Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tmac's Teachable Moments - Let's Fix Replay

Tmac's Teachable Moments presents a review of ways to fix instant replay.

It's a new year and would you believe it's less than one month until pitchers and catchers report. If you're a baseball fan and if you're frequenting Close Call Sports, and there's a really good chance you are, then you've probably been frustrated about the way MLB has handled replays since their 2014 expansion. I propose some ways to fix MLB instant replay in this offseason addition of Tmac's Teachable Moments.

First of all, how many times have I said MLB is horrible at communication. To begin, let's fix part of that problem.

Umpires in Japan's NPB have access to a mic.
1) Give the Crew Chief a microphone
Football and hockey refs have mics, and basketball officials can communicate what's going on because the media table is court side. Not knowing a ruling is like missing twenty minutes of a movie. The result is the fans become informed by announcers who don't know what they're talking about. We get announcers making stuff up while attempting to fill in the blanks. A simple explanation after every replay would suffice. It also allows the CC to explain ejections, complicated situations, or perhaps a strange play. We have the technology, so lets do this. It makes it easier for people in the press box (well above the playing field) or sitting at home to understand the call on the field. Communication can always be better.
Gil's Note: The Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (Japan's MLB-equivalent) outfits its umpires with access to microphones on the playing field level. When a ruling requires explanations, the umpire-in-chief can simply walk over to the warning track, pick up a microphone, and explain the play over the stadium PA for all to hear. SEE IT IN ACTION: Dropped Third Strike = Home Run.

2) A manager gets two challenges, and a challenge must be IMMEDIATE
Quick decisions may eliminate delays.
Let's eliminate the Crew Chief-initiated challenges. A manager should use his challenges judiciously.  When games are delayed for 30 seconds here and 30 seconds there, it adds up. We had some great postseason games, but they routinely went over four hours. Even the most arduous of baseball fans can't spend that kind of time watching baseball in October. Gil and I tried to cover every post season game and I was worn out by the end. There are some people saying this was the best WS ever and many people missed the crucial moments because the games lasted forever.

Let's get rid of "turning the umpire" strategy.
So, what does "Immediate" mean? By definition, "occurring or done at once; instant." When a call was missed in the "old" days before replay, a manager would come out IMMEDIATELY to dispute or seek clarification. He didn't wait for 30 seconds or more to hear from his replay technician on whether it's worth a challenge. What does this do? It eliminates the sliding challenges were a guy is clearly safe and his butt or his legs comes off the bag for s split second. There's a difference between coming off a base by over sliding it and having your front foot come off a base because a base is hard. Replay is designed to fix the egregious errors.

If a manager is successful with each of his two challenges then he gets another and another until his challenge is not successful. Now there's no penalty for an incorrect challenge after the 6th inning.  Managers are bailed out by getting a Crew Chief Review every time they ask.

Umpires tend to not miss three calls against a team in a game (according to my records, it happened just twice this year), so if you use your challenges properly you will be fine.

I'm adaptable to "immediate," but considering Stadiums have clocks why not have a 5 second countdown clock after every play? You could even hire a 5th umpire to man the clock. This takes the replay technicians out of the game where they don't belong.

How does a manager challenge, you must be asking!

HBP or Foul? This play should be reviewable.
3) Give the manager a beanbag
You can make it a flag or whatever; just something that keeps him off the field.
Gil's Note: As of 2015, managers have been ordered to remain in the dugout to challenge most plays, but the manager is still notably permitted to hold play while consulting with the replay coordinator and bench coach about whether to challenge the call.

4) Let's replay more things
Fair/fouls in the infield, batted balls off batters, and full swings that turn into HBPs are some of the disasters that are not reviewable. I've been asked where to draw the line. We're currently reviewing interference, so why can't we also review obstruction? I'm not sure where the line is drawn, but let's get it right. This is a slippery slope, but we can make it an exciting one.

Let's put those stadium clocks to good use.
4) Ninety second limit once headsets are put on.
We can waive this in the postseason, but I can't tell you how many times in the late stages of a game we have had a 3+ minute replay delay in a game that was all but decided. While I agree the classy thing to do is to let the play be, managers are constantly fighting for players, trying to get them a base knock or lower a pitcher's ERA. So I don't begrudge them for challenging, but with the technology there is no reason MLB replay should take two to three times longer than NFL, NBA, or NHL.

These changes are simple.  There is no question replay is here to stay and there is also no question MLB is obsessed with shorter game times.  This might not take a large chunk of time but it would help with game flow which was just brutal last year.

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