Replays Won’t Be Perfect, But They’ll Teach Us Something

They say money can’t buy happiness, but fans sure seemed glad on Monday that Major League Baseball spent $30 million on a new replay room this off-season. Whether that will last is another matter.

Both challenges at PNC Park on Opening Day went in the Pirates’ favor, but there are a few issues with the system that will come to center stage sooner or later. Some might lead to changes in subsequent years and depending on how things shake out, others could potentially legitimize people who think their hometown team is being shortchanged more often than not.

To Review or Not To Review?

As you may have heard, each team gets to challenge one play per game. If the play is overturned, you get another challenge. Also, from the 7th inning onward the umps can elect to review any play they want to, which will not be charged as a challenge to either team.

On Monday, Bryan Morris picked off Emilio Bonifacio at first base. The first base umpire, Bob Davidson, blew the call. Being that it was the 10th inning, the umps could have reviewed it themselves, but none of them seemed to consider the idea until Clint Hurdle came out to challenge it.

This raises a few questions. First, how close does a play have to be before the umps review it on their own? Had Hurdle stayed in the dugout would the umps have avoided the replay because they knew Hurdle had a challenge remaining? Or would they have been more likely to review the play if Hurdle had already used his challenges?

As it played out, the umps essentially forced Hurdle to use his challenge, rather than looking at it themselves. In this case he got another one, but had Hurdle blown a challenge earlier in the game he could have argued until he was red in the face (which we know he excels at) and the umps could have refused to review the play—even though the call was wrong.

The scenario is almost certain to happen: The call will be wrong, the manager will be out of challenges, he’ll argue, the umps will refuse to review, the call will stay wrong, and the umps will be blasted on the post-game show. The irony for the umps is that it almost has to be that way. If the umps just call up New York every time a manager comes out to argue, it would defeat the whole point of limiting challenges in the first place.

But it gets worse, because if you want to argue that managers should be more careful with when they use their challenge and they deserve what they get, even if the call was wrong, then what is the point of even having replay?

Replays Are Now Stats

When NFL refs blow a call, there are so many of them on the field that it can be difficult to say who should shoulder the blame. But in baseball, everyone watching knows that Davidson blew the call (not to pick on him, he certainly won’t be the last). Because we can become so specific, replays have become another stat.

At the end of the season, we will add up which ump had the most calls overturned. Is there some punishment that exists for that guy? That is, beyond the public embarrassment of knowing he’s the worst at his job. We shouldn’t judge too quickly though, as we won’t know for years if some umps are constantly good (or bad) year-after-year or if their quality fluctuates over time.

Like most people, I tend to accept that when you play over 1400 innings in a season, some calls will go your way and others won’t. But now we’ll have numbers to tell us which teams, or even players, had the most incorrect calls made against them. Depending how things shake out, replay statistics could show us that things do in fact even out over time and we were right all along. Then again, we might find that the umps are consistently favoring some teams over others. How do you stop that? More replays.

No matter what they end up telling us, the replays and the numbers they produce will be worth looking at more than once.

This post was originally published at The McEffect.

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