What happens to “the neighborhood play” if managers are given replay challenges?

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There was a classic neighborhood play in last night’s Sox-Tigers game. And it has me wondering about the future and instant replay.

The scene: Austin Jackson on first base, Jose Iglesias at the plate. He grounds it to Pedroia who bobbles it, then flips it to Stephen Drew at short who tries to start a double play. You can watch the play in real time at the :18 second mark here:

Note that Drew takes that throw pretty far off the second base bag. Here’s a still:

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We are all familiar with calls in this situation. In order to keep shortstops and second basemen from being destroyed on close plays, umpires have routinely called base runners out as long as the middle infielder was “in the neighborhood” of the bag when he accepted the throw. Most often it’s a situation in which the fielder skids a foot across second base and takes the throw a second later.  It’s a pretty smart instance of latitude, obviously, because you do not want guys having their knees blown out as they try to ensure that the foot is on the bag in every instance.

This one, of course, was more extreme than you usually see, Indeed, it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if the ump had called Jackson safe here because of how far off the bag was when Drew took the throw. But rather than dwell on it for purposes of this game (it happened, it’s over), I’m more interested in thinking about what could happen with this play, and all neighborhood plays, if it were to occur in a future with a replay challenge system like the one we’ve been told to expect.

If managers can challenge this play, Jim Leyland certainly comes out to challenge it, right? Why wouldn’t he?  Unlike last night where any argument he might have made about it would have been pointless, in a replay system he has a chance to get an out back.  And if there is replay on it and he did argue, the umpire clearly must rule that Jackson was safe, yes? We could probably live with that — this play was on the extreme end — so probably not too big a deal.

But now picture a more typical neighborhood play when the fielder skids his foot across the bag but takes the throw a second later. Wouldn’t a manager be wise to challenge those too? Like, every one of them? I mean, an out is valuable! Don’t umps have to call it how the replay actually shows it then? The entire point of replay to take out those fuzzy areas of umpire judgment, after all. And if neighborhood plays get challenged and outs get overturned, doesn’t that mean the end of the neighborhood play? And doesn’t that put middle infielders at greater risk of injury?

Of course it’s possible MLB could make a rule that the neighborhood play is not subject to challenge. That would be hard, though, because as it is now, there are still instances where umps do call runners safe if the neighborhood is too big. And there are plays at first base sometimes where the first basemen is given the benefit of taking his foot off the bag early in the interests of not getting stomped on.  Where do you draw the line on a matter that, historically, has been part of an umpire’s judgment and discretion?

And if MLB doesn’t say the neighborhood play is exempt from replay, how do managers approach it in real life? It’s hard for me to imagine that managers would actually challenge normal neighborhood plays as a matter of course because, man, that’d be kind of a jerk move. But sometimes one out would be critical and maybe they do? Do they challenge it in tight games but not blowouts? Late innings but not early? How does that work? And does it become a strategic tool for managers? It’ll be interesting to see.

For my part, though, “interesting” does not mean “good.” I want the umpire to maintain discretion in that situation, not have the neighborhood play become something managers can tinker with in order to gain strategic advantage. More broadly, I want umpires and umpires alone to be the ones who decide how rules are interpreted. And if we had a replay system that was instituted and run by umpires (with my preferred “fifth ump in the booth” system), they’d be able to.

With a challenge system, who knows how it’ll go?

Mets trade Curtis Granderson to the Dodgers

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The Mets traded centerfielder Curtis Granderson to the Dodgers for cash considerations or a player to be named later, the teams announced late Friday night. Granderson was rumored to be drawing interest from teams earlier in the week, and found a landing place after slashing .256/.360/.721 since the start of the month. In a corresponding move, the Dodgers designated right-hander Dylan Floro for assignment to clear roster space for the outfielder.

As a whole, the 36-year-old’s 2017 campaign has been a tad underwhelming. Granderson entered Saturday batting .228/.334/.481 with 19 home runs and an .815 OPS through 395 PA, and accrued 1.7 fWAR to the 5.1 fWAR he produced during his pennant-winning, MVP-contending season in 2015. Still, with under $4 million remaining on his contract, another 20+ homer season around the corner and the defensive chops to man center field, it looks like a prudent deal for the Dodgers as they continue to bulldoze their way to the playoffs this fall.

The club has yet to outline their plans for Granderson, but his addition to a crowded outfield could displace centerfielder Joc Pederson, who turned in a meager .214/.329/.415 batting line through 292 PA in 2017. It could also have ramifications for fellow veteran Andre Ethier, assuming he’s healthy enough to compete for a starting role when he comes off the 60-day disabled list in September. The Mets, meanwhile, are expected to lean more heavily on rookie outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who’s made just five starts this season after struggling to get consistent playing time on the field.

Corey Kluber exits game with right ankle sprain

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Indians’ right-hander Corey Kluber was removed from the sixth inning of his start on Friday night, bringing a streak of 14 starts with 8+ strikeouts to an unfortunate end after he sprained his right ankle. Kluber stumbled off the mound while trying to field a base hit from Eric Hosmer and was seen visibly limping as he moved to cover first base. He was allowed to stay in the game for one more batter, but quickly yielded a three-pitch single to Melky Cabrera and left the mound with head athletic trainer James Quinlan.

It was a poor ending to another strong outing by the right-hander, who delivered 5 1/3 innings of one-run, four-strikeout ball and took his 12th win of the season after the Indians amassed a nine-run lead. Postgame comments by Cleveland skipper Terry Francona suggest that Kluber isn’t facing a serious setback after sustaining the sprain, however, and might even be good to go by the time his next start comes around on Wednesday.

While the Royals escaped Friday’s loss without injury, the 10-1 drubbing pushed them 6.5 games back of the division lead and half a game behind the Twins and Angels for the second AL wild card berth. They’ll host a rematch on Saturday at 7:15 ET, with left-hander Jason Vargas set to face off against Indians’ righty Trevor Bauer.