We all saw this coming with the replay challenge system


This is taken from this morning’s And That Happened recaps. I made it its own post because the recaps tend to get buried by mid-morning.

Day 2 of instant replay and everything that many of us said could go wrong with a challenge-based system went wrong:

(a) A critical call was blown;
(b) the call could not be reviewed because the manager was out of challenges;
(c) the wholly arbitrary rule that umpires can’t initiate reviews before the seventh inning was in effect;
(d) the blown-but-unreviewable call constituted the game’s margin of victory; and
(e) all of that led to extended delays.

As for the facts: the entire description of what went wrong and why can be read here, but the short version is that Giants manager Bruce Bochy was penalized for mounting an unsuccessful challenge on one close-as-could-be play by not being able to challenge and overturn an obviously missed call by the umpires on a run-scoring play in last night’s game against the Diamondbacks. The rule has it that a manager gets one challenge and he can only use a second one if the first one was successful. That arbitrary seventh inning rule prevented the umps from reviewing it themselves.

Of course, why a totally defensible, but ultimately unsuccessful challenge on one play deprives a manager of a challenge on a wholly unrelated play is utterly beyond me. Why umpires — or anyone — can’t initiate review of plays that are clearly botched before the seventh inning is likewise beyond me. Why Bruce Bochy and the Giants have to bear the burden of fixing the umpire’s mistakes — and do so in a manner that requires game show-like calculation and management of scarce, gimmicky resources — is so far beyond me that I’d get jet lag if I had to go visit it. Baseball sold the challenge system on its “uniqueness and charm.” This was certainly unique, but not at all charming.

I’m sure, to the extent there are any official responses to the events of this game, they will reference the fact that, as recently as last season, the same outcome would have occurred here but, unlike last year at least there was a chance for the run-scoring call here to be reviewed (that chance being had Bruce Bochy not burned his challenge). Don’t accept that answer. Baseball had carte blanche and the support of everyone to institute a system that got calls right. They chose, however, to go with a system that, by definition, does not have getting calls right as its sole objective. A system which managers do not care for and which its former head of umpiring said “would lead to unbelievable confusion and would miss the point of instituting replay.”

Well, mission accomplished.

The unintended consequences of the replay challenge system

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies

Reader Chris Rochon tweeted a good question to me a little while ago:

The “neighborhood play” meaning those times, especially on double plays, where the runner is called out at second even if the shortstop or second baseman doesn’t tag the bag when he has the ball. It’s very common and allowed because allowing it is in the interest of protecting players from getting their legs broken. But yes, technically, those plays should not result in outs under the rules.

So what happens to that in a challenge system? My guess — unless MLB specifically prohibits challenges on neighborhood plays — we get a varying system where neighborhood plays aren’t challenged in blowouts but are in close games where a runner on second means a lot. And in order to prevent that, shortstops will hold the bag longer in order to get the runner and eventually someone gets hurt.

Or, if we’re lucky enough to where that doesn’t happen, we get into dumb arguments about the “unwritten rules” of challenges. Where it’s sometimes OK to do it and sometimes OK not to and it just adds another layer of derp to these sorts of discussions like we’ve seen when someone bunts to break up no-hitters or steals a base when up by six runs. That’s uplifting. Let’s call it the “full employment for talk show radio hosts rule.”

On the other hand, if MLB does outlaw challenges on neighborhood plays, it has essentially institutionalized the neighborhood play, which it has never seen fit to do before. Which will open the floor, logic dictates, to other safety-driven defacto rule changes. Catcher collisions maybe? Which, hey, that’s cool. I’d be open to talk about all of that stuff. Larry Granillo wrote about the neighborhood play a little while ago and, as he pointed out, maybe it’d be a good thing if it were gone.

MLB just needs to realize, though, that when it takes the application of the rules out of the hands of umpires and into the hands of the managers it looses control of the situation pretty quickly, the game gets changed and it has to do a lot of work to make sure things are even-handedly applied. None of which I think it intended when it proposed a challenge system.

MLB is not entitled to instantaneous benefit of the doubt on the replay challenge system

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

My ire at the challenge system announced yesterday is not based on the presumption that it will be an utter failure. I must, and hereby do, acknowledge that, yes, some calls that were bad will be fixed as a result of a challenge system. And I will grant that that’s better than nothing.

Nor do I think that my preferred system would be perfect. No system will be. So let us dispose with the notion that I’m yelling about the perfect being the enemy of the good here. I’m not doing that at all. My issue, as I explained yesterday, is partially philosophical and partially practical.

The philosophical: making a challenge system is an abdication of baseball’s responsibility to get calls right by putting the onus on a manager to challenge or not. Taking what should be a given in baseball — the right calls being made at maximal levels — and turning it into a choice. Adding a strategic element to it. Saying — as some definitely will when it inevitably happens — that it was the manager’s fault a bad call wasn’t overturned rather than the ump’s. Once you make that choice you’ve changed the conversation about bad calls, and I find that troubling.

Practically I have problems in that, while MLB and its surrogates have argued that other systems weren’t practical and that a challenge system is the best, they’ve not explained why the challenge system isn’t subject to the same problems as others or why it’s better in any actual way.

Jeff Passan’s column today is in that vein. It basically says “a challenge system isn’t perfect, but it’s good and good is better than nothing and don’t think that the people who came up with it haven’t thought of everything first.”

To sit there and blame those at MLB for this is wrong-headed. The game itself is to blame. It is not altogether receptive to replay … Of course Tony La Russa, John Schuerholz and Joe Torre, the influential members of the league’s Executive Council who helped shape the final plan, would like broader replay in a vacuum. Even Bud Selig, a longtime replay opponent, wants more than this. Anybody who thinks a group of smart men is sitting in a room and conspiring to come up with ways not to get calls right should check out the window, because those black helicopters are mighty close.

Well, of course they thought of things. They are smart people. But if they have reasoned this out so well, why did the announcement yesterday not explain these pros and cons? Instead of explaining why a fifth umpire scenario is unworkable, why were we condescended to with “it’ll be unique and charming” and “this will empower managers” when (a) it won’t be unique and charming; and (b) managers hate it. Why was there no explanation as to how a challenge system will present shorter delays and stoppages in play than an alternative? As it is now, the one thing that stops a game dead cold in its tracks is a manager walking on to the field, for any reason. This system demands that that happen, as often as eight more times a game if managers use all of their challenges.

Which isn’t to say the assumption is wrong. It’s to say that the men who brought us “this time it counts” to the All-Star Game should not, as a matter of course, get the benefit of the doubt when changes are brought to the game. They should not be allowed to simply pat us on the head and say our concerns aren’t warranted because smart men like Tony La Russa — who came up with over-specialized bullpens and loudly promoted the “unwritten rules” —  thought everything through.

La Russa is a genius and a Hall of Fame manager. Bud Selig has a track record of bringing in change that many opposed but which ended up working just fine.  But neither of them are infallible.  They should be required to explain to us why alternatives — including some which are used in other sports leagues — aren’t ideal. Explain to us why this system — which is more radical in nature than those alternatives in terms of whose responsibility it now is to get calls right — is the best.

Until it can do that and can do it satisfactorily, I don’t think accusing those of us unhappy with the system as proposed as conspiracy theorists and hysterics is all that reasonable.

Most managers don’t want a challenge system. Baseball is doing it anyway.

Tony La Russa

The former head of the umpires is against a challenge system. So too are the men tasked with doing the challenges:

If the managers don’t like it who, exactly, is this best for? And why?

I’ve seen interviews with Bruce Bochy and Bob Melvin so far today, each of which are headlined something to the effect of “manager happy with expanded replay.” But you read the comments and what they’re happy about is the notion of getting wrong calls right.  Which is an easy notion to agree with, one would hope.

They both copped to having questions about the details, though. I bet there will be more questions as time goes on. All the while, I bet MLB will talk about how “everyone loves this new system,” much the way they do with the All-Star Game and everything else MLB does. Don’t buy it.