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January 29, 2014

Throw the Flag

Challenges and the Replay Review System

by Dan Brooks and Russell A. Carleton

About that instant replay system that MLB put in place—we found a little problem with it. It started with us asking a pretty easy question. What is the best strategy for a manager to use in deciding when to throw “the flag” to challenge a call? We were sitting around talking about it, and the answer that we came up with is actually kinda scary: Managers should just throw that flag for any close play, the first time that they see one. When we say any close play, we mean just about anything that they have a smidgen of belief could be overturned by consulting a replay. And they shouldn’t fear throwing it even in the first inning, or throwing it to contest something that would give them only a trivial advantage.

If managers are truly doing it right (in the mathematical sense of the word), there will be a lot of replay challenges on plays where the audience will say “Yeah, it was close… but c’mon, it wasn’t that close.” Even if they’re not doing it right, there will still be plenty of those. This is entirely different from the putative goal of the system, which was, as Tony La Russa says, to go after “the dramatic miss, not all misses.”

This may seem counterintuitive, but managers should be losing challenges. A lot of them. So many of them, in fact, that the best managers in terms of maximizing “run production” gained from challenges will almost certainly be the worst managers in terms of challenges won percentage. It’s kind of like that old adage, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” Well, since there’s essentially no cost for missing, any time managers see a challenge opportunity, they should take it.

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Related Content:  Managers,  Instant Replay,  Challenges

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