Is the Replay Challenge system working in MLB?


With the second half of the year about to start, there’s one more thing I’d like to look back on. Instant replay. Whether we like it or not, it looks like replay reviews will remain part of the game for the foreseeable future. Although Bud Selig will be leaving after the 2014 season, another of his contemptible schemes will be sticking around for awhile.

I was truly disappointed when I learned that MLB would be installing a replay challenge system for the 2014 season. Sure it works great in (some) other sports — but baseball is different. Not only would it be more difficult to implement instant replay — but many of the same concerns we had with using instant replay for football are also there. Maybe the biggest issue is: slowing down a game that is already nearing three hours in average game time.

But for me, there was a lot more to be worried about. Breaking up the rhythm of the game is a biggie. Remember what happened to Jarred Cosart earlier this season.

After a lengthy delay to see if Jason Castro had illegally blocked the plate (don’t even get me started on that stupid rule change) produced no evidence worthy of changing the call, Cosart lost his rhythm and was unable to get Robinson Cano for the final out of the sixth inning. After battling it out without his best stuff  for five and two-thirds, Cosart gave way to the bullpen. As has been known to happen with the Astros bully, the flood gates quickly opened. Without the recent rule changes, that game could have taken on a completely different look.

Another issue is the possibility that the umpires will become hesitant to make a call. It happened in the NFL and it has taken years to overcome. Once that happens, the umps’ ability to control the game is in jeopardy.

But the thing that bothers me the most is the elevated risk of player injuries. For decades umpires have made the calls on close plays with player safety in mind. If the ball beat a runner to the bag and the fielder made an effort to apply the tag — an out was called. Now, fielders are forced to hang in there and make sure to get the tag on or risk getting an out call overturned. What’s a few broken fingers, anyway?

Red Sox manager John Farrell (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

I also have a problem with the way the rule has been carried out. We were told initially that the manager would only be able to challenge a call during the first seven innings of a game. That left the umpires policing themselves from the eighth inning on. But that hasn’t actually been the case. Managers can suggest that the umpires take a look at replay any time. And John Farrell recently did just that — basically challenging a game-ending double play turned by the Astros and delaying Houston’s victory celebration. Not only did the umpires let control of the game slip away a little bit — it was a bush league move by the Red Sox skipper.

The statistical data shows that the challenge system has had very little impact in overturning calls. Believe it or not, the umpires actually do a pretty good job. Only 316 of 607 manager challenges have been overturned. In addition, only 35 of 121 umpire initiated reviews have resulted in a changed call.

In 1423 total games, MLB is averaging less than one review for every two games played. And, with only half of them being overturned, we are looking at about one changed call for every four games. Is that really worth all of the hassle? And don’t the umpires look silly when they’re standing around with those headphones on?

Plus, I miss the arguments. One good tirade by a manager can go a long way in the entertainment department. I’d hate to think we’ll never see another manager come running out of the dugout and end up kicking dirt on an umpire or uprooting a base from the ground.