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May 16, 2014

Front Office Expansion

The High Value of the Video Replay Analyst

by Lewie Pollis

I had the honor of having lunch with Dan Brooks last week, and as we ate our sandwiches the conversation turned to my thesis. I mentioned that if I were running a team, I would strongly consider hiring dozens of new front office employees, because their salaries are so cheap compared to those of players that even if only a few of them ended up making substantive contributions, they would more than earn their collective keep.

I don’t remember the exact words that came out of Dan’s mouth when I asked him what he thought of the idea of a team’s hypothetically hiring 100 baseball operations employees tomorrow, but it was something along the lines of: “What would you have them all do?” Though I didn’t think it detracted from the general point, it was an important question to which I didn’t have a good answer. And from a team’s standpoint, that uncertainty might be the biggest obstacle to the kind of dramatic front office expansion for which I would advocate.

This got me thinking about how one might conceive of the work that junior-level baseball operations employees do in the most concrete way possible in order to make the idea of altering teams’ front offices more accessible. This train of thought fortuitously led me to the newest—and thus least structurally entrenched—category of front office personnel: video replay analysts.

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This is extremely interesting, but I see one important and possibly fatal flaw in your methodology: the assumption that I, the average impact of a challenge decision, is a constant. In a strict sense, if you choose to define it as a constant, well, it's a constant, but there are a number of reasons why that's probably not the way to go. The main one is that your "constant" is almost certainly a function of how frequently calls are challenged, with a point of diminishing returns setting in as the number of challenges approaches the number of calls that should be challenged. I should be considered a dependent variable that depends on success of a challenge. That, in turn, depends on the frequency of challenges. Take away the two or three -- or maybe it's five or ten, it doesn't change the argument although it moves the point of diminishing returns -- times during a game when the umps clearly screwed up, and subsequent challenges become less likely to have any impact on the game, because the challenges are less likely to succeed.

This analysis presumes that there is no penalty to a team in making a challenge that is not upheld on the field. That's basically the way the rules are right now, and it's hard to see how they could be changed without drastically impacting the way baseball is played. I accordingly don't think the case for adding replay analysts is as strong as you make it (acknowledging that you say to take it with a grain of salt anyway). I do think your point about the value to a team of spending more bucks on staff work is good, but I'd spend them elsewhere; my personal favorites would be on reliable assessments of "makeup" and injury risk. But there's room for argument on those as well, of course.

May 18, 2014 07:19 AM
rating: 1
Lewie Pollis

I think you might have misunderstood my point in defining I—I might not have explained it very clearly. I didn't mean that to stand for the impact of a single challenge on the game but the entire collection of plausibly challengeable calls. As I said: (emphasis added)

"Of course, not every call leads to a reversal, and not every manager uses his challenges every game, but that’s a substantial swing for a correctly recommended challenge—and a major opportunity cost for getting it wrong."

I meant that to express that the impact of a replay analyst is not just in the at-most three calls a game he/she does recommend challenging but also in the questionable calls he/she does not think it's worth challenging. That's why I think I is high enough that my estimates for the value additional/superior replay analysts economic significance.

May 19, 2014 07:59 AM
rating: 0

No, I understood that. It's the "questionable calls he/she does not think it's worth challenging" that are the reason why I isn't a constant. As the number of calls available to be challenged goes up (because more review analysts have more time to notice them), the number where the challenge will be successful does not rise with it, because umpires do their job right the large majority of the time. Yet, since there is no penalty for an unsuccessful challenge comparable to the loss of a time out that happens with an unsuccessful challenge in the NFL, there's no disincentive to make challenges that are unlikely to succeed. As a result, it becomes possible, among other things, to make challenges in lower-leverage situations, potentially diluting I. There is room for this to happen since not every manager uses all of his challenges, as you point out.

May 19, 2014 09:00 AM
rating: 0
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