Replay and its unintended consequences

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Over at The Classical, Eric Nusbaum looks at a new instant replay system that has been instituted in pro cricket, and notes how it has changed the way the game is actually being played:

Technology changed the way umpires approached their jobs, which in turn has changed the way players approach theirs. The comparison doesn’t work perfectly, but this is akin to allowing baseball players to appeal balls and strikes to a machine with the intention of creating a more accurate strike zone, and with the unintended result being that pitchers start throwing over the middle more, resulting in more home runs. (Or vice versa: batters become fearful and begin swinging at bad pitches, resulting in more of the weak pop ups to the second baseman that Mets fans have nicknamed “Jason Bays.”)

It’s interesting to think about — all big changes are going to bring unintended consequences — but if anything it bolsters the case for the “fifth umpire” version of replay in baseball as opposed to anything else.

By having the fifth ump in a booth who is part of the on-the-field crew, you limit that us-vs.-them mentality that may cause umpires to do different things than they might otherwise do. And by taking out some sort of appeals process or challenge system, you limit the ability of players and managers to game the system.