Thursday, May 22, 2008

Replay Coming?

Jayson Stark is reporting that it is:

Major League Baseball is making tentative plans to experiment with instant replay in the Arizona Fall League, according to a baseball official with knowledge of those discussions.

If that experiment proves practical and successful, MLB then is likely to continue the experiment next March during the World Baseball Classic and spring-training games.

If no insurmountable problems arise, baseball could begin using replay -- though only to decide home run calls -- as soon as next season.

What is yet to be determined is whether calls would be reviewed by a "replay umpire" in each stadium, as the National Football League does, or in the MLB offices in New York, a system that would more resemble the National Hockey League.
I suppose that's fine, but I'm not sure how testing replay in small stadiums with no outfield seats and atypical sight lines is going to represent the best test for replay. Why not put it in as a non-binding pilot program in Major League stadiums a la Questec, thereby allowing users to get comfortable with it in a real-life setting (i.e. screaming fans, some semblance of time pressure).

As for the "replay umpire" thing, it seems to me that there are maybe a couple of these disputed calls a week, so dedicating someone at each stadium to replay would be inefficient. As long as they're limiting this to home run calls, MLB should have no problem seeing all of the video at its home base via video feed and dedicate one person to all disputed calls.

Your Million Dollar Idea of the Day: MLB can then use it to promote the Extra Innings package!
[voiceover, cutting to a video of a stressed man in a dark room switching from game to game as umps call in asking him to review video]: "Our replay official is required to keep tabs on every single game."

[cut to video of a couple of guys in a living room drinking beers switching back and forth between exciting games] "Wouldn't you like his job? With the Extra Innings Package you can."

Da da da, dee, dee, dee, and whatever the hell else you want to put in there.


themarksmith said...

I wrote about this this morning, and I think the whole idea is stupid. Who here remembers blown calls from last year around the same time? This is just an overreaction by everyone because some well-known players have had calls go against them. Everything evens out over 162 games.

Vegas Watch said...

"MLB should have no problem seeing all of the video at its home base via video feed and dedicate one person to all disputed calls."

That's what the NHL does, apparently. Seems like it would work.

"Everything evens out over 162 games."

This is a fallacy. So the Mariners were really an 88-win team last year? No, they were lucky over 162 games. That is not related to home run calls, but it's the same concept.

Jason said...

I disagree themarksmith. Just ask the crew who blew the Jeffrey Maier call.

The technology is there, the proof of concept has been proven by the NHL and NFL and does not materially add time to the game.

It'd be a shame if a correctable call was left called wrong.

So long as it's left for "boundary" calls, like HR (over the wall, fair/foul, fan interference) calls.

themarksmith said...

Vegas Watch, the Mariners made their breaks. They didn't win because of blown calls. They won because more balls happened to fall in, opposing hitters struggled, and because the bullpen was the best in the league and didn't break when others did. The bad calls an umpire will make will even out. No, maybe not exactly (one bad home run for another home run call), but they'll get a run they shouldn't have.

Jason, are you sure that it will stay as a "boundary call" system. Something tells me that they'll eventually want to add other things. Second, do you remember blown calls that happened last year at the same time. Probably not. No one does. I agree that I would like all calls to be correct, but baseball has thrived without instant replay. Honestly, we should spend the money on something baseball actually needs like a steroid and HGH test that's actually accurate.

Jason said...


I agree, a better hgh/PED testing system is something all competitive sports and leagues need.

But, a replay system does not re-rout dollars from PED testing programs and budgets. The two are separate and divisible (just guessing here since I have no visibility into their budgets, but it only makes sense to me)

Just because there hasn't been a blown HR call to decided a playoff game YET (as I can remember, besides the Maier one), doesn't mean we should let the system continue to operate as is.

It's 2008. We have the technology to correct correctable errors. Baseball HAS thrived so far without replay. It also thrived without helmets but they made that a rule once someone got killed. They'll make a rule about maple bats eventually, though given their track record, it will only be after someone (player, coach, fan) gets seriously hurt.

Why wait until AFTER there's a blown HR call until rectifying the situation? We can do it now. All games have cameras present.

And what faith do I have in the replay system being used for only the boundary calls? Just faith in common sense, which might be a breach of MY common sense, given how little MLB has at times.

But, given how reluctant Selig is to even allow boundary calls to be reviewed, I'm guessing that any further escalation of replays will be met with a brick wall.

Vegas Watch said...

"Second, do you remember blown calls that happened last year at the same time."

We all remember one that happened 12 years ago. Is that not sufficient?

Ron Rollins said...

Wow, baseball's survived professionally for 137 years without instant replay, and more people than ever are going to games, and watching on TV.

And now, becasue a Yank-me gets jobbed on a call, Buddy-boy wants to do another knee-jerk reaction to fix a problem that doesn't exist.

But I'm sure he'll do a great job, just like the all-star game he fixed.

Daniel said...

I just don't see the problem with getting a call right. Who cares if it's a knee-jerk reaction? It's going to make calls more accurately right? Why is that a bad thing, in and of itself?

The time thing is a non-issue since it takes just as much time for a drawn-out argument as it would for someone to review the play and call in the result to the umps. Obviously this depends on how baseball implements it, but seeing as how they've made an effort to speed up the game in recent years, I would think they'll do their best to make it expedient.

The only legitimate argument I see is the "slippery slope" debate. But baseball said they were only testing replay on homerun calls. If they start expanding it to other calls, we can voice our displeasure at that point. I have no problem at all with getting more calls right if it doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of the game. And if they do it right, there's no reason why it should. There's no nostalgia in blown homerun calls.

I'm just waiting for the dude they stick in the replay booth at MLB HQ to fall asleep playing minesweeper during an extra inning Angels-Mariners game.

Matt said...

I absolutely, positively do not want IR on anything other than home run calls, and I am therefore very worried about the slippery slope. I like it that sometimes runners are called out even when the beat the tag, just because the ball beats them. It might not be 100% accurate, but it is accepted, and we don't need such plays reviewed.

But the expansion of the use is inevitable, isn't it? I mean, there is a guy here going on about Jeffrey Maier, as if that were equal to a ball that hit steps behind a wall. In relation to last night's blown call on A-Rod's home run, Jeter's ball in the corner that was interfered with was in no way a blown call. The umpire in that instance has to know Tarasco catches that ball to call Jeter out, and that was far from certain. And what's more, not in anyway reviewable under the proposed arrangement.

I would MUCH prefer baseball order all these stadiums to simplify their ground rules. There should be as little ambiguity as possible, to create as little need for IR as possible. That is the quickest, simplest, and most traditional way to fix this "problem."

Matt said...

Actually, I want to expand on that. After the Jeter ball in 1996, the Yankees DID institute a new grounds rule, in which they positioned ushers by the front row of all sections in far territory, and chained off access to the aisle just behind the wall during innings (there are no seats there, a person needs to stand in the aisle to interfere with the ball).

Isn't this a much more sensible solution than putting in IR so that an umpire can decide if a ball was interfered with or not?

As for the stairway behind the right field wall that A-Rod hit, the Yankees have already, in one day, erected a metal fence in front of the staircase so that the next time a ball hits it, it will be easier to see, since the fence will give. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees aren't looking at somehow connecting the foul poles to the wall in the new stadium.

That's what you have to do, everywhere. Not instant replay.

I think of it like this--what should I do if the birds keep crapping on my car? Should I cut down all my trees? Poison the birds? Or maybe I should just put the car in the garage?

tadthebad said...

What is so wrong about getting calls correct? Seems to be pretty fundamental to achieving a fair outcome.

Jason said...

Ron: for the record, Bud is distinctly anti-replay. it's everyone else that is pro-replay.

and this has nothing to do with the Yanks. It's about getting the call right when it's correctable.

Loztralia said...

I'm interested in the idea that having a centralised replay service would be a more efficient way of doing thins than having a guy at each park sleeping for night after night and being woken up on the one occasion there's a disputed home run.

That's probably true in theory, but what about the night when five fair/foul balls go over the wall around the country within a minute of each other and the fans in Fenway get told they have to wait ten minutes for their call because they're in a queue behind the Oakland, Kansas City, St Louis and Tampa.

Never happen, right?

Craig Calcaterra said...

Probably would never happen. But it would be hilarious if it did.

For what it's worth (and if anyone cares) I haven't decided how I feel about it yet. I don't mind it for fair or foul, in or out, but (a) I do fear the slippery slope; and (b) I think we could live without it and be happy. Yes, accuracy is great, but how many important baseball moments have ever turned on incorrectly called homers?

themarksmith said...

My point is this: why is a homerun more important than a double down the line? Each could help score a run. If you start with HR, then it will go to everything else because someone will have a legitimate argument as to how the two are equal.

Second, if Jeff Fiorentino hit a HR for the A's against the Royals and was called back, we wouldn't be having this discussion because no one outside those two cities would care. Yet, we cry out now after a Met and Yankee have theirs called back.

DCS said...

I am for getting the calls right. IR is not the ONLY way to do this, and is probably among the most convoluted suggestions.

The best way? Make it easier to see what happens. We're talking about boundaries. Walk around every major league park, change the constructs so that it is hard to miss a call.

For example, what if instead of a thin yellow line like some outfield walls, there was a 4 ft wide yellow line made of a permeable rubber that left a mark? See--problem solved.

The reason people are talking about instant replay is they do not intend to have it stop at boundaries. Once it is place, in a few seasons, they will be reviewing neighborhood plays, guaranteed.

I'll still love baseball then, but I will be cursing a lot more.

Matt said...

That last post (DCS) was Matt again.

Chris H. said...

My feeling is that IR is a means to an end. I'm not crazy to get IR for its own sake, but I want calls correct and would welcome whatever it takes to get that.

I see a lot of fretting about slippery slopes, and I'm wondering what the concern is. Is the concern that the game would be stopping with every pitch? That's easily avoided. You can limit what reply is used for. The NFL has done this pretty effectively.

I'll go further and say I would welcome any technological solutions that reduce or eliminate bad calls. I'd support electronic devices to identify fair/foul calls, and I'd support electronic devices to call balls and strikes.

Because the real attitude that I don't understand is the "I like the human element" one. I do NOT find bad calls charming, and I do NOT consider them "part of the game." They are MISTAKES, and that is all. Baseball is a structured game with rules, and I want the rules enforced fairly and accurately. Whatever gets me there is fine by me, so long as it does not distort the game or lengthen it significantly.

Jason said...

Amen, Chris. Amen!

Matt said...

It depends on what you define a mistake. My enjoyment of football has noticeably lessened, because of the technical nature of instant replay. How many times have catches been called incomplete because the ball giggles a little in a receiver's arms? Play it at real speed, and it sure as hell looks like a catch, and that to me is MORE real than super slow mo and stop frame.

Then, once you have a precedent, now you have to look at every catch to see if the ball is giggling.

If you think calling that a catch is a mistake, then that is where we disagree. I would like the officials to call it as it looks at real speed, and I would like the game to make that as simple as possible.

In football, it's hard, because the calls can happen anywhere on the field. But in baseball, it is really simple. The plays happen at one of the four bases, or the boundaries. Instant replay is really overkill for the whole thing.

This is a generation thing like anything else. 20 years from now I will still be a baseball fan, but I will be surrounded by people that didn't know baseball without instant replay, and they will be calling for replays on tag plays, traps, tagging up, checked swings, and someday balls and strikes (which, oddly, I am not that opposed to).

themarksmith said...

Okay, there are a few differences between the NFL and MLB. First, the NFL only allows two challenges. IF you want all the calls to be right, then you cannot limit the number of challenges. Second, there are many more calls to make in the NFL, so it may, MAY, be more necessary there. Third, the reviews in the NFL take forever.

Also, if you want all electronic devices to do the calling, then what happens during a power outage (has happened), if the electronic device malfunctions (happens all the time), or if it is set up incorrectly? Umpires now get 99% of the calls correct. The thing I don't understand is why all of you are barking about HR when calls on balls and strikes are much more prevalent, but no one cares. You yell during the game and then forget about it.

Daniel said...

Oh man, I'm going to get blasted for this one...

I'm on the record as saying I'm FOR the IR on homerun calls. I see what Matt is saying, but look at a park like Minute Maid. How easy do you think it would be to alter that left center-field wall where you've got the homerun line halfway up? They probably should have planned this better, but I love the nuances of Minute Maid Park and I think it would take significant costly work for some franchises to ensure that homeruns are readily apparent. It's not as easy as just putting up a fence for most teams.

Anyway, I am definitely opposed to using electronic means to call balls and strikes. I like umpires back there. Are calls missed and do they have an effect on the game? Yes on both counts. But they don't have nearly the effect of homerun (tangent - and I'm sorry, but a homerun, according to run expectancy charts, is worth at least .37 runs on average more than a double; NO ONE can argue that they are equal in value). Also, strike zones, while inconsistent amongst umpires, can be countered by a skilled pitcher who knows how to work the umpire's strike zone. Good pitchers will still be able to pitch well under these conditions. I think there also needs to be more accountability and discipline for umpires who are inconsistent or downright bas at calling balls and strikes. But no electronic strike zone please.

In my opinion, the bottom line is that the technology for getting homerun calls correct is already in place. It wouldn't disrupt the game any more than a disputed homerun call already does. And it would ensure that umpires get a very important call correct. I don't think IR or electronic umpiring in any other situation fully meets those criteria.

JDS said...

Anyone who has umpired or attended umpire training, or understands the rules of baseball, I think, is fairly confident that there will never be instant replay or "video umpiring" for anything but "boundary" calls -- home run (over the line or no, fair or foul) and fan interference. Why? Because these calls are all "dead ball" calls. When one of these calls is made -- either correctly or incorrectly -- the ball is already out of play. It is just a matter of whether or not (or how much) to reward the batter.

Any ball-in-play call - catch or no catch, swipe tag, etc., MUST be called by the umpire and that call MUST stand because the call has a direct effect on subsequent play action. Example: two outs, runners on first and second. Sinking liner to right, umpire rules the ball is caught. Third out. If a team were allowed to protest, then what do you do with the runners? Does the runner from second score even if he didn't actually touch the plate because the out call was made? Does the runner from first go to second, or could you argue he could go to third, because the outfielder would have thrown home to get the other runner?

It's the same thing with fair and foul -- once an umpire yells "foul" the ball is dead and play stops.

I think in the last decade the umps have come around to wanting to get the call right -- and I think they realize that replay could definitely help on boundary calls without effecting subsequent play. There actually was an incident a few years ago when Rich Garcia (I believe, I could be wrong), went to a dugout camera to review a home run call in Florida (one of those "did it go over the line" calls), got the call right, and was ripped in some quarters for it.

There are other possible solutions here that could be taken in conjunction with instant replay on these calls:

1) Uniform regulations as to "yellow line" calls and the implementation of yellow lines; the ground rules and layouts of each park are so different that it is too easy for umpires to miss calls. Installing nets above boundary lines (as has now apparently been done in Yankee Stadium, or above the ivy in Wrigley) is one idea.

2) Electronic sensors located just ABOVE yellow lines on outfield walls, such as in Arizona. If tennis courts can have a beeper sound when a ball is two inches out of the service court, then I imagine that MLB could do something similar (particularly in areas where fans are not near the line). If a ball hit the line just above the fence -- say, within twelve inches of the line -- then a light could go on somewhere indicating "home run." It's not a cure-all, but it could help with those very close calls that replay would eventually clarify anyway.

3) Get input from the umpires. They know where the "difficult" calls are, and there might be special cameras set up to capture those areas.

There's a way to do this that is minimally invasive to the game as we know it; I appreciate the concern about the "camel's nose" but in almost every circumstance outside the boundary calls, using replay would involve a serious reconsideration of the rules in terms of how balls are declared live or out of play.

As far as balls and strikes go: no, no, no. The strike zone is a three-dimensional space that shifts according to the manner in which a batter is standing, where he is in the box, and what action he takes while swinging (or, more realistically, bunting). As a youth league umpire for nearly a decade (and a film professional for much, much longer), I can attest that at this point there is no imaging/recording system that could or should supersede human vision (particularly since the disputed calls in question would be "border" calls). I'm all for QuestTec monitoring umpires and giving them feedback as to how consistent they are on borderline pitches, and there's some evidence it has had a positive effect on making the strike zone a bit more consistent from umpire to umpire. But people who say that this should be used to call balls and strikes have never stood behind the plate in an actual game.

On a slightly related note, I can also say that many of the disputed/missed calls that I see almost always involve an umpire being out of position or moving when a call is made. There are times this cannot be avoided -- sometimes a throw comes to the wrong side, etc. -- but often it's umpires just being lazy and not anticipating the play. Good (but not absolute) rule of thumb: if an umpire is moving when he sees the play happen, he's screwed up.