Thursday, August 14, 2014

2 comments Murray Chass Thinks Instant Replay Review Shouldn't Happen Behind Closed Doors, So Why Not Expand Replay to Balls and Strikes?

Surprising no one, it turns out Murray Chass doesn't seem to like the idea of instant replay in baseball very much. He is critical of the MLB system of replay on his non-blog, mostly because he doesn't know what goes on behind closed doors when an umpire is reviewing a play on the field that was challenged. Of course Murray could watch the replay on television and see what the umpire is seeing, but that's just too easy for him to do. He wants more transparency in calls on the field being challenged, though he not-coincidentally doesn't have suggestions on how to have more transparency. Oh, and Murray suggests (perhaps joking, though it's never easy to tell) that MLB start reviewing balls and strikes. He wants more transparency in replay, then suggests a move that will increase replay challenges, but not increase transparency. But of course.

Consider this Part II of my observation that contrary to the way baseball used to be played when everything was decided on the field, too much is now often being decided off the field, in offices, where fans can’t watch.

When watching a game on television, it is possible to see the replay and view what the umpire is viewing off the field. It doesn't mean the umpire will come to the same conclusion you do, but other than to put the review on the scoreboard for everyone in the park to see, it's much easier for the umpire to look at a television set away from the fans.

Scoring changes don’t alter the outcome of games. Changes made as the result of replays can and do.

Bad calls originally from the umpires can also alter the outcome of games. Hence, this is the reason that replay exists.

According to MLB data, barely half of the challenged or reviewed plays have withstood reversal.

More importantly, look at it this way. Half of the challenged or reviewed plays have had to be reversed. That's quite a bit of error on behalf of the umpires.

Of the challenged calls, that means there’s an awful lot going on off the field.

But those people watching the game on television can see the replay much in the same way the umpire can see the replay. So the review is going on off the field, but it's not like what's happening is a total mystery. The viewer can see much of what the umpire can see.

The development of successfully challenged calls, in turn, raises the question: Are umpires bad enough to get only every other close call right?

There are a lot of bang-bang plays in baseball and the umpire has to see multiple things occur in a fraction of a second. It's not out of the question that they only get 50% of the borderline or close calls correct. Regardless of how good umpires are at getting every other close call correct, when the replay is reviewed it will need to be done off the field. Even if a television set was brought on the field (which is needless and pointless, by the way), then the fans at home and most fans in the crowd would have no idea what the umpire is observing. Other than placing the review on the scoreboard, there's no way for the umpire to view the replay in conjunction without everyone in the stands and at home seeing what he is seeing.

Entering Wednesday’s games, replay umpires had reviewed 679 calls (I’m eliminating the 7 reviews to confirm ball-strike counts). Of those calls, 354 (52 percent) were upheld and 325 (48 percent) were overturned.

Not great, but it certainly proves the point that expanded replay was needed in baseball. Incorrect calls are being corrected. Expanded replay is working.

The numbers make umpires look bad, but they look a lot worse than I think they are.

Really? Because the fact umpires change their call almost 50% of the time when their call is challenged sort of speaks for itself. It shows why expanded replay was needed when the call was wrong, but when the call was right, it shows the umpires do get close calls correct. Essentially it's 50/50 whether an umpire will get a close call correct.

When I watch a replay on television, I have a rule of thumb. If it takes more than one showing of the replay for me to decide if I agree or disagree with the call, I give the umpire the benefit of the doubt.

This is a silly rule in the vein of Gregg Easterbrook stating NFL officials should only be able to look at instant replay twice (I think that was the number he suggested) and then have to make a call. It's not about giving the umpire the benefit of the doubt or anything like that, but making sure the call on the field is correct. So this rule sounds cutesy, but Murray giving the benefit of the doubt to the umpire ruins the point of expanded replay. Expanded replay is used to ensure close plays are called correctly, so it could take more than one replay angle in order to determine if the runner was safe at second base or not.

He’s seeing the play live as it happens; he doesn’t get a do-over after watching a replay.

Actually, the umpire does get a do-over after watching the replay. That's the entire point of expanded replay. It allows the umpires to review a call they may have gotten incorrect and correct it, or as happens 52% of the time, confirm a call on the field was correct.

The replay umpires sit in front of a television monitor and can view a play as many times as is necessary and from as many different angles as necessary. They have no limit on the number of replays they can watch or the length of time they can spend watching them.

Because expanded replay isn't a game show where the objective is that the umpire has to guess what the correct call would be. It's a method by which the correct call can be made on the field of play, so if it takes 10 viewings of the play to confirm the call is correct or overturn it, then so be it.

The average time they have taken to decide if a call was right or wrong is 1 minute and 49 seconds. That doesn’t add much time to the length of games, but several times the delay has exceeded 4 minutes.

What? It took two whole more minutes? That's way too long! Two minutes is how long a meeting on the mound lasts in the middle of an inning between the pitcher and the pitching coach. Two minutes is 2-3 pitches from a pitcher who is working really slowly. Two minutes is the time it takes for a pitcher coming in from the bullpen to warm up on the mound even though he has already warmed up.

It's not like baseball is a fast-paced game without periods of time when there is no action. So the occasional replay that adds four minutes to the length of the game seems pretty tolerable to me. No one wants to have the game last any longer, but it's important the calls on the field are made correctly.

With two out in the ninth, Starling Marte lashed a drive to right field at PNC Park. Marte raced to third, then quickly got up when the relay throw skipped past third and scooted home, where umpire Quinn Wolcott called him out.

That wasn’t the way Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle saw it, and he challenged Wolcott’s out call. 

Then the umpire went to review the replay, or something, we don't know. It's all so secretive it makes Murray Chass wonder what really goes on when a play has been challenged. Why isn't the replay challenge shown on a huge, giant screen? WHAT IS MLB HIDING?

Seventy-four seconds later, the replay umpires, positioned not on the field but on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan in the offices of MLB Advanced Media, ruled Marte safe, and the Pirates had a 2-1 win.

And it was the right call. Fans watching at home could view the replay and see what the correct call should be. The NFL is talking about going to a replay system where neutral observers in a league office make a decision on what the call should be and I see no reason why MLB shouldn't keep doing this as well. Only an old-school writer like Murray Chass would have a huge issue with this happening.

Two months and two days after the Marte play, just last week, in fact, the New York Mets had a ninth-inning call reversed but couldn’t capitalize on it. 

Umpires make that call to avoid having the infielder injured by the runner coming from first. The neighborhood play, however, is not subject to challenge and review.
In that instance, with no one out and the game tied, 3-3, in the ninth, the replay umpires ruled that the neighborhood play didn’t apply because Andrelton Simmons’ foot had come off second base as he fielded the throw, before he threw to first trying for a double play.

So it therefore wasn't the neighborhood play. This problem could have been fixed if Simmons just touches second base. I know it takes 0.014 of a second to do this and is an exhausting measure to take, but the umpires thought his foot had come off second base before fielding the throw, and therefore it was a reviewable call.

The play, though, prompted MLB to offer this explanation:

“The replay regulations allow umpires to determine if they considered a play to be the neighborhood play or not, based on a variety of factors. Some of the factors they consider are the throw and if the player receiving the ball is making the turn. Umpires might consider whether it was an errant throw or if a player receiving a throw who is not at risk of contact made an effort to touch the bag.”

The umpires stated it was a reviewable play because Chris Johnson had made an errant throw and Simmons wasn't in danger of risking contact when making an effort to touch the bag. It was a sort of weird call, mostly because I didn't find Johnson's throw to be errant, but there was an explanation behind the call on why the play was reviewable. 

It all sounds like they’re making it up as they go along, something straight off the sandlot.

Something off the sandlot, like maybe the neighborhood play?  

Would it have been unfair for the umpires’ original calls in these instances to have stood without challenge and review? Perhaps so, but if nearly 50 percent of all umpires’ challenged calls are wrong, how many games have had the wrong outcome in the first 100 plus years of Major League Baseball.

The answer to this question doesn't really matter at this point. Expanded replay was instituted to prevent as many games as possible in the future from having the wrong outcome. It wouldn't have necessarily unfair for their original calls to have stood without challenge and review, but for the sake of the integrity of baseball, if the technology is available to make calls on the field as accurate as possible it makes sense to pursue this technology.

How many teams have lost games that cost them pennants or wild-card status or even World Series championships because wrong calls couldn’t be corrected by umpires secluded in an office watching repeated replays on television monitors?

For someone who doesn't like the idea of umpires secluded in an office watching repeated replays on television monitors, Murray is sure making some good arguments for why expanded replay, as decided by umpires secluded in an office, is a good thing for baseball.

The argument in favor of replay is it’s better to get it right than wrong, but if it’s better to get safe/out calls right, why not ball/strike calls? With the technology available today, surely an electronic system could be created to call balls and strikes.

Of course. Murray doesn't like men in secluded rooms watching videos that decide the outcome of a replay challenge, so why not expand replay to where this will happen more often? I'm not in favor of expanding replay to include balls and strikes, because I really do think that would start to slow the game down.

Nothing against umpires, whose work and work ethics I respect, but they very likely miss more pitch calls than base calls.

Right, but then these replay challenges will be decided by men in secluded rooms and Murray just absolutely hates the idea of that happening. He wants more transparent replay, yet has no ideas on how to go about doing this.

Having raised this issue, I don’t think baseball will ever get to electronic monitoring of balls and strikes, but I throw it out there in case Commissioner Bud Selig would like to add another element to his legacy before he retires in January.

I sense sarcasm there. I don't think I will ever understand Murray Chass. He gets snarky about expanded replay, but also admits that it works very well. He then suggests replay be expanded even further to balls and strikes, but I have a feeling he would have a huge issue with a computer deciding whether a pitch was a ball or a strike.


rich said...

It shows why expanded replay was needed when the call was wrong, but when the call was right, it shows the umpires do get close calls correct. Essentially it's 50/50 whether an umpire will get a close call correct.

Given how a lot of those close plays happen, 50/50 isn't that bad. The sample size is only for the close plays, you know, the ones that are inherently going to be much worse than statistical average.

This statistics would be concerning if the umps were 50/50 over all calls, but on the close plays? I"m fine with 50/50.

It all sounds like they’re making it up as they go along, something straight off the sandlot.

Because this is basically the first year that this has been a thing, so it seems like they're making it up as they go along... because they probably are.

There's a precisely 0.00000% chance (fuck you TMQ) that MLB would have thought of every possible situation. So Murray points out the almost 800 replays and he doesn't think a couple of them are in the "wow, I didn't think this would be something we'd see" territory?

Expanded replay was instituted to prevent as many games as possible in the future from having the wrong outcome.

I seriously don't get what Murray is trying to argue here. So we have evidence that umpires have cost teams games in the past now? Well no shit, every fan in the world has known this since forever.

Just because the calls can be reviewed now (and the right decision reached) does not change the fact that in the past the wrong calls were still the wrong calls.

Does Murray honestly think something like Don Denkinger's missed call in the WS means that all future should be allowed to be equally wrong?

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I'm fine with 50/50 too, but I do like expanded replay. I don't mind the challenges. The percentages tell me that sometimes the umps get it right and other times they don't, but if there can be 2 minutes spent getting the call right I think it's a good thing.

I am a little concerned about the home plate rule has been enforced. It's not really working out like I thought it would.

What's annoying is there are problems with replay, but it's the first year. Does Murray really think it will be perfect out of the gate. I knew this would happen. The old schoolers who don't like expanded replay wouldn't even give it a full season before announcing it as a failure.

Your last sentence, exactly.