Pirates Notebook: Baseball Needs Instant Replay

I don’t want to put a damper on today’s game, because honestly, anytime the Pirates can take a series from the Brewers, I’m all for it.  As it happened today, the Pirates got very lucky in their win.

I’m not talking about the fact that the Brewers have had so much success against the Pirates in recent history.  I’m not talking about any individual plays, such as the Ryan Doumit home run to tie the game, on a pitch that Doumit said fooled him a bit.  I’m also not talking about any managerial decisions that happened to work out, or didn’t cost the team a win.

What I’m talking about happened in the 11th inning, when Andy LaRoche was ejected for slamming his bat down after a called third strike.  That almost put the Pirates in a horrible situation.  It was bad enough that the ejection benched one of the Pirates’ hottest hitters and a strong defensive option at third base with the score tied in extra innings.  It would have been horrible if Bobby Crosby wasn’t available on the bench.

Think about it.  Delwyn Young was used in the tenth inning.  Ryan Church was a pinch hitter earlier in the game, and like LaRoche, was ejected for an outburst after a questionable called third strike.  Ryan Doumit replaced Jason Jaramillo at catcher in the ninth inning with his pinch hit home run to tie the game.  Crosby was the last player on the bench.  Luckily, he can play third base.  What would have happened if Crosby wasn’t available?  Who would play third?  Maybe Akinori Iwamura, but then who plays second?  No matter what combination you come up with, you’re going to have a pitcher on the field, and a weak position in the infield.

You can’t blame LaRoche for the incident though.  Take a look at the pitch locations from GameDay:

The first called strike was arguably low, although the umpire had a low strikezone the whole game, so that’s excusable that late in the game.  The third strike was in no way a strike, if GameDay is correct, and usually GameDay is very close.  I’m not here to argue whether the pitch was a ball or a strike.  I’m here to talk about a horrible problem in baseball, which we witnessed today (well, I heard it on the radio, but Brewers’ announcer Bob Uecker described it perfectly based on the accounts by people who saw it with their own eyes).

The problem that exists is with umpires thinking they’re a part of the game.  No offense to any umpires out there, but you don’t matter.  No one is there to watch you.  I understand it’s a thankless job, and you get nothing but criticism, with every mistake pointed out, but that’s the job.  I respect the job umpires do, but I just want them to do their job.  I don’t want them thinking they’re above anyone on the field.  They’re not.

Well, they shouldn’t be.  Unfortunately, baseball’s ridiculous tradition makes it expected and accepted for umpires to potentially alter a game by ejecting a player just because the player passionately disagreed with the call the umpire made.  Think about this: when was the last time you saw a player in another sport ejected for getting upset over a questionable call?  I can’t remember a single incident in football.  I don’t watch basketball, and I know that in hockey the team captain has the duty of appealing to the officials on a call.

Of course there’s one thing those sports have that baseball doesn’t have: instant replay.  The players in those leagues don’t have to go crazy if a call is botched, not that I think they’d be tossed if they did.  Most of the time a replay can tell the true story, which means the initial call isn’t something that is guaranteed to hurt the team if it’s wrong.  That’s not the case in baseball.  When LaRoche was called out on a pitch that should have evened the count at 2-2, there was no way around it: he was out.  LaRoche made the right call, the umpire made the wrong call, and there was no way to reverse it.  That’s a very unfortunate circumstance in baseball.

What’s worse is that the umpire immediately tossed LaRoche for slamming his bat down.  As I mentioned before, the player is the one that matters on the field.  I can’t remember the last time an umpire made a play.  I don’t know of a single person who pays to go see an umpire.  The only umpires you can name are the ones who are known only for their poor calls, or for their tendency to show up the players.

If the player has an outburst at the umpire, that’s too bad.  In the hierarchy of baseball, the players are above the umpires.  Unfortunately, a lot of umpires think they’re on the same level as the players, or even above them.  That’s technically true, because baseball gives them the power to eject the player for no good reason, other than the player disagreeing with a call.  The situation might be improved if baseball expanded their instant replay system, so that the calls the umpires miss could be reversed.

Baseball won’t do this though.  They’re already obsessed with cutting down the time of the game, even though baseball is no longer than any other sporting event.  They’re not going to add the ability to review a few extra plays per game, even if it does improve the integrity of the game.  Really, it wouldn’t take that long.  After a bad play, you usually see a few replays and in five to ten seconds you can determine whether the umpire was right, wrong, or whether it’s too close to call.  Baseball could have a central location, like the NHL, where they review the play and send the decision back to the game.  If I have the capability to look at GameDay and the instant replays from my desk in order to make a decision, there’s no reason why baseball can’t offer something similar.

You don’t even need the umpires leaving the field like they do now.  Just have the home plate umpire go over to the home dugout, where there would be a phone directly to the central location.  The whole process would take about a minute, or about the length of 2-3 pitches being thrown.  That’s a small price to pay to improve the accuracy of the calls made by human beings, who are bound to make mistakes, just like any other person.

Worst case, if baseball doesn’t add instant replay, they need to do something about cutting back the power the umpires have over the players in the game.  I can understand if a player is delaying the game and refuses to quit arguing, but a situation like LaRoche getting immediately tossed is unacceptable.  It’s a case where the umpire feels he was shown up, only in order to actually be shown up by the player, he would have to be more important than the player, and that’s not the case.

Finally, I leave you with this video, which I feel is appropriate for the subject.

Stars of the Game
The top five players of the game, according to FanGraphs.  WPA stands for “Win Probability Added” and represents the impact the player had on his team’s chances of winning.  It’s based off of percentages, with each team starting the game with a 50% chance to win.  It is presented in decimal form, so .152 would equal 15.2%, meaning the player in question would have increased his team’s chances of winning by 15.2%.
1. D.J. Carrasco: .492 WPA
2. Andrew McCutchen: .355 WPA
3. Garrett Jones: .346 WPA
4. Ryan Doumit: .241 WPA
5. Joel Hanrahan: .142 WPA
Other Stuff
-Brandon Jones has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Indianapolis.  Also in that link, Brian Burres will start for the Pirates tomorrow, and Jeff Karstens will start Sunday.
-The Pirates made a few minor league transactions this past week, including the signing of James Skelton.
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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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