The New York Times has an interesting profile on Brett Weber, a coaching assistant for the New York Yankees who handles a lot of different jobs. He pitches batting practice, warms dudes up, charts pitches, works in the analytics department and a lot of other things. His most important job, however, is reviewing every play in Yankees games in real time and calling Joe Girardi in the hotline if and when he thinks a call was missed on the field. He’s the Yankees replay guru.
Weber, the Times notes, is good at his job. The Yankees challenge fewer calls than any other team but get calls overturned at the highest rate in baseball. Yankees players and officials credit Weber for his good eye and quick draw to the hotline for that.
But the story also sort of reveals the central problem I always had with replay: the fact that it’s a challenge system in and of itself.
As Andrew Miller, who is quoted in the story, notes, Weber gives the Yankees a strategic and competitive advantage. Which really shouldn’t be the result of a system designed to correct wrongs. Gamesmanship in the form of challenges and losing challenges and all of that was something detractors like me worried about years before the system was put in place and it would appear that, yes, some teams come out ahead of others as a result of the challenge system. That this occurs is stupid and inexcusable.
The story also shows us, by giving us a peek at Weber’s video setup and approach, how easy it is for a single person to assess whether or not there was a missed call and to intervene in a timely manner. Why, then, can’t a fifth umpire do this? Baseball always said it was unworkable to do that, but there seems to be no basis for that claim. If Weber could do it, so too could an umpire. Except he’d be looking at it impartially rather than as a means of gaining a strategic advantage like Weber is.
It’s nice that the Yankees have a Brett Weber. It’s dumb that all of baseball can’t have one in equal measure.