The unintended consequences of the replay challenge system

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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.

Nationals’ sell-off a vindication for Dusty Baker

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The Nationals threw in the towel on Tuesday, trading second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and 1B/OF Matt Adams to the Cardinals. The club also placed outfielder and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper on revocable waivers but took him back. The Nats’ sell-off is a vindication for former manager Dusty Baker, let go after the Nationals failed to advance past the NLDS for a second straight year.

Baker had roughly the same team current manager Dave Martinez did. It was arguably worse, considering he never wrote Juan Soto‘s name on the lineup card. The 2018 squad, sans Baker, has been marked by mutiny and underachievement. While failing to reach the NLCS in Baker’s two years was disappointing, he took them to Game 5 in the NLDS both years as well as 95 and 97 regular season wins. Right now, Martinez’s squad has a winning percentage more than 100 points lower than Baker’s last year. They’re on pace to go 80-82, which would be their first sub-.500 season since 2011.

Baker has always had an undeserved bad rap. He was, correctly, blamed for the Cubs’ demise, due somewhat to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior falling apart, ostensibly from overuse. However, after his stint in Chicago, Baker took the lowly Reds from the bottom of the NL Central to the top in two years between 2008-10. Then he took the Nationals, which had won a meager 83 games in 2015 and had made the playoffs just twice since moving from Montreal, to two consecutive NLDS Game 5’s.

Not much changed from 2017 to ’18. Martinez inherited Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, among others. But for one reason or another — injuries, admittedly, make up one reason — almost all of these players are having worse years under Martinez than under Baker. Describing the 2018 team to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker said, “They’re together, but they’re separate.”

Is it strictly Baker that would make the difference? No, of course not. But the Nationals organization seems unwilling or unable to address issues that may extend into the front office. The Nats seem happy to go through a new manager every couple of years and hope that fixes all that ails them. Since Frank Robinson’s five years at the helm from 2002-06, Manny Acta managed two and a half years, Jim Riggleman one and a half, Davey Johnson two, Matt Williams two, Baker two. Maybe the problem was never the manager. Perhaps the problem is the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo.