It took a while, but expanded replay is finally here. Hopefully within a few years MLB will drop the “challenge” portion of the new replay system and just allow everything to be initiated by either an umpire sitting in the booth or someone back in the MLB home office in New York. Until then teams are going to have to figure out ways to deal with it as best they can.
(Brewers manager Ron) Roenicke is very eager to hear details of the challenge system, which to this point has been discussed only in broad terms. He plans to have one coach on his staff, probably John Shelby, serve as the point man on choosing when to challenge, but has held off setting firm plans until hearing from MLB precisely how the system will work.
“I’m not uncomfortable about the [pending rules changes governing home plate collisions], but I’m uncomfortable about the replay,” Roenicke said. “You know, you’ve got enough to focus on with what’s going on out there, and to have to worry about all this stuff with the replay, and what to challenge and what not to… I enjoy managing games, not umpiring.”
It’s hard to blame Roenicke for being skeptical about having to challenge plays. If the object is getting the calls right, why turn it into a silly “game within the game” just to keep up with the NFL? Managers certainly have enough to worry about between having a roster of 25 supremely talented, egotistical and highly paid players to juggle and plenty of media and fans ready to pounce on any mistake, however small or even imaginary.
As it is, managers will be asked to decide whether or not to review close calls against their team in innings one through six. If a manager chooses not to review a play, and 15 super slow motion replays they won’t even get to see up close until after the game show the TV audience that they should have, the howls will surely start. Any incorrect challenge (or even two correct challenges) will leave a manager vulnerable to the ultimate criticism should a clearly incorrect call go against his team before the 7th and they’re left with no challenge to overturn it.
It’s a lot to think of, but Cardinal’s manager Mike Matheny may just have a leg up on the competition when it comes to dealing with not just when, but also how, to challenge plays:
Throughout last season, Matheny and his staff would approach games as if they had expanded replay. They expedited ways for information to get from the video room to dugout. They studied when in a game to use their limited challenges. They discussed how Matheny would approach the umpires to buy time for a video room review before a challenge.
“Basically, realizing that this was coming, we started talking about it even though we didn’t know the timing of it,” Matheny said. “Maybe you had to get right out there or else you lose the opportunity to do it. … I would give it away sometimes that I would (challenge) because I’d already be gone and out there arguing. You had to trust your eyes. I don’t go out a lot. I haven’t in the past.
“I learned I may have to go out more now.”
Even if they don’t really end up gaining any advantage from having done this, just the fact that they were is just another example of their typical, nauseating competence that never seems to go away.
Envy aside, it’s going to be interesting to see how teams choose to handle this stuff. Dan Brooks and Russell Carleton tackled the issue for Baseball Prospectus last month. If you’re not a subscriber, you can get the meat of the argument in the always dependable Effectively Wild podcast. Basically, the upshot is that so few truly “review-able” plays come along that anytime there is even a small chance for a successful challenge, a manager should pull the trigger in hopes of gaining an advantage every once in a while.
With managers being a generally risk averse lot (just look at how they all like to hide behind the saves rule to avoid having to make ambiguous decisions when it comes to the bullpen) it seems hard to imagine them opening themselves up to the kind of criticism that will come from being challenge-less when an obviously wrong call is made later very often. There is probably also going to be some social pressure not to aggravate umps with lots of frivolous challenges and potentially leave their team vulnerable to retaliation in the form of refusal to review by an ump after the sixth. Just imagine Joe West or Angel Hernandez defiantly running a manager who has the facts on their side but has rubbed them the wrong way. That should be fun.
If I had to bet, I would say that the general trend early on is going to be towards under using challenges rather than over using them. Like I said up front, hopefully the silly challenge aspect of this will go away shortly and getting calls right can become the paramount concern. Until that time, though, look forward to social media and talk radio being full of armchair challengers, each one of whom can obviously do the job better than whatever dunder headed fool currently runs their hometown nine. In other words, second verse same as the first.