Thursday, October 20, 2016

Out or Safe? Call Stands Due to Home Lack of Evidence

When Replay Official Paul Nauert upheld HP Umpire Angel Hernandez's out call on Adrian Gonzalez at home plate, he ruled that the video was inconclusive: it did not convincingly confirm that baserunner Gonzalez was out, but it did not clearly prove that he was safe, either. Welcome to "call stands," Replay Review's safety valve.

This angle hides the glove and is inconclusive.
Whenever a controversial play like this comes up, it's helpful to put it into context. As of Wednesday's NLCS Game 4, including the Gonzalez play at the plate, we have logged 1,492 replays during the 2016 regular and postseasons: in other words, a sufficient sample size with which to work with three Replay Review outcome classifications:
Confirmed: Video and/or audio evidence was sufficient to verify the on-field ruling as correct.
Stands: Evidence failed to clearly and convincingly suggest the call was correct or incorrect.
Overturned: Evidence clearly and convincingly suggested the on-field ruling was incorrect.

Over the course of the 2016 regular season, approximately 26% of all replay outcomes were "Call Stands," compared to 23% confirmed and 51% overturned. "Stands" is nothing new: this is but one of hundreds.

There are a few potential touches to consider.
In July 2016, Replay Review overturns outnumbered uphelds (confirmed + stands) for the first time in expanded replay history, several years after MLB first stated that Replay Review's purpose was to correct the "obvious miss...Replay Review was never designed to be used for the bang-bang play."

As written back in July, "From the very beginning, Replay Affirmation Percentage (RAP) was designed to be a low number." Even 49% (26% Stands + 23% Confirmed) is too high. 23% Confirmed, itself, is too high.

This angle similarly is obstructed and unclear.
The issue also came up in the Spring of 2015: "The sure thing of overturning an 'obvious miss' turned into somewhat of a coin flip because teams simply didn’t use the new technology correctly, perhaps because video coordinators, bench coaches and/or managers—notably those in Toronto, Tampa Bay, and the other 'lower half' teams [TOR & TB had low rates of success in challenging calls]—didn’t know what to look for, didn’t know the rules, or simply were unable to think like an umpire."

So let's flip the page and talk about Game 4 of the NLCS and Angel Hernandez ruling Adrian Gonzalez out on a close play at home plate. (Quick recap: Dodgers batter Andrew Toles hit a line drive to right field, fielded on a bounce by Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, who threw to catcher Willson Contreras as Dodgers baserunner R2 Adrian Gonzalez slid into home plate.)

As the following analysis will indicate, Adrian Gonzalez in his post-game comments got it 100% right when he said, "Unfortunately, this turned into a trial and there was not enough evidence."

At this point, no one has touched anything.
Reviewing the tape, several angles (including those portrayed above, as well as the low home cam) appeared entirely inconclusive, obstructed, or otherwise unhelpful.

Meanwhile, the high right field foul angle (pictured to the left) is inconclusive, but potentially helpful: Although two consecutive frames on this camera conclusively feature neither Gonzalez nor Contreras touching anything of relevance (first frame) and both players touching the plate or the player, as applicable (second frame), this angle does suggest that Contreras did not tag Gonzalez's left arm, which is suggested by the reverse left field line camera angle, pictured above.

This angle turns out to be inconclusive, too.
Thus, if Contreras did not tag Gonzalez's left arm, the sole focus is on his tag of Gonzalez's chin and jaw, relative to Gonzalez's left hand touching home plate. Replays, however, indicate that as Gonzalez lunges towards home plate, his left palm contacts the dirt such that the fingers of his left hand initially pass over top of home plate, without actually touching it (see the still image, below, for a demonstration as to the upward angle of Gonzalez's fingers). At some point, these fingers fall and touch the plate, but when that occurs, it is unclear whether Contreras' glove/catcher's mitt is making contact with Gonzalez's beard.
This still photo suggests upward fingers.
PHOTO: Getty Images, CBS

Accordingly, this bang-bang play, which is anything but the type of "obvious miss" Replay Review was initially installed to correct, receives a "Call Stands" ruling by Replay Official Paul Nauert, because the aforementioned replay angles—including the combination of the high right field foul angle and the low reverse left foul line angle—do not clearly and convincingly show fingers on home plate with no tag having been made, nor do they clearly and convincingly show a mitt on the jaw with no touch of home plate having been made.

Thanks to Replay Review, this "game of inches" has turned into a "game of millimeters." [Video via "read more"]


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