The overturning of the Pete Kozma play last night was a preview of the upcoming challenge replay system

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Watching the umpires overturn Dana DeMuth’s awful call on the would-be double play ball dropped by Pete Kozma last night made me wonder about the upcoming expanded instant replay system. Hearing Joe Torre talk about it with Ken Rosenthal a couple of innings later made me wonder even more.

My biggest takeaways from it are that (a) it may reveal why baseball wants a managerial challenge system for upcoming expanded instant replay; and (b) it illustrates a pretty big problem with the the managerial challenge system.

In case you missed it DeMuth, the second base umpire, originally said Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma lost the ball while exchanging it from his glove to his throwing hand, getting Dustin Pedoria at second base. He obviously did not, and thanks to the umpires conferring on the play and overturning their colleague, the right call was made.

Observations:

  • The correct call was made, but the entire process took a long, long time. We had the call, one manager arguing, the conference of umps, then the other manager arguing. Ultimately, it led to a delay in play of several minutes.
  • While long overall, once the umpires conferred, it was pretty clear that all of them except DeMuth knew that the call was blown. Arguments aside, the actual decision to overturn DeMuth was pretty quick once the umps focused on it. Like, less than 30 seconds quick.
  • Getting to that conference was interesting, though. It was hard to tell the timing from television, but it appears as though that the other umpires conferring to overturn the call didn’t happen until Sox manager John Farrell came out to argue.
  • When Joe Torre was asked about the overturn later, he noted that he knew the call would be overturned once he was the umpires “converged” or “collapsed” or some word like that. Either way, it was a telltale sign to him that they knew the call was wrong and it would be changed. He said it as if it happens routinely.

Takeaways:

  • How often could other umps overrule their colleagues because they saw the play better? I suspect a lot.
  • How many blown calls are known to be blown by the other umpires but are never overturned because either the manager doesn’t come out to argue like Farrell did or because it’s not as big a situation as that one was on as big a stage as the World Series? Again, I suspect a lot.
  • If umpires are able to confer — to collapse — as quickly as they did to get the call right and if Torre is so confident in them doing that that he knew what was going to happen when they did, why does he and Major League Baseball lack confidence in a replay system driven by the umpires — say, a 5th one in the booth — and want a managerial challenge system so badly?

I suspect that last bullet point is explained by the first couple of bullet points. Baseball worries about umpire ego and knows that, absent Farrell coming out to argue, they’re not going to convene and overturn their buddy out of some dumb code of umpire solidarity. As such, they want to make them do so (via video anyway) upon a manager’s challenge.

Of course, if we look at last night’s overturned call as a defacto manager’s challenge — which I think it kinda was, only without the video — we can see how long that process might take. Sub out Matheny’s arguing, which will presumably not be allowed under the new system, and replace it with the time for a video review. A review that, in this obvious case at least, wouldn’t really be necessary, but which will likely conform to this sort of time frame.

Given MLB’s concerns about delays in the game, and given its apparent confidence in umpires getting together to get calls right, and given the speed with which the calls are correctly made once umpires actually do get together to confer, I don’t understand why MLB doesn’t simply MANDATE umpires getting together to confer in the form of a fifth umpire up in a booth. Instead, they’re forcing these conferences (i.e. video reviews) via the time-consuming manager challenge.

In this case, the call was right and that was good. And in this case the call would be right under either replay regime.  One would take about 30 seconds, however. The other took several minutes and required a rare instance of umpires not acting defensively when one of the managers came out onto the field to challenge them.

Why MLB wants to institutionalize the latter system, then, is beyond me.

2017 Preview: Chicago White Sox

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Chicago White Sox.

After a couple of years of an all-in approach with a core of Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier, Adam Eaton and friends, Rick Hahn and the White Sox finally decided to tear it all down. And they tore it all down pretty productively, actually, dealing Sale and Eaton for a boatload of prospects, leading with Yoan Moncada, who has hit .287/.395/.480 with 23 home runs, 100 RBI and 94 stolen bases in 187 minor league games.

They also picked up righthander Michael Kopech who hits triple digits on the regular, one-time top prospect and still-promising Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning. They all join existing young talent like Tim Anderson, Carlos Rodon, Zack Collins, Carson Fulmer and Alec Hansen. The system, she is stocked.

 

In addition to all that new talent, the Sox have a new manager in Rick Renteria. What he’ll have to work with at the big league level is somewhat spotty, however, and could change pretty radically as the season wears on.

Still in house: Carols Quintana, Frazier, Cabrera and David Robertson, all of who are likely on the trading block (we know Quintana is). Hahn will entertain offers for anything not nailed down which, in this case, means anyone over the age of 25 or so. We could give a blow-by-blow of the offense, the pitching and the defense like we normally do here, but if you’re an obsessive White Sox fan you know that stuff already and if you’re not, all you really need to know is that between those inevitable departures and the loss of their ace in Sale and their best position player in Eaton, last year’s 78-wins are gonna seem like a distant memory.

Beyond trading stars for prospects, the White Sox have signaled that they’re in non-compete mode in other ways as well. New in the fold: Derek Holland, Peter Bourjos and Geovany Soto. Veterans who do a task or two well, go about their business and, if they have a super nice year, can get dealt at the deadline. In short, the lifeblood of a rebuild, not the stuff of greatness. There’s nobility in fulfilling that role even if there aren’t a lot of wins to be found in it.

Where are some wins to be found? Jose Abreu had a down year in 2016 and could be better this year. Both Holland and James Shields are capable of better years than they had last year. Indeed, it’d be close to impossible for Shields to be worse. They’ll have Carlos Rodon, who took a step forward last year and could be poised for a breakout. Quintana and company will be around until July most likely before they’re traded and before Hahn begins to call young dudes up for second half cups of coffee.

And that’s what this season is about, really. The cups of coffee. Seeing what the Sox have in their young talent, particularly Moncada, who has little left to prove in the minors, even if he spends some more time there and Rodon, who is already a key part of the big club. They may lose just as many games or more than they lost the past couple of seasons, but they’ll do it with more interesting players who fans can imagine being better in a White Sox uniform one day. And, heck, if someone develops a bit more quickly than expected, it could actually lead to good baseball. At least here and there.

Prediction: Fourth place, American League Central.

The Braves cave, a little anyway, on their outside food policy

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On Friday the Atlanta Braves announced a new policy for outside food, prohibiting ticket holders from bringing in their own. This was a reversal of their old policy — and the policies of the majority of teams around the league — which allowe fans to bring in soft-sided coolers with their own food and beverages, at least as long as the beverages were sealed.

The Braves claimed that the policy change was “a result of tighter security being put into place this season throughout the league,” but this was clearly untrue as no other teams are cracking down on outside food like this. If there are new security procedures, everyone else is able to accommodate them without an opportunistic crackdown on fans bringing in PB&J for their toddlers. It seemed more likely that this was a simple cash grab.

Today the Braves have reversed the policy somewhat:

While they’re looking for kudos here, this is likewise an admission that the “security” stuff was bull because, last I checked, security procedures aren’t subject to popular referendum and aren’t changed when people complain. What really happened here, it seems, is the Braves, for the first time in living memory, were called out by the public for their greed and realized that even they have some responsibility to not be jackasses about this sort of thing.

Still, a gallon bag policy is not the same as it was before. You could bring coolers into Turner Field and still can bring them into most parks around the league. But I guess this is better than nothing.