Mike Scioscia was mad after last night’s game Dbacks-Angels game. Mad because the Angels lost, one presumes, but also mad because two replay reviews went against the Angels which should’t have.
The first came on a double play in the fourth, when Albert Pujols was called out when he appeared to beat the throw:
The second came on a sac fly in the ninth when Nick Ahmed was called safe at home on a sac fly when he appeared to be tagged:
“I don’t know how Albert Pujols is called out, I really don’t,” Scioscia said. “After you look at it, it’s obvious . . . When we were in New York, we went over to the facility and it seems like they have every camera angle, every super slow-motion you need. Yet we’re seeing, in my estimation, too many calls that aren’t reversed. Not only for us, but for the other team. Some things need to evolve as far as how we determine these calls, because there’s no standard for really what is going to overturn a call.”
The real issue to me seems to the standard of review. At the moment, the replay officials know what the ump said — in this case out on the first play, safe on the second — and don’t overturn that call unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence that it was wrong. There is deference given to the umpires in the game; a presumption that they were right. This is not just an accident, this is built into the system, just as certain deference is given to lower court judges on appeals in the legal system. The reviewer may think the ump got it wrong. He may actually disagree with the ump. But he won’t overturn the ump unless it’s more than that. It has to be SUPER OBVIOUS.
It makes sense to have that sort of deference in the legal world, because the lower court judge actually has a better view. He sees the witnesses and their demeanor. He watches the trial way longer and from a better perspective than an appeals court judge does. You should defer to the lower court unless it’s SUPER OBVIOUSLY WRONG because he truly does have a better view of things.
Such deference makes no sense whatsoever in baseball, however, because the replay official has a much better view. He has more camera angles and slow motion and replays. You want the replay guy to exercise stronger, more independent judgment because he actually has more and better information. In baseball it would be possible – in my view preferable — to have the appeals court judges (i.e. the replay umps) look at each review fresh and make the call with no reference to what the umps originally said on the field. A de novo review, to extend the legal analogy.
But we don’t do that. Not because the way it’s set up gives us better results. But because no one wants to ruffle the feathers of the field umps. By giving them the benefit of the doubt we give them we necessarily prevent the right call from being made some times. We should change that. If possible, we should have the replay umps be ignorant of the call that was made on the field. When not possible (because they see the call made on the replay), we should allow them to exercise total, independent judgment to make the call regardless of what the ump said. And, in an ideal world, the replay officials aren’t themselves umps so they don’t feel like they’re undermining their friends.
I like the system we have better than the old no replay system. But it could be better, and this is one way to make it better.