On the second of his 2 groundouts in yesterday's game, Derek Jeter ran hard down the first base line and turned a relatively routine play into a very close play at first base. To those who saw it, the image of Jeter running hard and without any noticeable hitch in his stride was the highlight of Spring Training thus far and the only storyline that mattered after the game. But another part of that play that didn't get talked about much may prove to be a more important talking point long-term.
Speaking to reporters post-game, Joe said that when he watched the play at first base and saw how close the play was, he immediately thought about how he would have handled challenging the call under MLB's new instant replay rules. He couldn't actually do it in the game because yesterday's game was not using the new replay system, but the addition of these replay rules gives managers another wrinkle to consider in their in-game strategy and Joe is going through the mental motions, just like his players are on the field, to prepare himself for the situation when the games start to count.
Whether you're fully on board with the way the system was set up for this season or not, I don't think anybody can make the argument that MLB finally expanding its replay rules is a bad thing. For too long we've had to watch games be negatively impacted by bad and wrong calls with no way to ensure that the right call is made. At the end of the day, that's the most important part of the umpires' job. Get the call right. If they aren't going to, there should be a way to cover for that and the expanded system put into place this year is a step in the right direction towards making sure that no bad call ever costs a team a game.
There's going to be a learning curve for all managers as they adapt to the new system and the challenge(s) that they can use to get calls overturned. While I'm sure all of them are doing the same thing Joe is during their early ST games, Joe's the only manager I care about and so it's good to read that his mental wheels are already turning on how he's planning on managing his challenges. Based on nothing more than my own memory, I think Joe is going to adapt well to the new system and be one of the better managers when it comes to using his challenges. I could even see him winning a game or 2 for the Yanks that they might not have won had a bad call been allowed to stand.
Thinking back over his tenure as Yankee manager, I feel like Joe has been pretty good about arguing calls with umps. Again, this is just my memory, but I can't recall too many times when he got tossed just for the sake of getting tossed or argued calls that were borderline. Most of Joe's really big blowups have been for things that were egregiously bad, like the botched fair/foul call on the pop-up in Detroit, the missed tag at second base in the ALDS in 2012, and the failure to eject Ryan Dempster after the A-Rod beaning incident last year. Obviously that couldn't have been replayed, but Joe had a right to lose it on calls that bad and he got his money's worth explaining/yelling his side of the argument to the umpires. That makes me feel confident that he's not going to be the type to waste a challenge early in the game on a 50/50 play and cost himself a chance at another challenge when he really needs it later in the game.
Another thing that builds my confidence in Joe being a good replay manager is his attention to detail and preference for playing to matchups. We've all made plenty of jokes about the binder and his occasional over-affinity for trusting it over his eyes or gut when it comes to in-game player decisions, but that thought process of thinking situationally and playing the odds should serve him well when deciding on whether to challenge a play or not. If it's an instance where a bad call gives the opposing team a better chance to score late in a close game, I think Joe will be more apt to challenge the call, the same as he'd be more likely to go the bullpen and bring in a new pitcher to get a big out in that situation or call for a pinch hitter if the situation were reversed and it was the Yankees up to bat and needing a run to take the lead.
It's an easy blogging topic to play Monday morning quarterback and question the manager's decisions after they've made them and the game is over, and I've done that plenty of times. But these guys have a ton of things to consider and keep straight for 9 innings and adding the new replay challenge rules to the mix is only going to make their job harder. Based on what I've seen in his 6 years at the helm so far, I think Joe will be one of the better managers in the league when it comes to using the challenges and taking advantage of the new rules, and that will be a very good thing for the Yankees if and when they end up in a tight postseason race.
(Photo Courtesy of Rick Osentoski/US Presswire)