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

47 Comments

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.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
11 Comments

The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.