MLB Instant Replay: I Luv U, Do You Luv Me?

Yesterday, it took Los Angeles Dodgers manager Clint Hurdle Don Mattingly* approximately 40 seconds — depending on where you start and stop your timer — to argue The Worst Call of the Season. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, it took the umpiring crew about 2 minutes and 50 seconds to gather in the infield, discuss Carlos Beltran‘s hit, reconvene in their underground video review chamber, and then return to announce a home run.

* All white guys look the same to me.

Getting the calls wrong in baseball takes time. Managers — depending on their personality, the game situation, and the offense — take different amounts of time arguing both bad and good calls. The arguing, for the most part, exists because of uncertainty. My lip-reading skills inform me most arguments follow this general pattern:

Manager: “Did you really see X event?”

Umpire: “Most certainly did I see X event.”

Manager: “That statement you just made right there is tantamount to the excrement of bovines.”

Umpire: “You are ejected.”

Recent evidence suggests, however, that despite these conflicts resulting from close calls, instant replays still take more time than good ol’ fashioned shout-spittin’ matches.

Evidence furthermore suggests that in the time it takes to get in a healthy workout, a normal person could empty approximately ten Squeeze Cheese cans directly into his or her porcine gullet.

Which is to say: Quicker is not always better.

On Tuesday night, Jeff Francoeur hit a towering fly ball to left center field. The ball bounced off the top of the wall, and then Austin Jackson snared it before it could pop over for a home run. The ruling was a ground rule double, but some confusion from the umpires led to a conference with Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland. The break in play lasted about 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

It appears the umpiring crew got the call right here, but had it gone to replay, the umpires would have still needed to explain the situation and results to Leyland, meaning the whole event could have pushed 3 minutes.

On April 25th, St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny got ejected in the 10th inning after arguing — correctly — that CF Tony Campana had been tagged out in a steal attempt. The tirade and toss required only 30 seconds.

On April 8, Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants hit the showers after arguing — wrongly — that C Buster Posey kept his foot on home plate in a base-loaded force play attempt. Bochy left the dugout twice during the fiasco, but despite that, it still only took 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

The average instant replay in the NFL is approximately 3 minutes. The rulebook states the referees have only 60 seconds to review a play, but after discussing with the coaches, trotting to the sidelines, watching the film, trotting back to the middle of the field, announcing the result — dramatically — to the crowd, and then explaining the results one more time to the coaches, the refs easily consume three minutes or more.

It’s little wonder then that the NFL is struggling so mightily to fill stadiu–

Oh, I’m sorry. I think I’ve got that wrong. Yeah, never mind. I had my charts upside-down. Apparently the NFL broke the viewership record with their most recent Super Bowl. The all-time viewership record, whether sporting event, M*A*S*H finale, or nay. But we hate when the games take to long, right? When I entertain myself, I absolutely cannot stand when it takes longer than anticipated! I can enjoy myself only so long before I feel the itch, before I need to go to sleep or begrudgingly return to a shuffling life of tiresome work! Right?

Last night’s no-hitter from Jered Weaver lasted under 160 minutes, and the Phillies-Braves 15-13 slugfest took almost exactly 240 minutes for Chipper Jones to say, “I’m not retired yet,” and clobber a 3-2 pitch into center field. The average MLB game takes around 175 to 190 minutes — by my educated estimation — largely depending on the game’s score and whether or not it goes into extra innings or has a lot of pitching changes.

In 2010, NFL games averaged 1.4 instant replays per game. The average NFL game lasts around 185 minutes, yet they expanded instant replay in 2011 to cover every scoring play and have just recently expanded it again to cover every turnover. Now NFL coaches can pretty much only argue about penalties. Nothing else is unreviewable, and much of the game is automatically reviewed now.

According to my incredibly scientific chart — and you can tell by the amount of gray used — NFL fans seemed to change the candor, not the quantity of their complaining since the institution and expansion of instant replay:

When there was no replay in the NFL, fans complained that there was no replay. When they added it, they complained — especially when their team was on the bring of losing a replay challenge — that replays took too long and undermined the game (they then watched the rest of the game). When the NFL expanded replay last year, the fans complained no more or less. The amount of replays practically quadrupled overnight, but because the NFL used a smart system of automatic reviewing, in which an official in the booth reviews the video and then alerts the head referee on the field whether or not he needs to review the play proper, the replays did not add any significant time to the game. Or at least fans did not mind the replay addition BECAUSE THEY LIKE TO WATCH FOOTBALL AND THEY WILL WATCH IT ANYWAY.

The MLB could easily institute a similar system — putting an umpire in the booth. By the time the manager trots out to the home plate umpire, the umpire will have already received a text message from the reviewer — smiley face for good call, frowny face for Review Time. The manager would have little to say: “Hey… What’s up?” The end.

Will expanding instant replay make games quicker? Almost certainly: No.

But if we are really that desperate to make our recreation time go faster, I bet we could knock out these games in 30 minutes if we play to 3 innings and call every pitch a strike. Hell, if we are in a big rush, we could just run some computer simulations and call it day! Or, if we’re feeling frisky, maybe we could enforce the 12 second rule (8.04) that’s already on the books. Pitchers are supposed to hurl to home in 12 seconds, but last night, it took Joel Peralta over 40 seconds — from the moment he caught the ball to the moment he threw it — to twirl his final pitch. It was great for drama, bad for expediency. (The quickest of all teams right now, the Cleveland Indians, have a 19.9-second pace — that’s illegal by only 7.9 seconds! Way to go, Cleveland!*)

* Yes, I realize that rule regards a bases-empty situation and the pace numbers include all base-out states. But are you really going to argue that pitchers are taking less than 12 seconds to pitch? Really?

Will expanding instant replay make games more accurate, records more true, results more honest, ejections more infrequent? Undeniably yes. The NFL, with its 1.4 replays per game, adds about 5 minutes to their already 180 minute broadcast. That’s an increase of 2.8% for the sake of a correct call and outcome.

If the result of these calls matter so little that the game cannot be extended by, say — at worst — 15 minutes (that’s 3 to 4 MLB reviews), then why are we keeping score anyway? Why not just play for the heck of it? That would reduce the time lost due to arguing, and viewership might plummet — because if a league cannot take itself seriously, who will? — but we will still have our precious time.

There are obstacles to instituting wider replays in the MLB. But time should not be one of them.



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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


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