Baseball is doing its best to get replay right

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People complained that the reviews of the Gary Sheffield and Daniel
Murphy home runs this week took too long, with the former taking more
than six minutes and the latter almost four minutes. I can understand
the frustration, but you have to laud Major League Baseball for having its priorities in order:

“In the case you’re talking about, the home run call on Sheffield,
that one took about six minutes – just over six minutes. And the reason
for that was because we were really trying to get clear and convincing
evidence if we were going to overturn the call. So we were pulling up
all the various camera angles that we had available to us, and it took
us some time to discern whether or not that play could be overturned.
Ultimately, the home run was upheld, but it took a little time. But we
want to get the play right. The ultimate, ultimate, overriding concern
is to get the play right.”

Which it should be. We can argue about whether or not replay itself is
a good idea, but if you’re going to go with replay, there’s no reason
to rush it if it risks getting the call wrong.

Not that baseball shouldn’t do what it can to speed up the process
where it can. Indeed, based on some of the reviews we’ve seen, I can
think of two things that would go a long way towards making replays as
efficient as possible.

First: strongly discourage umpires from standing around trying to
decide if a replay should be reviewed. During last week’s Red Sox-Mets
game, the umps held a conclave around third base for some time,
apparently trying to determine if Youkilis’ shot down the left field
line should be reviewed. We all got pride, and umpires more than most
of us, but really, it was obvious within about five seconds of the ball
clearing the fence that there was a question as to whether it was fair
or foul. End the conference, go watch the video, get the call right,
and play ball.

Second: as we get more experience with replays, patterns are
probably going to develop. We can imagine, for example, that given the
stupid placement of the railing and advertisements on the upper deck at
Citi Field, that more than a few disputed calls are going to occur
there. Indeed, just about every park is going to have its own
particular problem areas, and once they’re identified, perhaps it would
be worth installing some fixed cameras that focus specifically on those
areas. Also, given that balls over the foul pole are going to be an
issue, maybe baseball should install the same sort of camera that sits
on every set of goal posts in the NFL.

Heck, they could even solicit sponsorships for the things. Based on the great publicity they’re getting over the Murphy homer, Subway would probably pony up at this point.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.