SweetSpot: Instant replay

How is instant replay going? I mean, beyond the arguments, delays, unhappy managers and confusing home-plate collisions.

Here some numbers from ESPN Stats & Information, entering Wednesday’s games:
  • There have been 240 replays; 112 (47 percent) have been overturned.
  • The umpires have initiated 45 of those, with nine (20 percent) overturned.
  • The most reviewed play has been a force play, with 111 reviews -- 85 of those at first base. Tag plays have seen 66 reviews, with 33 of those coming at second base (and 13 at home plate).
  • There have been 15 reviews on home-plate collisions.
  • Cubs manager Rick Renteria has challenged the most calls: 15 (winning seven of those challenges). The next highest totals belong to Clint Hurdle of the Pirates (7-for-12) and Joe Maddon of the Rays (4-for-12).
  • Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez and San Diego’s Bud Black are a perfect 4-for-4 on challenges.
  • The fewest challenges: Buck Showalter (Orioles), Ron Gardenhire (Twins), Terry Collins (Mets) and Mike Matheny (Cardinals) with just three each.
  • The worst percentage is Toronto’s John Gibbons, who is 1-for-7.
  • Umpires: CB Brucknor and Doug Eddings have had the most overturns, with four apiece.
  • Preseason favorite Angel Hernandez has had three overturns, as have other betting favorites Cowboy Joe West and Bob Davidson.





Here’s what I’m thinking after the end of the Giants-Pirates game that ended with Starling Marte called out at home plate and then called safe, giving the Pirates the not-so-dramatic walk-off reversal: Isn’t this exactly how we don’t want games to end? With a committee meeting?

God knows we have enough of those in the NFL and Congress.

After all, if baseball is entertainment, where does a meeting fit in? Does anybody, in the late stages of life, ever say, "I wish I had attended more meetings. Well, the ones that had the pink frosted doughnuts with sprinkles at least."

We all want the umpires to get better and we want the calls to be correct as often as possible. But more instant replay wasn’t just a demand for a higher rate of precision, but also an appeal to be more like the NFL. The NFL has instant replay and the NFL is more popular than piano-playing cats, so baseball needed it as well. We can see all the wrong calls right there on our flat screens!

But baseball is not the NFL. A baseball season lasts 162 games compared to the NFL’s 16. One wrong call in an NFL game may be exponentially more vital to the game’s outcome -- and possibly the season’s -- than one call in a baseball game. As they like to say, the calls even out over an entire season. Just don’t tell that to the 1985 Cardinals.

In the past, I’ve written that baseball needed more instant replay, primarily because it hurts the sport’s integrity when fans are watching games and seeing blown calls. But the more I think about it, is that really the case? Has anyone stopped watching on TV or stopped going to games because their favorite team got hosed in a game back on May 6? Do bad calls make you a less interested baseball fan?

So there was Starling Marte, hammering a Tim Hudson fastball high off the scoreboard in right field in Pittsburgh, blazing around the bases like he’s racing Usain Bolt, sliding into the third and then scampering home when the relay throw gets away.

"Out!"

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Camera pans to disappointed fans.

Here comes Clint Hurdle.

Review.

Review.

Fans waiting.

Review.

There’s Marte sitting in front of the dugout railing.

Review.

"Safe."

Pirates win. A little anticlimactic, to say the least.

OK, in the end the committee got the call right. Buster Posey should have applied the tag when he appeared to get the ball in ample time, but he took a step backward as he reached down to tag Marte and Marte managed to slide his hand underneath Posey's glove.

There is certainly an argument that this is exactly why baseball needs replay. Marte was safe and the Pirates deserved to win. But remember that this play was one of 245 on the night; many of them had an impact on the outcome. This just happened to be the final one.

Of course, this play was arguably complicated by the new rules on home-plate collisions. By the letter of the rule, Posey had the ball before Marte had reached home and thus had the right to block the plate. He may have stepped back on the play believing he had to give Marte a running lane.

The other argument is that we want the players deciding the games, not the umpires -- that this makes the outcome as fair as possible.

I get that. Of course, when leaving the games entirely up to the players we get corked bats and pitchers scuffing the ball and using illegal foreign substances. We get steroids and greenies and spray-on sunscreen.

Is all that stuff fair?

I thought I'd like instant replay more than I have. It's not going away, so it doesn't really do any good to complain about it. But I'm already yearning for that time when we could groan and moan about the umpires costing our team another win.

Oh, and good win for the Pirates. They needed it.

Also, don’t even ask me about robot umps for balls and strikes.
Official Rules: 2.00 Definition of Terms

A CATCH is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession. It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball. It is not a catch if a fielder touches a fly ball which then hits a member of the offensive team or an umpire and then is caught by another defensive player. If the fielder has made the catch and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the catch, the ball shall be adjudged to have been caught. In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional.


Italics are mine. You think you know what a catch is? Here's a play from Monday night, with Rangers catcher J.P. Arencibia trying to turn a 1-2-3 double play. He appears to catch the ball and then drop it while making the transfer to his throwing hand. Home plate umpire Paul Schreiber initially called the baserunner out. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon appealed the play and after a four-minute instant replay delay, the call was overturned and Dustin Ackley ruled safe. Rangers manager Ron Washington came out to argue and was ejected.

The new definition of a catch emphasizes secure possession. A fielder must display secure possession when transferring the ball to his throwing hand. In the past, when a fielder dropped the ball after making a catch or turning a double play, it was almost always ruled an out. Last season, there's no doubt Arencibia's play would have been ruled as an out at home, as Schreiber initially called it. The controversy here isn't just that instant replay changed the call but that umpires -- and players and managers -- are still trying to adjust to this new definition of a catch.

Here's a play from a Mariners game Saturday, as Ackley drops the ball while making the transfer. Here's another one from the same game: Ackley appears to make a diving catch in left-center only to again drop the ball on the transfer.

Here's where things got really confusing, however: By the new emphasis of secure possession, neither play was a catch. On both plays, however, an A's baserunner was called out because of the confusion over whether a catch was made. On the first one, the batter, Yoenis Cespedes, left the field thinking Ackley had made the catch. On the second, the runner on first, Josh Donaldson, wasn't sure what happened and returned to first base. While it was ruled that Ackley hadn't made the catch, Brandon Moss, the batter, was called out for passing Donaldson on the basepath.

The secure possession rule was invoked for infielders turning double plays or even the Arencibia type of play at home. But Donaldson explained to MLB.com's Jane Lee why the outfield catch creates havoc for baserunners:
"You have to go halfway, and you're going to have to watch it the entire time, and you might see guys get thrown out at the leading base because they can't get too far away from the other bag for the sheer fact they have to watch it the entire time. And some of these outfielders have really good arms, so them throwing it 120 feet is no problem."


This leads to another potential problem, as Dave Cameron wrote Monday on FanGraphs: Outfielders could possibly gain an advantage by purposely "dropping" the ball while making the transfer:
Under 2014 rules, when given a chance to do that again, Mark Trumbo should immediately stand up and take a step or two towards the infield with the ball in his glove. The only reasonable decision the runners can make at that point is to return to their prior base, because any further hesitation will result in a sure double play. Once Trumbo sees the runners retreating, he should immediately drop the ball on the transfer, pick the ball up, and throw it in to a shortstop positioned close enough to the second base bag to tag the runner on second once he realizes he now has to try and advance, and then easily flip the ball to the second baseman covering the bag to force out the runner from first trying to move up for a second time in the same play.


A crafty left fielder could potentially turn a routine fly ball into a double play. Now, it may not be that easy to pull off the play Dave describes with Trumbo. The definition of a rule states, "In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional." In other words, if dropping the ball on the transfer looks intentional, it's still a catch.

But that doesn't help the baserunner who is caught in no man's land. Instant replay only adds to the possible confusing outcome of a play.

It seems that baseball is going to have to address the outfield catch/transfer play. It may be that the ruling on the field has to stand and is not subject to review -- this at least gives the baserunner a chance to see what the umpire has called, thus avoiding plays like the Donaldson/Moss mess.
We’re four days into expanded instant replay and I feel like I just ran into the brick wall at Wrigley Field before the ivy was planted.

My head hurts trying to understand some of the new rules and ramifications. We’re getting more calls correct -- and that’s admirable and necessary -- but we’re still seeing controversy and confusion. Trouble is, last year we could simply blame the umpires, and what’s more American than that? (Sorry, umps.) Who do we yell at now? The umpires? The umpires reviewing the plays in New York? The manager of your team for wasting his challenge on a correct call? The camera guys for not getting the exact perfect angle to review a play? Joe Torre? Alex Rodriguez?

Be careful what you wish for. We should have known from watching the NFL that instant replay wasn’t going to be a panacea. That doesn’t mean these first few days haven’t been frustrating.

On Wednesday, the Pirates led the Cubs 2-0 in the eighth inning as the Cubs loaded the bases with one out. Nate Schierholtz grounded to second baseman Neil Walker and the Pirates turned a 6-4-3 double play. Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon pumped his fist, believing he’d escaped the jam.

Except Walker’s throw to shortstop Jordy Mercer was wide of the second-base bag and replays clearly showed Mercer hadn’t touched the bag. Cubs manager Rick Renteria came out to question the call. The umpires went to the replay center and the call was overturned, giving the Cubs their first run of the game.

Simple enough, right? Not so fast. The instant replay rules state that the neighborhood play at second -- when an infielder may leave the bag a fraction of a second early in order to avoid getting drilled by the oncoming baserunner -- is not reviewable. On the other hand, a force play is reviewable. The two contradict each other since a neighborhood play is also a force play.

I would argue in this case that the umpires got the call correct. Mercer failed to touch the bag not because he was avoiding a runner but because Walker gave him a bad feed. That made it a force play, not a neighborhood play. The ruling ended up impacting the game as the Cubs scored a second run in the ninth to tie the game, sending it into extra innings (the Pirates eventually won in 16).

Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of Operations, would agree with that assessment. In an interview last week with ESPN he said, "There is a play at second base that is known as the neighborhood play, which is really a second baseman or shortstop getting the throw on a double play that may not touch the base at the same time that he has the ball. This is a negotiation with the players' association so a lot of the infielders don’t have to stay there and maybe get hurt on a slide in. So it’s not something where somebody is reaching for a ball. That would be replayed -- any kind of high throw that may have pulled him off the bag."

So overturning the call was definitely correct. Still, there was a minor feeding frenzy on Twitter about a neighborhood play being reviewed. There was also another controversy earlier in the day when White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton caught or dropped a routine fly ball while exchanging it to his throwing hand. The play was originally ruled a catch but changed to an error upon review, even though replays didn’t seem to provide irrefutable evidence that he never had control of the ball. Trevor Plouffe, the runner on first base, was awarded second base, even though he had returned to first base.

All this on top of the play at home plate from Tuesday’s Giants-Diamondbacks game when Bruce Bochy couldn’t challenge the call since he’d already challenged an earlier play, or the difficult-to-call bang-bang play at home plate, where runners can no longer lower their shoulder and plow through the catcher but catchers aren’t supposed to intentionally block the plate. Good luck trying to rule on some of those plays (although college baseball has managed to play seamlessly without allowing home-plate collisions).

So we’re learning that replay is not going to be a perfect system. The delays, while usually short, do seem to provide an unnatural pause to a game, but considering this is a sport in which Josh Beckett can take 30-plus seconds between pitches or batters can step up out of the batter’s box and recite Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” while adjusting their batting gloves, we shouldn’t complain too much.

I do, however, already miss managers yelling at the men in blue, even if that will soon seem like a relic of baseball’s past, like ivy-free walls at Wrigley.
We have full-scale instant replay this year -- well, except for balls and strikes, the "neighborhood" play at second base, foul tips, balks, checked swings and other judgment calls like the infield fly rule.

Unlike reviewing home runs, which has been done using monitors at the ballpark since August 2008, the new system will use a central command center in New York City, where umpires (and video technicians) will review plays and feed the results back to the umpires on the field, similar to the NHL system for reviewing goals.

The rules: Each manager is even given at least one challenge. If his first challenge is successful, he'll receive a second one, but no more than two challenges per manager can be used in a game. If a manager has used up his challenges, from the beginning of the seventh inning the crew chief can initiate a review as well.

Simple enough, right? What can go wrong? Well ...

1. Delays and stalling

When I was at spring training for a week, I saw a few challenges issued. The review process did work fairly quickly and seamlessly, never more than a couple of minutes, and the fans didn't seem to mind the delay. During one challenge, a pitcher did take a couple of warm-up tosses, but in general the replay pause wasn't much longer than the time Josh Beckett takes between pitches.

The bigger potential issue will be stalling by managers. This wasn't a big deal in spring training because nothing was on the line, but I suspect we'll see some strange shenanigans once the real games begin. When issuing a challenge, a manager is supposed to leave the dugout and issue his challenge to the umpire (there will be no flag tossing as in the NFL). But there appears to be a gray area here.

If a manager goes out to argue a call, how long before the umpire demands to know whether he's issuing a challenge? Teams will be allowed to monitor replays from the clubhouse and have some sort of relay system to alert the manager on whether to challenge, so I suspect we may see a lot of arguments in which the manager keeps looking back into dugout for the bench coach to scratch his armpit.

2. The "extra-out" play or other loopholes

The Rays were practicing this play early in spring training. The situation: Runner on second with two outs, close play at first base for the third out. Manager Joe Maddon instructed his team to throw home for the "fourth" out if the runner kept rounding third base -- just in case the play at first is reviewed and the batter declared safe. Likewise, he's instructed his runners to keep heading home on such a play.

You can envision the first time the batter is called out at first base and the first baseman flips the ball back to the mound or into the stands thinking the inning is over, only to have the run count when the batter is ruled safe. The manager on the short end of that review isn't going to be happy.

Other loopholes will seemingly appear as well. Maddon told his team to come up with scenarios. One controversial play will undoubtedly be the neighborhood play at second, when the shortstop or second baseman doesn't actually touch second base while attempting to turn a double play. That play isn't supposed to be reviewable -- but force plays are. So what if a fielder doesn't come close to touching the bag on a double play and the runner is still called out? That's still a force play. But it's also a neighborhood play. See where the headaches can come in?

I'm sure we'll see other crazy plays like that scenario. Fan-interference plays are reviewable, but fan-interference plays are also notoriously tough to judge, even after watching the replay several times. I think we'll still end up with a lot of inconclusive evidence results.

3. They may still get it wrong

Instant replay doesn't mean all the calls will be corrected. Look no further than the botched home run call this past May in an A's-Indians game. Replays clearly showed that Adam Rosales had hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning for Oakland, but crew chief Angel Hernandez said the replay was inconclusive and the A's ended up losing the game.

Anyway, there is one more really good thing about all this: Clubs can show all close plays on the stadium video board, even if the play isn't challenged. That, I think, is something way overdue. (Sorry, umpires.)
Instant replay is finally here, in all its glorious, expanded capability. This is a good thing for baseball and a long time coming. Home runs were just a start, but now managers will have the ability to challenge one play per game -- plus a second one if the first challenge is successfully overturned. Just don't expect Don Mattingly to be throwing a red flag, however; it will simply be a verbal challenge to the umpiring crew.

The types of plays that can now be challenged:
  • Home run
  • Ground-rule double
  • Fan interference (especially in Yankee Stadium!)
  • Stadium boundary calls (especially at Tropicana Field!)
  • Force play ... although a fielder touching second base on a double play will NOT be subject to instant replay
  • Tag play, including steals and pickoffs
  • Fair or foul in outfield only
  • A trapped ball in the outfield
  • Hit by pitch (this one could still end up being controversial, considering how difficult some are to see, even on instant replay)
  • Timing play -- such as whether a run scored before the third out was recorded
  • Touching a base (which also requires an appeal)
  • Passing a runner
  • Record-keeping (such as ball-strike count, outs, subs, score -- let's hope the score of a game never has to be challenged)

OK, got that? One interesting note is that the phantom double play -- a.k.a. "the neighborhood play" -- is not being subject to review. Why would that be excluded? It could be an issue of player safety; you don't want a second baseman standing in there too long to make sure his foot is on the bag and then getting steamrolled by Bryce Harper. Also: It's a tough play to call, since so many of those are bang-bang plays, with the ball reaching a player's glove and the foot leaving the bag almost simultaneously.

You can read how the review process works here. As with the NHL replay system, there will be a central Replay Command Center located in New York that the umpires will call into. Other umpires will staff the Replay Command Center. This process has worked very well for checking goals in the NHL.

Seems like a good resolution to me. Everyone will be worried about delays, but for the most part we'll be looking at two replays per game, four at the most (plus any reviews of home runs, which don't happen that often). If it takes 90 seconds to review a play, that's three-to-five minutes of added time per game. That's worth it to me. It is possible that we'll see players delaying the action after a close play in order for videos to be checked, and I predict at some point in the future there will be a time limit on how long you have to challenge a play.

There will be pressure on the Command Center for a quick resolution. There will also be pressure on managers on when to use their challenge. Do you use it in the first inning of a 0-0 game or hold back for a more crucial moment? If the manager absolutely knows the umps got it wrong, I think you have to use it early in the game; if you're right, you'll get another challenge anyway.

Both teams will have access to a standardized video feed in the clubhouse. This makes sense; you have to ensure both teams have equal access to the same replays. Man, suddenly that job is pretty important. It will be interesting to see who teams have monitoring the video. A coach? A player not in the game? The video guy? That person will have to relay advice to the manager ... and he better be right. Doesn't sound like a fun job to me. Can you imagine giving the wrong advice to Tony La Russa back in the day?

Instant replay? Maybe imperfection is OK

July, 15, 2012
7/15/12
3:30
PM ET
It was the quote heard around the baseball world. In his annual question and answer session at the All-Star Game, commissioner Bud Selig spoke about when, if ever, instant replay will be expanded to include such plays as trapped balls in the outfield and balls hit near the foul lines. "The appetite for more instant replay in the sport is very low," Selig said. And then, "Nobody is anxious to increase replay."

Fans went crazy. Everyone was upset. Shouldn’t the commissioner know most fans want more replay?

The problem is his quote was taken out of context.

In saying "nobody," Selig was referring to his team of advisers -- not the fans. In fact, Selig in the past has stated he is aware many fans want more replay. Put into the correct context, Selig’s quote is referring to Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland and Mike Scioscia as well as others. There are about 14 people whom Selig utilizes for on-the-field operations. These are the people telling him the appetite for more replay is very low.

Why does it matter? It matters immensely. After a blown call every fan is willing to jump on the baseball-is-stuck-in-the-dark-ages bandwagon but no one is taking the time to listen to the people who play the game, the managers, the front offices and the owners.

Asking baseball people their opinion is an important step to implementing -- or not -- more replay. Professional athletes and coaches often have a very different mind-set than the rest of us. Many players believe part of the game is making a split-second decision -- by the fielders, the batters, the umpires, the coaches -- and sometimes that decision is the correct one and sometimes it’s not. So, part of baseball then, to the people playing the game, is being able to bounce back from a bad throw to first, a horrible at-bat and yes, even a bad call by an umpire.

Joe Torre hinted at this mind-set when he said, "The game isn't perfect. For all of us that want everything to be right all the time, that's not going to be the case, no matter how much replay you're going to see. I don't know why we want everything to be perfect. Life isn't perfect. I think this is a game of life, myself."

Even though this is not a popular opinion, Torre is right. Our culture today wants everything to be right all the time but sometimes perfection is found in overcoming mistakes. Think back to backyard baseball games as a kid. There are lessons to be learned in arguing over if your friend stepped on the Frisbee used as the first-base bag or not. Lessons of arrogance and humbleness, of moving on or going home in the face of frustration.

Somehow professional baseball has to find a way to fit the culture for today without losing its greatest strength: the past. Baseball’s beauty, more than any other sport, is its connection with the past and the lesson of life it has taught us.

When Selig's team of advisers decides it is ready for more replay, guaranteed, these great baseball minds will have found a way to preserve the past, incorporate today and protect the future of the sport. Until then, fans must settle for the baseball way: imperfection.

Anna McDonald is a contributor to the SweetSpot blog. You can follow her on Twitter here.
The big story of the day is the AP report that MLB is leaning toward expanding instant replay in 2012. This is no surprise, since commissioner Bud Selig has been open to considering such a move.

I think it's inevitable that baseball expands instant replay beyond home runs. Fans have grown accustomed to it in other sports and expect calls to be made correctly. In 2011, it's increasingly difficult to tell a fan watching on TV that a ball that landed two inches foul was called fair. Now, I'm not going to argue -- like many have -- that the integrity of the game is at stake; that's absurd. I don't think baseball has ever lost one fan because of a bad call by an umpire (I'm sure even St. Louis Cardinals fans stuck with the sport after the 1985 World Series). But no sport likes to see itself eviscerated in the media and blogosphere by a game-changing call.

Should expanded replay include just fair/foul calls and trapped balls, as the report indicated, or should it include safe/out calls at bases, like the infamous Jim Joyce call that ruined Armando Galarraga's perfect game?

I don't think you can go checking every call on the bases. We already know umpires get the bang-bang call at first base correct nearly every time, and if you start checking every tag play on a stolen-base attempt at second base, you're adding more instant replays during a game than if you're just checking the occasional fair-foul call.

There are two major problems with all this, however:

1. What if an umpire calls a ball foul ... and it turns out it was fair? Do you redo the pitch? The batter is unlikely to repeat the same result (of course, he may do better). Or say it's a ball hit into the left-field corner, do you give the batter an automatic double if the ump missed the call? What if there was a runner on first base? Where does he go? Will umpires be more likely to call everything fair, since if it's ruled a foul ball you can just give the batter a strike and reverse the on-field action?

2. What about the time of games? They're already longer than everybody would like. Cardinals pitcher Ryan Franklin suggests cutting the time between every half-inning by 10 seconds; that would save about three minutes per game, but does that equal even one instant replay? This is another issue entirely, but there are many ways to shorten games: limit the number of warm-up pitches for a reliever, don't allow managers and coaches to visit the mound except to remove a pitcher, enforce the rule that pitchers have 12 seconds to deliver the ball once a batter steps in the box, and so on.

Selig has a 14-man panel that, according to the AP report, consists of managers, general managers and team executives. It didn't mention any players, which I find interesting. Because here's what I'd do: Let the players vote.

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