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April 30, 2010

Expanding Replay

Cons Outweigh Pros in Video Reviews

by Dan Wade

One of the early controversies of 2010 was umpire Cowboy Joe West calling out the Yankees and Red Sox for their incredibly slow pace of play. As these things tend to do, this evolved into a larger discussion on whether games are going too slowly and what things could be done to speed up pace of play without unduly hurrying pitchers and hitters, and thereby decreasing the quality of the game.

In light of that, it seems untoward to talk about a subject that would inherently slow games and even grind them to a halt. However, with Chris Young’s “drop”turning into a four base error/ home run for Jayson Werth on Sunday and Denard Span’s turning the tideof the Twins-Tigers game just three days later, instant replay is once again a topic of discussion.

The applicable clause in the rulebook’s definition of a catch for both of these plays is: “In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional.” Both players felt they had met this criterion, but the umpires didn't agree.

In both cases, the outfielder caught the ball—here I don’t mean the rulebook definition of caught, since only the umpires can decide that for certain; I mean that they stopped the momentum of the batted ball, causing it to rest in their gloves with a velocity of zero—and then as they put their hand in their glove, the ball popped out. In both cases, the umpires ruled that the ball never came to rest and hit the ground as part of a continuous motion. This is relevant, because as soon as the ball comes to rest, the call should be a made catch. Even on the quickest flips and turns, a baseball glove is not a jai alai cesta; the ball comes to rest at some point.

Consider what happens on a similar play in the infield. A ground ball is hit to the left side, the shortstop makes a good stop but a bad throw to second that that the second baseman has trouble handling, and the ball hits the ground. With the second base umpire standing right over the play, he has a good view of whether the second baseman successfully caught the flip and dropped it on the exchange, or whether the throw was simply too poor and the ball was never really caught.

Both of these plays occurred deep in the outfield—Young was in right-center, Span in left-center—well away from the umpire’s standard station.

Third base umpire Paul Emmel was the umpire in question for Span’s play, and while it isn’t clear on the replay, the live broadcast showed he was no more than a few steps out of the infield when Span made his play. Being as generous as one can be and remain objective, Emmel was in no position to see Span squeeze the ball. When it hit the ground, he drew the conclusion that the ball was never caught.

Emmel broke the first rule of being an umpire in his positioning for Span’s play. Rule 9.05, paragraph 10 reads, “Most important rule for umpires is always ‘BE IN POSITION TO SEE EVERY PLAY.’ Even though your decision may be 100-percent right, players still question it if they feel you were not in a spot to see the play clearly and definitely.”

So, establishing that he was in the wrong and that he made a mistake, it would seem that Emmel’s call would have been reversed if it went under review. Surprisingly, I don’t think it would be. He made a mistake on that play, something I’m sure he’d admit in private now if he saw it replayed, but the circumstances of the play leave the umpires’ hands a bit tied.

Austin Jackson was on first base and took off with the pitch. He was rounding second base when Emmel signaled there was no catch, and he ended up on third base. The ball came into the infield and was thrown back to pitcher Scott Baker with no throw made back to first base.

If the correct call is made from the start, my hunch is that Jackson scampers back to first base safely, but on a close play. Span has a good arm and Jackson was a long way from safety. In either case, the ball goes to first base and we have a clear call of Jackson’s position (out or safe, but certainly at first base if he’s safe).

If the play is reviewed and overturned, what becomes of Jackson? He was reliant on Emmel for where to go, is it right that when the play is overturned that he’s called out since the ball certainly would have gone back to first had the play been called correctly? Is it right to call him safe at first because the play would have been close? What if that had been Miguel Cabrera on the bases, who Span likely would have thrown out by a goodly margin? There doesn’t seem to be a good solution here.

In the video clip of Young’s error, you can see second base umpire Dale Scott running toward center field, though he ends up out of frame when Young makes the disputed catch. While his positioning is better than Emmel's, he is still probably too far away to make the call properly.

For Scott, there’s no way to even call a conference without admitting that he was out of position, and while the end of rule 9.05, paragraph nine reads, “Umpire dignity is important but never as important as ‘being right,’” Scott has to be willing to admit that he was neglectful in his positioning, and that’s a lot to ask on what amounts to a judgment call. No other umpire was even close to that play, so overturning the call isn’t going to be a case of someone having a better view; it would be Scott admitting he was wrong. Even if he sees it on replay, my hunch is that he would probably feel that it was close enough to merit a judgment call and that he was right the first time. I don’t mean to demean Scott here, I believe most umpires would feel similarly on this particular call.

This is the paradox of expanded replay. If it’s in effect, both of these games are stopped, but neither call is likely to be reversed, even though both easily could. Few plays in baseball are really clear-cut unless there’s no one on base. While there can be game-critical calls with the bases empty, especially in tight games, the biggest calls will always be those that occur with runners on, and that muddies the waters. Any blanket solution (i.e. all runners return to the bases vacated on the fly ball if a non-catch call is overturned via replay) invariably produces situations where that outcome is patently unfair to one team or the other.

Whenever calls like these two occur, there’s a justifiable outcry for better decision-making amongst umpires. Expansion to other boundary calls would seem to be easier, but the baserunner problem arises once again. The truth is that in both of these cases, it’s unlikely that replay makes the difference that fans seem to hope it would, and it comes at a great cost in terms of pace-of-play and perhaps even fan interest.

Related Content:  Denard Span,  Replay In Baseball,  The Call-up

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Benjamin Harris

I don't know that it would take much longer to look at the replay. In the Span clip Gardenhire comes out immediately after the call is made and argues for the next 1:30 before getting tossed, which I assume took another minute or two since the video cuts off before he exits the field. In the meantime the TV replays the video from multiple angles a number of times. If the Twins were given the ability to immediately challenge the call, and another official in the booth -- not a field umpire, with the same access to replays as TV has -- was tasked with evaluating the validity of the call I could see replay potentially saving time.

I was at the Rockies/D-Backs game the day before when Hinch was ejected for arguing another disputed call. While the fans were waiting around for Hinch to get thrown out, many of us were watching the replay on the monitors and making our own judgement on the legitimacy of the call. I think MLB could do the same. Of course then we wouldn't have the fun of seeing managers getting tossed as often.

Apr 30, 2010 05:10 AM
rating: 5

Exactly. The theory that replay will take time is a tired excuse.

Somehow, it's better to have managers go out, argue, take more time than it would take for a 5th umpire in the booth (or someone at MLB's offices) to review it, and make the correct call.

There is an easy way to fix it. To suggest that it would take too long is lazy and just incorrect.

Apr 30, 2010 06:54 AM
rating: 2
Jim Humdingding

I believe the SEC reviews every football play immediately after it's completion in anticipation of any official reviews. Baseball officials could do the same thing to prepare for any challenge. I have no officiating experience, so maybe this is way off, but it seems to me like baseball camera views would often be much more decisive (i.e., faster) relative to football due to the clearer views afforded by not having up to 22 bodies on the field clustered in one place as in often the case in football reviews of fumbles or goal line situations.

Apr 30, 2010 07:52 AM
rating: 0

Why do you think that managers wouldn't come out to argue an instant replay? Either way, there will be managers arguing. It's just that in one case, there's extra time for a replay.

Apr 30, 2010 08:16 AM
rating: 0

You could easily legislate against that. Any manager that comes on the field to argue a call will not only be ejected, but suspended for a few games.

Apr 30, 2010 08:44 AM
rating: 1

That's very unlikely. You could legislate against managers arguing now, but the entire history of the game makes it difficult to do that.

May 01, 2010 06:34 AM
rating: 0
Fresh Hops

There's no reason to think that managers would still argue calls if they would be ejected automatically for doing so. I'm that last on to call managers "smart", but there's even less reason to think that they would argue with a video camera.

May 03, 2010 18:57 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Dan Wade
BP staff

It's not just the time element, which I agree is too often slapped on these discussions as a way to end them. The question is whether or not replay helps get the call correct, and in both of these cases the answer is likely no. If replay isn't going to help in situations like these, that's when the time element comes in.

If it's set up in a way that allows umpires to change calls without dealing with the messiness of runners and it's something that works, then it's worth the time. Until that point, however, replay ends up seeming like a better deal than it is actually likely to be.

Apr 30, 2010 08:55 AM

So the solution is that because "some" plays might be difficult to determine on replay, we'll ignore the countless incorrect calls that could easily be corrected? Are you waiting for the absolute perfect solution to come along?

Apr 30, 2010 09:04 AM
rating: 2

You quoted the rule--and yet you still think Span made a legal catch? Voluntary release is absolutely required, and he made no such release.

The dropped ball on the turn is not a "catch" and subject to a different criterion of possession.

Apr 30, 2010 06:53 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Dan Wade
BP staff

Both Young and Span were reaching into their gloves to retrieve the ball when the ball popped out, which seems to me to be voluntary release.

Consider this: If there had been two outs in the inning, such that both players would have simply run the ball in rather than throw it, would they have dropped the ball? I have a hard time believing they would.

Apr 30, 2010 08:58 AM

This issue hasn't hurt the NFL, which has many of its own situations like this revolving around fumbles, yet they've found a way to deal with it.

Plus, it's foolish to allow the field umpires to review the play. Have a 5th umpire in a booth, have him reviewing every play instantly, with the ability to signal down when a play may need to be reversed to hold up the game for a few seconds.

Furthermore, if tennis can develop and successfully implement a technology to call balls in or out, I'm confident baseball can develop a technology to call balls and strikes / fair and foul more accurately. Automated strike calls, automated fair/foul calls, and review of the rest and you will finally be able to have a postseason where every 5th article isn't about the umpiring errors.

Apr 30, 2010 07:58 AM
rating: 1

Another idea is to add two more umpires. Put one in left-center and one in right-center. You could put them on the outfield foul lines like is done for the postseason, but I really don't know how much value those guys add.

I agree that replay would not lengthen the time of the game. Which is better, watching Bobby Cox padding his ejection total by arguing a close call that isn't going to be change or getting an instant replay? OK, Cox is more entertainment, but I think the point is to get the call as correct as possible. Both NFL and college football have replay and it seems to work just fine.

Apr 30, 2010 08:26 AM
rating: 0

"Any blanket solution ... invariably produces situations where that outcome is patently unfair to one team or the other."

So what? Not reversing a wrong call is patently unfair to one team too. I'd rather get the primary call right.

There should be a dedicated ump/official for reviewing replays, not a field ump. It doesn't take any longer than the arguments on the field take when the ump gets it wrong.

Apr 30, 2010 08:33 AM
rating: 1

Right. It's amazing that people are all too willing to accept such blatant incompetence from umpires. Just get the calls right. And the irony will be that with an organized, coordinated review (either with a 5th umpire or someone at MLB's offices), it will save time.

Apr 30, 2010 08:45 AM
rating: 0

Laughable that it will save time. Managers argue calls to 'show that they care', 'support the player', and so on. Replay/no replay has nothing to do with continuing to allow that or not.

As to extra umps, they ain't cheap. Don't see any of you folks arguing on other fora for higher ticket prices.

Apr 30, 2010 09:51 AM
rating: -1

Salary for beginning umps is 120K, with the most senior ump being 350K. (This after a decade+ of badly-paid toil in the minors.)

Let's assume that they call up guys from the minors for the minimum to start this program. So, an extra two umps/game for 15 games/wk is 3.6 million. Divide that by thirty teams and the cost would be 120K/yr/team, or $1,481.48 per game per team.

Next, let's assume that each team makes the fans pay for all of this through increased ticket prices. Atlanta was roughly league average in attendance last year, just shy of 30,000 per game, so let's use that figure. $1,481.48 / 30,000 fans = 4.9 cents per fan.

Two outfield umps would cost fans an extra nickel per game.

May 01, 2010 06:44 AM
rating: 2
Randy Brown

While I appreciate the effort at math, two outfield umps would absolutely not cost fans an extra nickel per game. It would cost each team the $1,481.48 per game. Ticket prices are set to maximize revenue for the team, not to offset expenses.

May 02, 2010 18:41 PM
rating: 0

With respect to the Span play, I don't really see the ambiguity as far as what to do with the baserunner. Whatever you think of Span's arm or Jackson's speed, there is no case to be made that, had the umps made the correct call, there would have been a close play to double off Jackson at first. That's because, you know, Span dropped the ball, and by the time he picked it up off the warning track, Jackson, Cabrera or even Jim Leyland would have made it back to first safely. Had a replay official ruled that a catch was made, I doubt the Twins would have had much of a beef with Jackson being placed at first with 2 outs. They would have been a lot better off in that situation than with what actually happened.

I guess the answer is to build a mechanism into the replay rules that would allow the umpires to have some discretion as to where to place baserunners after a call has been overturned. I don't think it would be too much different than the dead ball rules they have now for overthrows and ground rule doubles. Managers could waste time arguing about that if they wanted, but it seems like it would lead to more accurate calls more often than not.

Apr 30, 2010 12:53 PM
rating: 2
Dr. Dave


The key point here is to treat any replay reversal as a dead ball from the point of the reversed call, with umpire discretion to place runners subsequent to that.

As for Mountainhawk's idea that the NFL deals with this correctly, I couldn't disagree more. The asymmetry between which calls are reviewable and which are not is pernicious. The NFL has created a system where the officials are encouraged to make the reversable call (rather than the correct one), but the teams are penalized for challenging those calls.

Every call should be reviewable, and there should be no penalty for a successful challenge.

Apr 30, 2010 15:42 PM
rating: 0

"Any blanket solution ... invariably produces situations where that outcome is patently unfair to one team or the other."

I don't think it any more unfair than letting an incorrect call stand. As one commenter said, you could let the umpire place the baserunners where they think they should go. There are a couple of instances in the rules where this is already the standard procedure. Some situations could be codified. For example, called foul balls that are actually fair could advance all baserunners one base from the last base occupied at the time the pitch was thrown and the batter goes to first base.

Apr 30, 2010 14:10 PM
rating: 0

The author's belief that it is beyond argument that Span caught the ball demonstrates the flaw of replay review: I don't agree at all. I don't think the ball ever "came to rest" in Span's glove ... I think it was bobbling around in there and when he tried to grab it to throw he lost it, not out of his hand, but out of his glove, because it never was secured in his glove in the first place.

So, what's the standard: you only overturn if there clearly has been an error made. But, if reasonable minds/eyes can differ, and the author thinks the umpires clearly erred, but others (at least me) don't, then what?

May 01, 2010 01:42 AM
rating: 1

Dan, I saw the Span play numeroius times on replay and could not argue with the call on the field. I think the word that is left out of the discussion is "intentional." He intended to exchange the ball from the glove to the throwing hand. Since that didn't happen, he didn't "establish the validity of the catch."

To your point, if it had been the third out, he would have secured the ball better before turning around and heading to the dugout. However, that's not what happened. What he did do is try to reach into his glove to make a throw before he really ever had it. It's not even clear on replay if his throwing hand ever grasped the ball in the glove. Which indicates to me that he did not "voluntarily and intentionally" release the ball. He "intended" to grab the ball with his other hand, but it wasn't where he thought it would be in his glove.

I believe the rule is different for infielders at a bag, but my counter-example would be a first baseman. Imagine a first baseman makes a great snag while getting pulled stumbling off the bag just after making a wild "scoop catch." In his second stumbling step, as he's getting his balance back, he reaches into his glove to hold a speedy runner who's rounding third. The ball pops out. Is the runner safe at first? When in this scenario did the first baseman "hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional."

May 01, 2010 09:11 AM
rating: 0

Just to add: the rule requires that the fielder have "complete control of the ball" ... I don't think the author "established" that Span made the catch ... I watched that replay several times, and I didn't think he had "complete control of the ball" ... he was grabbing for it to throw back into the infield while it was still bobbling around in his mitt.

May 01, 2010 01:47 AM
rating: 1
Fresh Hops

"Third base umpire Paul Emmel was the umpire in question for Span’s play, and while it isn’t clear on the replay, the live broadcast showed he was no more than a few steps out of the infield when Span made his play. Being as generous as one can be and remain objective, Emmel was in no position to see Span squeeze the ball. When it hit the ground, he drew the conclusion that the ball was never caught."

I really hope you don't mean to be arguing that because umpires fuck up in predictably human ways, we should NOT have replay.

May 03, 2010 18:55 PM
rating: -1
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