Rounding the Bases: Instant Replay | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Welcome to Rounding the Bases, a weekly discussion where we tackle some topic on the minds of Brewers fans at the moment. Follow @RyanTopp and @SteveGarczynski on Twitter to join the discussion.

Steve Garczynski:

The ALCS is even at two games apiece after the Tigers’ bats woke up and pounded Red Sox starter Jake Peavy. Instead of talking about Jim Leyland’s line-up decisions and how they positively impacted the Tigers, the hot takes have focused on the impact of instant replay when it’s expanded in 2014.

With the bases loaded, Dustin Pedroia bobbled a ground ball from Jose Iglesias, recovered and flipped the ball to Stephen Drew, who was clearly off the bag when he received the throw. It was the typical neighborhood call, but this was an egregious example of the play. Jay Jaffe has a good write up at about how the play will be affected by the new replay rules. Will managers use their challenges to reverse the neighborhood call in critical situations? It would be malpractice if they didn’t get that call reversed.

The problem for Major League Baseball is that leniency on those plays allows the defensive player to make the play and stay out of danger. The NFL is currently getting slammed over the dangers of concussions from violent collisions, and the last thing that baseball wants to do is get involved in that fight.

I think the larger issue in this discussion is the poor implementation of the replay system in baseball. Challenges are the worst possible way to run a replay system. The goal of replay is to get the calls right and that burden should be on the umpiring crew, not the manager. But the challenge flag puts the manager in the cross hairs to make the right challenges and ration them correctly so they are available at the right times during the game.  It ignores the fact that there can be more incorrect calls than challenges available and penalizes managers for making the wrong split second decision when they don’t have all of the information that viewers at home have.

Ryan, do you like the replay system that baseball is adopting next year, or do you think it’s too flawed to be effective?

Ryan Topp:

Yeah, I think this particular play really highlights some of the problems with the idea of using a challenge system to determine which calls should and should not be reviewed. As you pointed out, managers are going to have to make the decision whether or not to challenge the “neighborhood play” and I think is that we’re going to end up with another instance where unwritten rules are going to rule the day.

Some managers are probably going to go into next year saying that they don’t want to challenge in instances like the one Wednesday because they don’t want it called on them, and then force their infielders to further expose themselves to injury. Those managers aren’t going to be very pleased when some other manager decides to call their guys on it, and it’s probably going to lead to a lot of hard feelings and accusations. As you pointed out, if there was a fifth booth umpire making the call, the neighborhood play could continue to exist as it always has much more easily.

On the other hand, if this forces baseball to iron out some grey areas in their rules, perhaps it could be a net positive. Even without the pressure of replay, baseball should have codified the neighborhood play years ago in one way or another. How exactly it could be defined in the rule book is up for debate with the main idea to give the fielder some flexibility of movement to protect themselves and still turn double plays at the bag. Perhaps a time window or an actual “neighborhood” around the bag would help, I’m not sure which is best.

Really, the point of all rules should be to ensure consistency and accuracy, and I’m just not sure that this proposed replay system is the best way to do that.

Steve Garczynski:

The rule is that the defensive player has to touch the bag with the ball for it to be an out, so the neighborhood play probably should go away. We try to play it off like it’s there for safety reasons, but the reality is that it allows easier double plays. If the goal is to protect the defensive player, MLB should enforce that collisions are not allowed and that the runner cannot slide through the base.

Your “grey areas” are really just unwritten rules, which means that you support the St. Louis Cardinals and are a horrible human being. That’s a scientific fact.

Another issue with the challenge system is that replay monitors are not allowed in the dugout. Managers don’t have the best view of every play, so a monitor of some sort seems necessary for them to be able to challenge correctly, otherwise teams would rely on expanded scoreboard replays that would give the home team an advantage because they control what is shown on that monitor.

Also, are pitchers going to become a part of this game of deciding when to use a replay by slowing down the game and allowing managers to make the decision to throw the challenge flag? Or are managers going to argue while they wait for a signal that from the dugout that it’s worth the risk of throwing a challenge flag? Why would MLB use flags anyway since they don’t exist in any other part of the game?

The whole system is lazy when they could have reasonably implemented a fifth booth umpire that watches the replays in real time and calls down to stop the game when necessary. We already watch replays four or five times before the pitcher is back on the mound and ready to deliver the next pitch. The booth umpire would be almost invisible and prevent the pace of the game from changing drastically.

Ryan Topp:

Your bizarre hostility aside, I think you hit on a couple key things here.

First, the whole challenge system is going to become pretty awkward when players (either hitters or pitchers) start obviously delaying to allow their manager or whoever is making the calls to challenge time to decide if they’re challenging or not.

There is also going to need to be some sort of allowance made for managers being able to see replays in a timely manner in the dugout. It’s not really fair to make them take the blame if they have to rely on the say so of others for the decision. There are also going to need to be some rules put in place so that feeds don’t all of a sudden mysteriously start failing right when a visiting team has to make a key decision. Not sure how you do that, but it should be workable in a business that generates as much money as baseball does.

Getting back to the neighborhood play issue, though, the whole point is to avoid unwritten rule territory and get things written down so that real rules can be properly enforced. Coming up with a practical rule that would keep players safe, and yes, also keep double plays as a key part of the game, shouldn’t really be that hard.

You’re probably right that the best way to get rid of it would be to simply make it illegal for the runner to make contact with the fielder. Of course the uproar against that sort of change would be deafening, and I’m sure baseball doesn’t want to pick that particular fight with traditionalists who are probably already sore about replay at this moment in time.

At the end of the day, the replay system is going to be a pretty big step up from what came before, which was the umpires having to make calls without the same benefits of technology as the entire TV audience. That wasn’t fair to players, fans or the umpires themselves and this is welcome change. It is going to be interesting to see what sort of unintended consequences spring from this and how MLB goes about addressing them. Given their history, the response is likely to be slow and less than satisfactory, but the overall change should still be a net positive.

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