Thursday, April 20, 2017

Queue Theory & Petty Baseball - Streamlining Replay

Quick quiz: How can baseball improve its pace-of-play problem?
Answer: Minimize superfluous Replay Review in the game by streamlining its review process.

Plotting Replay Review exposes a new issue.
Exhibit A: After Rays batter Kevin Kiermaier hit a home run during Thursday's Tigers-Rays game in Tampa Bay, Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus elected to challenge that Kiermaier had failed to touch second base on his trot around the bases. Following an unsuccessful appeal and "safe" ruling by 3B Umpire Joe West (himself filling in for Larry Vanover), Ausmus requested a Replay Review, which confirmed West's call. In other words, the Replay Official found clear and convincing [editor's note: absolutely indisputable] evidence that Kiermaier touched second base, right in front of the rotating Country Joe.

The Problem: How can we fix that? How can we eliminate completely unnecessary challenges for slam-dunk plays, without resorting to attacking the game itself (e.g., by adding/taking away outs, baserunners, etc.)?

Well, maybe we don't have to...

The Replay Review solution may lie in going to the tape, literally. Above, we have diagrammed "The Mechanics of Replay," illustrating what happens to three important people—the calling umpire (in blue), Crew Chief (maroon), and Replay (Headset) Technician (yellow)—when a Manager's Challenge is filed. This diagram exposes a key issue of how baseball addresses replay—and, notably, what it ignores—and why simply shortening review times in New York on its own won't fix the system.

Though the longest Replay Review in baseball history was 10 minutes and 55 seconds (July 3, 2014; Toronto @ Oakland; overturned call), and the longest Replay for an upheld ruling was 6 minutes and one second (4/30/16), the average Replay Review these days hovers in the 1:30-to-2:00 category, but this naturally doesn't account for three of the four phases of a Replay Review.

The Four Phases of Replay: The four phases of the Replay Review process are as follows...
(1) Time from the end of the play until the Manager decides to challenge;
(2) Time from filing until umpires apply the headsets, having walked/jogged over to the replay spot;
(3) Time from headset application to removal [what is presently reported as"Replay Review time"];
(4) Time from headset removal until play is ultimately resumed [includes the "out"/"safe"/etc. sign].

Phase (4): Resetting and Restarting Play.
For home run reviews and late-game requests, add a subsection to Phase (1), as (1a): The time it takes for a Manager to convince the umpires to utilize the Crew Chief Review. For complex plays, add another subsection as (1b): The time it takes for a Manager to communicate to the Crew Chief his "specificity of the challenge," pursuant to Replay Review Regulations, which require that a Manager dictate, specifically, what part of the play he is challenging (e.g., HP Collision or slide rule interference vs. pulled foot vs. timing of the force out).

For longer reviews—such as the aforementioned 10+ minute review—phases (1), (2), and (4) are proportionally trivial when compared with phase (3). However, with reported Replay Review times on the decline (Phase [3] is taking less and less time), the other forgotten phases of Replay suddenly become significant.

In other words, while baseball fortuitously introduced a 30-second Manager's Challenge time limit to address issue (1) and a two-minute guideline for Replay Officials as to Phase (3), no proposed time limit can really fix issues (2) and (4), which will continue to be significant factors in Replay's overall delay regardless of how short New York takes to conduct its review. The on-field umpires still have to travel to and from Points A/B/D, and play has to be restarted.

Phase Not Considered: Ump Conference.
Additional Phases Not Accounted For
We're naturally failing to take into account three significant phases of Replay whose statistics don't reliably exist. First is Manager "hold" strategy, wherein the manager holds up play, but, ultimately, elects not to challenge it. We're not "Turning the Umpire" anymore, but we are still holding plays. Second is the classic umpire conference, which admittedly was a part of baseball long before Replay, but does no favors for pace-of-play when combined with a Replay Review.

The simple time-wasting reality of Phases (2), and (4)'s physical movement—the umpires walking or jogging toward the headsets, the technician untangling the wires to give to the umpires, and, when all is said and done, getting back to their positions while resetting and then restarting play—reminds me of a MythBusters experiment known as queue theory.

As such, it doesn't especially matter whether replay continues to "go to New York" or whether a fifth person is added to the umpiring crew and conducts the process in the Stadium: Phase (3) is not the problem anymore.

Mythbusters and the Great Queue Experiment.
Queue Theory: In this myth, the MythBusters crew ran an experiment to determine which of two proposed queue strategies would save customers the most time in a busy supermarket scenario with multiple checkout stands. In Scenario A, customers were free to choose their own register to line up at (the way most supermarkets tend to work). In Scenario B, customers were all corralled into one serpentine queue, and from this master line, were directed to the next available register (as seen in many bookstores, for instance).

The hypothesis was that Plan B would save time over A, to account for odd delay contingencies as customers paying by check, using extra coins, or an extended price check.

In the end, customers in Scenario A, on average, spent less time in line than customers in B, in conflict with the experiment's hypothesis.

Crew Chief Alfonso Marquez & Joe West.
Applying the Lesson Learned: So how does this scientific method relate to baseball and Replay Review? Well, it turns out that the reason Scenario B didn't quite work out was that the hypothesis didn't take into account the time spent simply walking from the back of the line to the front of the line, and from the front of the line to the next available cashier. In other words, the serpentine master queue didn't save time, in great part, because there was no way to get rid of the time it takes for a shopper to walk from one end of the store (or line) to the other (or cash register).

As for us, it's about getting the calling umpire, Crew Chief, and Replay Technician to a common meeting area known as the replay spot. Travel to and from the replay spot in Phases (2) and (4) will always take time, no matter how much Phases (1) and (3) are streamlined.

Example: Let's return to Thursday's wholly unnecessary Replay Review in Tampa Bay, wherein West ruled on Detroit's appeal at second base at 1:19 of the attached video. Almost immediately after West's "safe" call (at 1:21), Ausmus filed his Manager's Challenge with HP Umpire Alfonso Marquez in a lighting-quick breeze through Phase 1 (Time, Phase 1: two seconds).

At 1:46, Crew Chief Marquez (this isn't West's crew, and West didn't enter the game until after first pitch) applied his headset, with West following shortly thereafter (Time, Phase 2: 25 seconds).

At 2:25, Marquez and West removed their headsets, having received a decision from New York (Time, Phase 3 [aka, "Time of Review"]: 29 seconds).

Although the video ends at 2:33, video of the game's entirety indicates the game resumed approximately 35 seconds after the conclusion of Phase 3 (Time, Phase 4: 35 seconds).

Total time of Phases 1-4: 91 seconds (1:31) minus Total time of Phase 3: 29 seconds =
Total time of Phases 1, 2 & 4: 62 seconds (1:02).
Portion of Entire Review Process that was not Phase 3 (1, 2 & 4), as a percentage: 67.4%.

One-and-a-half minutes may not seem like much, and 1:30 really isn't—not until you consider there were 1468 Replay Reviews in 2016 that averaged 1:36 each, for a total of 1 day, 15 hours, 8 minutes, and 48 seconds—but again, this fails to account for Phases (1), (2), and (4): "1 day, 15 hours, 8 minutes, and 48 seconds" only describes Phase 3 in 2016. Mathematically, the shorter Phase (3) is, the greater proportion of the entire process Phases (1), (2) & (4) will encompass.

Since, as the queue myth demonstrates, Phases (2) and (4) [and to a lesser extent, Phase (1)] are fairly static entities subject to less variability in duration than Phase (3) [and, also, to a lesser extent, Phase (1)], a shorter Replay Review for a no-brainer "Confirmed" call [and, to a lesser extent, Overturned one] will still waste a requisite amount of time: it will still add nearly one minute to every game, no matter how "fast" the reported Replay Review [e.g., Phase (3)] actually is.

Sidebar: Phases (1) (and/or [1a/1b]) and (2) generally add up to 30-45 seconds, as the longer a Manager takes to decide whether to challenge in Phase (1), the more likely the calling umpire, Crew Chief, and Replay Technician are to move closer toward the replay spot in anticipation of a Replay Review, so as to minimize the length of Phase (2). As such, Phases (1) and (2) may bleed into each other.

Conclusion: Accordingly, baseball's next approach should be to address Phases (2) and (4). Petty replays on obvious calls (whether confirmed or overturned) will always be a part of the game just as superfluous appeals will occasionally appear, and these will be taken care of by a relatively quick Phase (3). Short of launching the calling umpire, Crew Chief, and Replay Technician out of three cannons pointed at the replay spot, baseball isn't going to be able to save much time getting these three parties from Points A/B/C to Point D, even if everyone sprints into position. Having the Crew Chief use a microphone to explain the call from Point D after the verdict—not a bad idea at all—won't save time either, but at least that would be an acceptable use of time because it would be productive by virtue of its informative value.

Instead of thinking too much about travel time, since that's a fairly static entity, if baseball seeks to reduce overall Replay Review time—and thus, improve pace-of-play—it will need to go wireless: equip the Crew Chief with a headpiece and microphone—somewhat similar to soccer—and have New York communicate with this umpire remotely, while the umpires are still in their normal positions. This will reduce the time spent in Phase (2) dramatically and, depending on how baseball decides to announce its review results, could also expedite Phase (4) as well. Replay can be faster, but it requires the appropriate on-field official(s) to wear in-ear technology.

Post-Script: By the way, the four-pitch intentional walk baseball got rid of? Throwing four wide ones added, on average, 11.4 seconds to each of the 2430 regular season games—nearly 50 seconds less than just Phase 3 of Replay, and likely 1:30 less than all of the phases of Replay combined.

Video via "Read More"
Alternate Link: Brad Ausmus elects to challenge a base touch during a HR trot; call confirmed (DET)


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