Monday, April 12, 2021

Replay Concepts - A Clear & Convincing Review

After Sunday Night Baseball's Phillies-Braves Replay Review controversy, the one remaining question pertained to MLB's "clear and convincing" standard, whereupon umpires in New York rule on whether video evidence stringently supports one of two outcomes.

To borrow from Philadelphia-Atlanta, if the burden of proof was met to support the theory that the runner touched home plate, the correct replay outcome would be "confirmed"; if the burden of proof was met to support the theory that the runner never touched home plate, the correct replay outcome would be "overturned"; and if neither of these two scenarios applied, the outcome would be "call stands," which is what transpired.

The problem, once again, with ATL-PHI was that no readily available video angle provided an unobstructed view at the runner's interaction with home plate: whether because of an umpire's pant leg in the way, dirt being kicked up, or parallax angle, the video evidence didn't satisfy the high burden of proof required for confirming or overturning a call.

That's how nit-picky MLB's Replay Rules are: even if it appears physically impossible that the runner would have touched home plate, unless a camera angle fully proves that to be the case, it is inadmissible in the sense that it fails to conclusively confirm whether the plate was touched or not: all it takes is a frame or two of inconclusiveness where the runner "could have" touched home plate (even though the runner may likely have not) for "call stands" to enter into the equation.

Remember, the only outcome looking to prove that the runner did touch home plate is "confirmed." For "overturned" to apply, the video must conclusively prove the runner wholeheartedly did not touch home plate. Absent this, "call stands" by rule is the logical outcome: this is what is referred to in the difficulty in proving a negative: proving that something did not happen...because for every frame in which home plate and/or the runner's foot is blocked or distorted from view, the runner could have touched the plate and the evidence that the runner conclusively did not do so is blocked or obstructed in some way.

This is why HP Umpire Lance Barrett's on-field ruling of "safe" was so important. Unless MLB were to change its replay rules to a standard of probability rather than assuredness, the original call will always have two-to-one odds (e.g., confirmed & stands [2] vs overturned [1]).

Where Call Stands Errs: Perhaps the best way to illustrate this concept is by finding a clear and convincing example of a Replay Official erring on a call that should be overturned.

Enter Saturday's Detroit-Cleveland game in which Jordan Luplow hit a fly ball to the wall in left field, ruled a double (not HR) on the field. Here, the proof wasn't of a negative, it was of a positive: in order to overturn the call, all the Replay Official would need is evidence that the ball did something (in this case, hit the black railing atop the yellow line and behind the outfield wall). Yet despite a diagonal camera angle appearing to indicate the ball changed direction along the railing—suggestive of the ball making contact with the structure—replay nonetheless returned a "call stands" verdict.

THIS version of "call stands" would thus appear to be incorrect, for clear and convincing evidence to suggest that something did definitively happen, as opposed to PHI-ATL, where in replay failed to conclusively prove whether or not something did not occur. In other words, to prove the affirmative/positive instance that something did happen, only one example of the action occurring is sufficient to satisfy the burden of proof, whereas to prove the absence/negative that something did not happen, every instance of evidence must conform to prove that the action definitively did not occur.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Review of MLB's Replay Regulation for Clear & Convincing (CCS)


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