident, just let the call stand, right?  But it’s not that simple if we’re trying not to be hypocritical; the point of replay review is to get as many calls as possible correct, and reduce the amount of error.  That means that we may have to suffer through lengthy replays, without allowing for the stress of a time limit to affect an official’s judgment.

I’m not sure if the quick reviews during spring training were the result of officials and managers not really caring and just testing out the system, but there should be some fixes to this system that may even be initiated in-season.  I believe that it would make sense to set a two-minute limit on replays, because it seems that one can get a pretty good idea of the result of the play given the amount of freeze frames and slow-mos that can be reviewed during that time.  Also, the rule as written does not have the words “indisputable evidence” and that could be another easy fix.  If you can’t figure it out within those two minutes, let the call on the field stand.  Most egregious blown calls are fairly evident and you can tell from one or two reviews how badly the umpire screwed up anyway.

The system should probably take away manager challenges and prevent the manager from even engaging the umpire to reduce delays, but that might not fly with managers.  The fact that MLB uses a central booth suggests that they can have a replay official buzz the umpires in each game and let them know that a review is pending.  I’m sure the umpire union wouldn’t mind having something like 15-30 new jobs in the command center to monitor every game (in case one official needs to take a potty break, you have a backup official to keep tabs on each game).  Let the replay officials check the video feed on each game and take the “ball,” so to speak, out of both the field umpires’ and managers’ hands.  This is assuming, of course, that MLB won’t black out its own games for itself (HA).

I’m okay with expanded replay review, but this being the first year of full implementation, there are going to be snafus, and that’s something that MLB will likely work to improve the situation either later on this season, or before next season.  But ultimately, we do want to get more calls right.  We just don’t want to wait forever for them to make the call.

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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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