Forget Alex Rodriguez or Masahiro Tanaka, the big news this week was that Major League Baseball voted to expand replay for the 2014 season.
“Beginning this season, each manager will start a game with one challenge. If it is upheld, he retains his challenge but can never have more than two in a game. If the manager exhausts his challenges before the start of the seventh inning, he is out of luck, adding a new element of strategy to the game. Beginning in the top of the seventh, the crew chief is empowered to institute a review.”
Among the many changes being made to replay, MLB has decided to implement a system similar to the NFL's challenge system. Managers will get a challenge and once it's used, they will not be able to use another one for the rest of the game. I think it’s a good idea and should work out but it is important to remember that this system will be a work in progress. Baseball will be looking closely to see how everything works over the next season and replay will be evaluated then will likely be improved on a yearly basis until it’s almost perfect.
Replay and challenges in baseball have been a long time coming. It seems ever since the Armando Galarraga “perfect game” was blown by Jim Joyce on what seemed to be a clear out at first, fans have become advocates for replay. The blown call was a turning point and baseball began to explore the possibility of more replay especially since Joyce came out and emotionally stated he had indeed blown the call.
Yet, there are still those who believe that replay is not good for baseball. Their main arguments are that it will “take up too much time” and that “the human element is apart of the game.” Baseball began back in a time where there wasn’t technology available to help the umpires get the right call. Today, in a billion dollar industry like MLB, getting the calls right is important to not only the players who play the game, but also to the fans who watch it. Before expanded replay was approved, it seemed that being wrong was acceptable in this baseball which was silly because tools were available which could prevent human error.
I recently was discussing replay with a couple of friends of mine and one of them recalled how the Little League World Series using replay. And if I remember correctly, it worked smoothly and the right call was made. Now, if 12 and 13-year-olds can sit through a replay for two to three minutes in order to get the right call, I think the average MLB fan can do the same.
Lately, stats are being thrown around on twitter that are in support of the umpires. Some of them have even stated that MLB umpires are correct 99.5% of the time. Of course, that looks like a great percentage without the proper context. If you take away the easy calls like swinging strikeouts, popouts, easy groundouts, etc. you will see how that percentage drops. It’s not the easy out calls that beckon for replay, it’s the more difficult ones that do.
Back in 2010, ESPN did some research on how often MLB umpires blew close calls. It was a small sample size of games, from June 29 to July 11 - which worked out to 184 in total. The researchers reviewed nearly every call - they did not include balls and strikes - and what they found was amazing and not in a good way.
...the "Outside the Lines" analysis found that an average of 1.3 calls per game were close enough to require replay review to determine whether an umpire had made the right call. 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.
That’s a fairly high percentage of wrong calls being made on close plays, many of which can determine the outcome of a game or even a division race. So while this new replay system won't be used to help the umpires make the easy calls, it will definitely help improve the percentage of the close calls they've been missing in the past.