Last year, we looked at the arguments for and against the implementation of instant replay in baseball. This year, Major League Baseball decided to make replay a part of the game, but as with any change, there have been some hiccups. These hiccups have led to some resistance and blowback, leading to contention about the system itself. Each failure of instant replay in its infant stage represents a chance for the entire system to come crashing down. Baseball should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
While many initially fought replay on the grounds that the new system was too complex or arbitrary, the list of rules agreed upon by MLB owners is very straightforward. A list of reviewable plays as reported by Jayson Stark at ESPN reports, can be seen below:
In addition to home runs, expanded replay was unanimously approved by MLB owners for the following plays:
• Ground-rule double
• Fan interference
• Stadium boundary calls
• Force play*
• Tag play
• Fair/foul in outfield only
• Trap play in outfield only
• Batter hit by pitch
• Timing play
• Touching a base (requires appeal)
• Passing runners
• Record keeping
*Except fielder’s touching of second on double play
These plays provide little room for interpretation and instead place a burden of education on the managers and team staff, as is the case with all other baseball rules. It is the team’s responsibility, as well as the announcers commentating on the game, to understand the possibilities of replay in order to effectively do their job.
Any critique of the new system on the basis of challengeable plays, such as those regarding the “neighborhood rule”, which is the caveat to the force play listed above, are fair in order to examine possible improvements. Yet these arguments should be analyzed through the lens of player safety, which is another focus that MLB is attacking through new policies regarding catcher collisions, pitcher’s padded hats, and now middle infielders.
Another large critique is that replay is still getting calls wrong. However, it should be understood that replay is not a method that eliminates mistakes; as football fans will attest. Instead, the goal of replay is to reduce the number of incorrect calls. And this is done through the requirement that a replay needs “indisputable video evidence” in order to overturn, which gives preference to the initial call, sometimes at the cost of the right call. Yet this type of system, as opposed to one that assumes skepticism toward the play, limits the umpire’s ability to change a right call to a wrong call and will ultimately reduce the number of blown calls.
By no means is the system perfect, but it should be looked at with respect to what other negative effects replay could have imposed on the game. The current system does a good job of allowing for the possibility of taking a second look at close plays while limiting the possible nuances that could accompany play review. Currently replay rarely prolongs the game any more than a standard pitching change (average replay was just 1:39 in the first 13 games). It limits the possibility of over-challenging by invoking a negative penalty for poor challenges. And it gives GM’s another tool that they can use to evaluate their coaching personnel with; is the manager challenging at the right time, or is the manager too quick to go to replay.
While replay has its flaws, the current system accomplishes its goal of reducing blown calls while working within current MLB policy focuses. Any critiques of the replay system should also be viewed and discussed with the acknowledgement of how they will influence the larger game of baseball. New technologies represent new ways to help improve the game, provided any changes are evaluated and implemented with an eye to existing rules. There is no reason for baseball to stick its head in the ground and reject all change. Its time to move forward and look towards ways to continue improving the game.