Friday, August 16, 2013

Expanded Replay is Coming

With the clarity of Gabbo's arrival, MLB announced on Thursday that expanded replay is coming in 2014. Expanded replay has been on the table since the current home run review system come online in 2008. After today's announcement we have been given some idea of what to MLB wants in an expanded replay: coaches getting 3 challenges each (1 in the first six innings, 2 in the seventh and beyond, though umpires may seek to have discretion to review plays if challenges are exhausted), a central review office to make the final calls, balls and strikes are not reviewable. Home run reviews are to be grandfathered in. Brushed aside like so much fine print are the important details about how the owners, players association, and the umpires have yet to sign off on the expanded replay. To put it simply, this replay system could look radically different from what was announced Thursday before it is approved. With that in mind, here is a look at what I would like to see and a warning to what we may be saying goodbye to.

MLB claims "89 percent of incorrect calls made in the past will be reviewable," but did not go into specifics. I assume reviewable plays will now include fair/foul balls, trapped balls, and plays at bases. Something I am sure Armando Galarraga is behind. I can get onboard with these reviews, they shouldn't take too much time to review and it is better to get the call right in these situations. There are still some questions to iron out, including how to determine what base batters and baserunners should be awarded when a foul ball call is overturned, but that should not be too difficult for the league to iron out. 

The judgment calls are where things get a bit dicey. Judgment calls can include in/out of the basepaths, the neighborhood rule, balks, or the infield fly rule. While the neighborhood rule is among the numerous unwritten rules of baseball, the other examples all include the caveat "in the judgment of the umpire(s)" as part of the rules definition. These type of rules should remain as free of review as ball and strikes. These will not be called correctly every time, but retroactive, third-party judgments would do more to harm the situation, not to mention needlessly prolong games, than just accepting the call and moving forward. Players and managers are not perfect, neither are umpires, but they all strive to do their best and by keeping the judgment calls under the on-field umpires control they will hopefully work harder to get those non-reviewable calls correct.   

An unintended consequence for the fans could a marked decrease in manager-umpire arguments and especially managers getting tossed. Aside from the humor of watching a manager throw a tantrum, there is a tangible benefit to their actions as well. Teams win at a .550 clip in a game following an ejection versus an expected .494 clip generally, according to Sports Illustrated research. Arguing balls and strikes will remain a tossing offense, but for other calls managers will now be told to toss challenge flags instead of verbal abuse. Add to that the potential for umpires to seek reviews on close plays themselves and managers will be on their best behavior in hopes of getting such plays reviewed late in games. I hope MLB gives something back the managers and makes the challenge flag a rosin bag (look at 1:15-1:30 in the video) so they can really show their displeasure. 

Replay is just the latest in a long line of changes to the game and I would not be surprised to see them come in 2014. Bud Selig wields enough power that when he wants something done, he gets his way, for better or worse. Thus, even with a potential $40 million dollar budget to address, I expect the owners to sign off on it in November. However, what was announced today is not likely to be exactly what we will see in 2014 and the system introduced next season will undoubtedly be refined in the years ahead. On paper I congratulate MLB for embracing change and adopting further replay, now lets see if it works as well in practice. 

Is this a step in the right direction, a bridge to far, or will you not be satisfied until robots call the game? Sound off in the comments  below