Apr 9, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; MLB umpires Bob Davidson (61) and James Hoye (92) prepare to contact the replay operation center in New York during a review of a dropped ball by Cleveland Indians right fielder Elliot Johnson (not picture) in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

UNDER REVIEW: The Instant Replay System


The Basics

Major League Baseball has a twitter account setup to announce all replay challenges, and the findings.  It is @MLBReplays.  A great bonus is that they also include a link to the video of the play so that fans can… well, argue the point even further, I suppose.  Those tweets are the primary resource used for the stats that follow below.

There are some shortcoming of these tweets, however.  Here are two examples:




See the difference?  The first tweet is almost perfect, by my estimation:  it includes most of the needed information:

  • The game date and teams involved
  • The challenger
  • Who was involved, the location, and the inning.
  • The original call and the result of the challenge.
  • The video link

All tweets have had the first and last elements.  Some of them have been a bit fuzzy on the rest.  In the second example above, that tweet does note that the Umpire(s) initiated the review.  Is does not include the inning (the 6th) or the opposing player involved (information that can be obtained from the video).  It did not reference the original call, either (Cleveland’s Michael Brantley was out – no interference was called).

But even this information is deceiving:  Brantley started the complaint on this latter play, which was picked up by his manager, Terry Francona.  It appears that the umpire was convinced to “initiate” the replay procedure (thus not charging Francona with the challenge), but it is also clear that the argument led to the challenge.

All that to say this:  as we’ll see, several instant replay reviews have been credited to the umpires.  However, in almost every case, it took a miffed manager to get that ball rolling.

That second tweet was the only one (of 89) to actually mention the specific name of the umpire who made the original call.  In addition to consistency, this is the lone element I would like to see added to these tweets:  it would allow us to more easily track which umpires are being challenged the most, and which ones are overturned the most.


The Stats

A replay official holds the headphones for the umpires for a potential review during the spring training game. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

205 games have been played in the majors as of this morning.  Arizona has played the most (17) and Detroit the least (10).  Thus far, 89 instant replay reviews have occurred.  That’s 0.43 reviews per game, on average.

The Oakland A’s have the distinction of being involved in the most challenges:  11 (Pittsburgh is next with 10).  Philadelphia, San Diego, and St. Louis have had their games paused the fewest number of times:  twice each.

The Atlanta Braves are in the middle:  6 challenges thus far, 2 initiated by Fredi Gonzalez, who is 2 for 2 this year.

Reports are the the Washington Nationals - in addition to repeatedly losing their challenges to the Braves – are somewhere around Oh-for-the-year (0 for 5 or 6) on their challenges.  Officially, that count seems to be 0-3 because of Umpire reviews… but as noted above, umpires generally don’t start these themselves: they need prompting.

The worst replay challenger is Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin:  he is zero for five thus far.  Meanwhile –  Buck Showalter (Orioles), Mike Matheny (Cardinals), and Ryne Sandberg (Phils) are yet to be charged with any challenges.  Fredi Gonzalez and Terry Collins (Mets) are ‘undefeated’ at 2-0.

The Cubs have won the most challenges (3 out of their 5).  They, the A’s, and Tampa Bay have the most challenges with 5 apiece.


WED UPDATE: The Cubs just won another challenge – that makes #4 for them:



The Other Stats You Need to See

  • Overall: 89 total challenges as of the morning of April 16.  Manager challenges constitute 72 of these (81%).  Umpires (supposedly) launched the other 17 inquiries.
  •  37% of challenges (33 plays) have resulted in an overturned call.
  •  63% of reviews resulted in the original call standing.  46% of the reviews have confirmed or upheld the original call; in 17% of the cases, the ruling was that the original call stands (the underlined words represent the specific terms used by major league baseball).
  •  Interestingly, of the reviews credited to the umpires to initiate, 88% have confirmed or upheld the original call.  Only 12% of those have been overturned.
  • So if you go only with manager challenges, 43% of these calls have been overturned (31 plays of 72 total).


Where Types of Replay Challenges Are We Seeing?

  • First Base safe/out:  36 times
  • Second Base safe/out:  16 times
  • Third Base safe/out:  2 times
  • Home Plate (blocking):  3 times
  • Home Plate safe/out:  10 times
  • Catch/Drop:  2
  • Fair/Foul:  5
  • HR (Fair/Foul/Boundary):  4
  • In Play/Interference: 3
  • Ball/Strike Count:  1
  • Hit By Pitch:  1
  • Other/Base-running:  6


Umpires Ted Barrett (center) and Paul Schrieber (right) review a play. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Because I was lazy and didn’t go though all 89 videos, I do not have the inning involved in every case – in fact, the tweets cite the inning in only about 1/3rd of the challenges.  You might think that managers are reluctant to ‘use up’ their free challenge early, but the limited data seems to suggest a pretty even spread. Here’s the inning references that I do have:

    • 1st inning:  2 reviews
    • 2nd inning: 4 reviews
    • 3rd:  two
    • 4th:  three
    • 5th:  two
    • 6th:  one
    • 7th:  two
    • 8th:  four
    • 9th:  three
    • Extra innings:  two


    Because of the lack of enough data here, I have not tried to determine if the inning relates to how successful the challenge has been (i.e., does desperation late in a game lead to unwarranted challenges?). 


    The Problems

    The biggest replay problem so far has been this one:  

    Even the Boston announcers on the NESN broadcast missed this one.  MLB later admitted an error as the runner should have been ruled out after leaving the base briefly while standing up – since the tag was continuously applied.  This was a Yankee/Red Sox game, so naturally it’s been blown up way out of proportion.  But recognize that before replay, this had no chance of getting overturned.  No one on the field had a second thought about this.  In fact, Boston Manager John Farrell waited for quite a while before being informed that there was actually something worth challenging.


    Other replay problems cited have been these:

    • Length of time to do the review.  There are two factors involved:
      • (1) distance.  The manager first has to go out to the spot on the field where the problem occurred to request the review.  Cross-diamond treks will take a while. Next, the umpires have to retreat to the space behind home plate where the ‘review station’ is set up.  Afterwards, everybody has to retreat to their original positions.  To everyone’s credit, every review request I’ve seen has been amiable, with minimal excess delay: umpires have readily agreed to entertain most requests.
      • (2) closeness of the play.  If the play itself requires extra scrutiny (such as the Colorado/Miami play linked above), then yes – it will take longer to review all angles.
    • The Transfer Rule.  This has been highlighted by replay, but it’s a rule problem, not an instant replay problem.  In prior years, fielders were ruled to have made a successful catch if they first make a catch, but drop the ball while placing their throwing hand into the glove to start a throw.  This year, umpires are enforcing a rule interpretation change that requires fielders to securely extract the ball from the glove into their throwing hand – and effectively demonstrate control of the ball in that hand – before ruling that a catch has been made.  It’s a big difference that has come up in multiple games.  Here’s one example involving old friend Elliot Johnson.
    • The Blocking Rule.  Once again:  this is a rule problem, not a replay problem.  It involves collisions at home plate.  Three instances have been reviewed so far – no infraction of the new blocking rule has been ruled.  Honestly, there hasn’t been much of a change to this rule.  The biggest difference is that runners can’t tackle the catcher:  they have to do a legitimate slide.  The part in which catchers cannot block home plate without the ball was always in the rule book and really hasn’t been altered.



    Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    That’s a start into instant replay:  Again, for a more complete treatment of the subject, I would also require the umpiring crew, the specific umpire involved, the inning, and a better indication of the field location involved.

    My own observations:

    • In most cases, the time required seems a bit long, but I attribute that to the lack of actual action on the field – since there’s no active argument taking place, it’s mostly a process of watching people walk around and then a bunch of video replays.  Fact is, most replays are taking place quicker than between-inning commercial breaks.  But yes, some are going to be quicker than others… and the longer delays are for the plays that really need the scrutiny.
    • It’s a system that’s better than what we had before… which was nothing.  Yes, there will be tweaks along the way, and that should help.  But 33 overturned calls have certainly improved the game.  Confirming 41 others does likewise.
    • Baseball has invested a bunch of money into this system… it’s here to stay.  Now it’s just a matter of making it work better.
    • Bobby Cox’s ejection record will stand forever.
    • Angel Hernandez should still retire.


    Tags: Atlanta Braves Instant Replay

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