Should Baseball Use Replay?

Replay in baseball is a subject that I’ve thought about a lot this season, as I’m sure other baseball fans have. I was pretty much against it prior to the season starting, however, in the wake of things like the Armando Galarraga near-perfect game has lead me to taking a step back and reexamining the situation.

I am a supporter of ‘the human element’ of the sport, but at the same time that is essentially saying I have no problem with blown calls.

The argument that I have the most difficulty disputing is that which Tony Gwynn brings up in a recent interview, “The objective is to get that call right.”

ESPN’s Outside The Lines did a study to check out just how many calls are blown. Over the two week period it was found that only 1.3 calls per game—this doesn’t include balls and strikes—were close enough that watching a replay was warranted.

I think that’s an interesting figure in itself. Over a nine inning game both teams get 27 outs—a total of 54 each game. That means only 2.4% of the calls in the game, if you exclude fair or foul calls, are close. The more fair or foul calls, the lower that percentage is.

The findings were that “Of the close plays, 13.9 percent remained too close to call, with 65.7 percent confirmed as correct and 20.4 percent confirmed as incorrect.”

You can’t blame umps for blowing calls that can’t even be seen on a slow motion instant replay—something that demonstrates just how difficult their job really is—which means that one out of five close plays is incorrect.

Simply put: there is approximately one incorrect call made every five games.

That means umps are correct over 99% when you consider every call made throughout the game. Even if plays aren’t bang-bang they still have to be paying attention and it’s only fair to give them credit for those calls as well.

Do I want that one blown call to be right? Of course, but the problem is more so how to implement the replay system.

Baseball has already proven replay can be used quickly and effectively. But home runs are different than bang-bang plays at first.

Do you let the coaches challenge plays like they can in football? The Little League World Series has taken this route for the first time this summer. Coaches will be able to request a video review for as many calls as they want—the catch is that if they get one wrong they can’t challenge any more plays unless the game goes into extra innings.

The problem with this arises in the event that a coach blows a challenge in the first inning, but then an obviously incorrect call is made later in the game. Whose fault is it then, the umpire who blew the call or the coach who squandered his opportunity?

Had Galarraga’s situation happened on the first play of the game and he proceeded to retire the next 27 guys in a row the result would have been the same. While it may not seem like it, a call in the first inning is of the same importance as one in the last.

Baseball is different than other sports because you have 27 outs every game. Blowing five calls in a game for one team, which would be absurd, still means that you have 22 outs. You can’t run out of time in baseball, there is always a chance. Heck, the Rockies scored 12 runs this season without getting one out.

One call does not change the outcome of the game. If your team leaves fifteen guys on base, don’t complain if an ump blows one call at home plate in the final inning. You lost due to your inability to drive in runs, not the umpire.

Another option would be to go the hockey and basketball route, in which the referees decide when to look at the replay. Both leagues are very effective in this procedure. The difference is that while you might have one or two pucks close to the goal line in a hockey game that require replay, plays at first base happen all the time. And while Outside the Lines says only 1.3 per game require a replay that doesn’t mean coaches won’t be storming the field every time the runner was within two steps of the base.

You can’t have eight reviews per game. Even if umpires have the final say as to review a play or not you can’t place a limit on how many times the coach can leave the dugout. So then what happens when that play arises that the coach argues, the umpires decide not to go to replay, but further examination determines that the call was incorrect?

So my conclusion after all this is to do one of two things: Nothing or create the MLB War Room.

What the OTL study shows is that with umpires making correct calls over 99% of the time they pretty much exceed ‘the human element.’ Some people consider Albert Pujols to be a robot and even he only gets a hit 30% of the time. Blown calls in every sport are a given, but things will generally even out; especially over a 162-game season. After all, the current system has been in use for over a hundred years and in that time baseball has gathered quite a few fans.

A few seasons ago the NHL created a room in Toronto which monitors all of the games being played around the League. When a replay is required, the referees get on the phone and the officials in Toronto’s “war room” make the call. The MLB could easily create such a headquarters. Umpires would have the final say whether a play would be reviewed, but a rule would need to be developed to prevent coaches from lobbying every other play. While the current MLB replay format is similar to the NFL’s in that that umpire actually leaves the field to watch the replay himself, things would be quicker if the decision was made off site and relayed to the umpire via a phone call.

Whatever MLB decides to do, it should be done soon. Protocols should be put into place this off-season, if not for this season’s playoffs.

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