In the past several days I have considered some unintended consequence of the replay challenge system. I kind of like thinking about such things and encourage all of you to do the same so that we won’t be surprised when they happen.
I think this observation from reader Tim W. would apply to either a fifth umpire system or a challenge system — and it’s not a criticism; merely an observation — but it is yet another way that replay will change the game in subtle ways. Specifically: players will — or should be — trained to play for four outs:
Will teams now play to 4 outs per inning? Runners on 1st and 2nd, one out. Ground ball that looks like a double play with a neighborhood tag of second and a close play at first. Should be inning ending. Now the runner on second continues to round third and is headed toward home. Does the defense give up and assume both outs will be upheld and does the runner head to the dugout. OR does the runner continue toward home, the first baseman throws home, there is a collision at the plate. Your catcher just got ran over because you were not sure of the outs being upheld or the offense scores a run on the appeal … There would seem to be endless possibilities if you begin to review every aspect of the game. Why is the out at first more or less important than strike 3/ball 4. That out or lack thereof, is one of twenty-seven, just as the play at first.
There has been a lot of talk about where to put runners on overturned calls, the issues facing “continuation plays” as it were. I feel like there will be at least an initial bias to putting runners back to where they actually got to on the play as opposed to sending them backwards on the basepaths in the interests of undoing what would not have been done. Not intentionally, but because it will make umpires feel like they’re interfering with natural play more than they really are. Just sort of a psychological quirk.
Smart teams will start to take advantage of that. They’ll tell their runners and fielders to keep moving. To treat the game like there are four outs an inning so as to gain maximal advantage on overturned calls.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.