MLB to Expand Instant Replay in 2014, Yet the System Is Flawed

MLB LogoEarlier today it was announced that Major League Baseball would be expanding instant replay in 2014. This is all unofficial, as the owners need to formalize the plan at the owner’s meetings on November 13th-14th. Below are the details, along with my thoughts on the good and the bad of the proposal.

The Changes

**Replay will be added to every play except the strike zone.

**Managers will have three challenges per game. They can use one challenge in the first six innings, and two beginning in the seventh inning.

**If a manager is successful with his replay challenge, he will not be charged with a review.

**If a manager is out of challenges, an umpire can make a review of its own only on home run calls, much like the current system.

**There will be a central office in New York with TV cameras monitored by men with umpiring experience who will make the final calls.

The Good

There’s going to be instant replay. It made no sense that in 2013, with all of the technology we have, there was no instant replay. Well, except for home runs, which made no sense. MLB was admitting that there was value in replay, but only adding it to a small percentage of plays (home runs that are questionable). I also like that they went with the NHL central office approach, which makes much more sense than pulling all of the umpires off the field, sending them down the tunnel, and having them come back out and announce the decision. The central office approach is much quicker.

I’ve seen a few reactions wondering why there wasn’t a fifth man on the crew in the booth to review replays. I can imagine the central office approach is cheaper, where you probably need 4-5 umpires rather than 15 extra umpires each night. I also like the central office approach more. It’s disconnected. The person reviewing the calls isn’t the same person who was on the field last night and who is eating dinner with the other umpires later that evening. The reviewer isn’t even at the stadium to be influenced by reactions from others at the stadium. You just page the central office, they take a quick look, make the call, and that’s it.

There’s also the fear that this could slow down games, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t think you can get any slower than a manager coming out to argue a play, standing and arguing with an umpire for several minutes, that manager getting ejected, the manager remaining on the field, then everyone getting situated again. At worst, the replay process will take that long, only now we will hopefully get the calls right, or confirm that the call on the field was correct.

The Bad

MLB doesn’t have the best track record of dealing with problems. Sometimes they come up with a solution that does nothing to solve the original problem, and just diverts your attention elsewhere (Tie All-Star game? How do we solve the problem of the All-Star game ending in a tie? Let’s make it determine home field advantage in the World Series!). Other times they only partially solve the problem, which is the case here.

The rules on challenges are ridiculous. By adding replay, MLB is saying that we can use the technology we have available today to get the calls right on the field and make up for the errors that humans naturally make. But the ridiculous stipulations that you can only use one challenge in the first six innings and two in the seventh inning or later make no sense. There should be no restrictions at all. If you’re going to give three challenges, give three challenges. This is a situation where MLB is getting unnecessarily creative to solve a problem that doesn’t need to be solved. If you’re going to allow three challenges per game, what does it matter when they are?

I get the theory behind this. Plays stand out more in the later innings. Also, you’re more likely to challenge something in the later innings than you are in the first inning, because there’s less time to overcome a big play in the later innings. But there have certainly been enough games where a bad umpire didn’t wait until the seventh inning to start botching calls. The good thing about this system is that you can keep challenging until you’ve gotten three wrong. But there are some close plays that you can challenge and the evidence is inconclusive. Because of that, I can see managers passing up on close calls early in the game because they only have one challenge in the first two-thirds of the game, and two challenges in the final third of the game.

There would be no downside to having three challenges per game, with no innings restrictions. If managers want to save challenges for the later innings, then let them. But give them the option of multiple challenges to overcome a bad umpire early in the game. Also, I can see the challenging system leading to better stats on umpires and how they get things wrong. Hopefully that will lead to some changes where umpires are actually reviewed and disciplined for constantly making bad calls. Everyone is going to miss a call here and there, but how many times can Jerry Meals be out of position on a key play at the plate and still keep his job as an umpire in the majors?

Also, the central office idea is a good one, because that’s going to speed up the process for reasons stated above. But why limit the amount of challenges? I realize you don’t want to have every close play reviewed, but the goal here should be getting as many plays right as possible. If teams are allowed to review the replays and radio down to the dugout, that will probably cut down on the unnecessary challenges on close plays that ended up being confirmed on replays. If that’s the case, then the challenge situation shouldn’t be an issue, since you basically get unlimited challenges if you keep getting them right, and you should get them right if you have someone reviewing the plays.

Overall I’m glad to see replay coming to baseball. It’s been long overdue, and I think it’s a better alternative to missing plays, having a long argument between the manager and the umpires, and then watching the replay to confirm the play was missed. Unfortunately, the new system is still flawed with some pointless restrictions on when you can actually use replay. Hopefully those get removed when MLB owners meet in the off-season to make this official. Also, I hope that we can use the reviews in replay to better evaluate umpires. They’ve been exempt from evaluation for a long time, and I don’t think that should be the case. Umpires make mistakes, and that’s understandable. But you can’t deny that some umpires are just bad, and there’s got to be better options in the minors than the same guys who have been making a name for themselves for 10-15 years due to their bad calls.

Author: 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, 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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