Expanded Replay Probably Coming, Probably Flawed

Major League Baseball is looking to expand its instant-replay review system in time for the 2014 regular season. This much has been known for a while, and it’s been discussed and debated several times over. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who still has a fresh and original take on the matter of replay review. Opinions have been established. Minds have been made up. Now, though, we do get some details about a plan proposal. There’s been a meeting in Cooperstown, and I’ll allow Ken Rosenthal to take it away:

Baseball owners are considering a proposal under which managers would initiate replay reviews.
Under the proposed rules, managers will be allowed two challenges over the first six innings of games and one after the seventh inning. Calls that are challenged will be reviewed by a crew in MLB headquarters in New York City, which will make the final ruling.

Nothing is yet set in stone — as Rosenthal notes, it’s all subject to change and the owners will vote in November. The plan would then need approval from both the players and the umpires, although there seems to be a general air of optimism. We don’t know that expanded replay will involve a challenge system, but it seems to be the likelihood. It’s unclear whether umpires could initiate other reviews, and it’s unclear whether there would be penalties for unsuccessful challenges.

It seems to me this is a sure-fire way to leave nobody satisfied. People who are opposed to expanded replay will remain opposed to expanded replay. People in favor of expanded replay won’t understand the limitations. And those are the two groups. This really is a fairly black-and-white issue, as rare as that is, and this smells like a halfhearted compromise.

I’ll say this much — this would still count as progress. A further expansion of replay would be better than no expansion of replay, in the way that tracking errors is better than not tracking errors. Even though challenges would be limited, there are only so many close calls in any given game, so rarely would a manager run out of chances. And of course, additional close calls might be reviewed anyway. MLB couldn’t go from the current system to the ideal system overnight. That’s unrealistic, and there need to be stages, and this would be a step forward, hopefully one of several.

It’s the message I find most troubling. Baseball is concerned about game duration, and they don’t want to slow things down any further, hence the challenge limitation. Allow limitless challenges and games might drag on for three and a half, four hours, I don’t know. There’s no telling how quickly a review could be carried out. But by limiting challenges in the proposal, baseball shows that it prioritizes duration concerns over call-accuracy concerns. Trying to expand replay at all demonstrates that MLB wants there to be fewer mistakes. They just see this as less important than wrapping games up in under 180 minutes. Both areas of concern are legitimate, and warranted, but to me they seem to be in the wrong order.

The goal should be to fix as much as you can on the field, and then you go from there. You set review time limits, and you enforce rules about pitcher pace and batter pace. Those rules already exist. People don’t enjoy a baseball game that’s longer than it needs to be, but people also don’t enjoy a baseball game decided in part by an erroneous call, and if we’re going to be realistic, how much time would a review really add? How much time should a review add? How much of that time is currently being taken up by on-field arguments and ejections? Limiting challenges doesn’t even necessarily eliminate arguments, since a manager could conceivably argue after he’s all out of challenge attempts.

We’ll see what the final proposal looks like, and we’ll see what MLB winds up implementing. Whatever it is will be an improvement from how things are today, at least to those in favor of there being more replay review. But the message right now is that getting calls right is less important than getting games finished, and it doesn’t make sense to make strategy out of wanting more calls to be correct. In time, this could look like a certain and necessary step forward. At this time, it looks like a step forward, taken backward.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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