Saturday, October 15, 2011

What If There Was Instant Replay (Part 1)?

OK, I'm going to come right out and admit it. This is a part one that may not have a part two. What I mean is I've decided to take a look at controversial calls in baseball's postseason and discuss what would have happened in various related scenarios had there been a system of expanded instant replay in place in Major League Baseball.

Or, perhaps there won't be a part two until next year. I guess we'll have to wait and see. 

My first example wasn't really all that controversial in retrospect (it was made a moot point by Ryan Raburn's three-run homer that immediately followed), but it brought a manager out of the dugout, and was the subject of a question at the manager's post-game press conference, so that's enough for me.

In the top of the third inning of game two of the ALCS on Monday, a pitch appeared to hit Detroit's Victor Martinez in the foot. Well, at least by his reaction it did. But, it was initially unclear what the call was by home plate umpire Larry Vanover.

Vanover immediately appealed to first base umpire Jim Wolf to see if Martinez had swung at the pitch in question. My initial reaction was he had ruled Martinez was hit by the pitch, but had to determine if he'd swung or not (he hadn't) in order to decide if he should be awarded first base.

In hindsight, though, Vanover apparently did not rule it a hit by pitch. Amidst some confusion, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera came around to score from second as the ball got away from Texas catcher Mike Napoli.

The umpiring crew conferred and the play was ruled a hit by pitch, so Martinez was awarded first base and Cabrera had to return to second. Detroit manager Jim Leyland subsequently argued, and my initial reaction was he had no argument. His player—Martinez—by his body language had indicated the pitch hit him, and that was the ruling on the field. To me, at the time, Leyland was arguing because he decided a different outcome was more favorable to his team.

It wasn't until his post-game press conference that we learned what Leyland was complaining about. His beef, albeit a weak one, was he had never seen umpires confer to determine a hit by pitch. In the past, home plate umpires had always told him they couldn't get help on such a play, that other members of the crew would make the ruling immediately if they saw it.

But, back to the instant replay what-if scenarios. Assuming the initial ruling on the field was the ball had not hit Martinez and, most importantly, the play had not been ruled dead, the outcomes are pretty simple. If replay determines the ruling on the field was correct (i.e. no HBP), then all subsequent action is allowed. Martinez remains at the plate and Cabrera scores from second. If the replay ruling is it was an HBP, then the ruling is exactly what happened in the actual game: Martinez to first, Cabrera remains on second.

Things get complicated if the initial ruling on the field is that the pitch hit the batter. In that case, the play is ruled dead, and this makes it more difficult to correct if it is, in fact, an incorrect ruling. Obviously, if replay subsequently confirms the HBP call, Martinez gets first and Cabrera stays at second. But, if the replay determines the batter wasn't hit by the pitch, the question is what to do with Cabrera.

Assuming the play was ruled dead on the field, Cabrera's advance from second can't be allowed, no matter what the replay determination is. After all, the defense's efforts would have stopped when the ruling on the field was to call the play dead, so there is really no way to decide what would have happened otherwise.

This would be analogous to the fumble/no fumble ruling in football. In the NFL, if the whistle blows the play dead, there is no changing the call.

In our baseball example, however, the call would be changed from a hit by pitch to simply a ball, but the runner would have to stay on second. There's no way around that, in my opinion. I suppose the runner could be awarded a one-base advance in the umpire's judgment, assuming the ball legitimately got away from the catcher, but I think this would open up another can of worms. That is, using instant replay to get one call right, while creating another potentially debatable judgment call for the umpire to make.

While this is not the best example of such a play, it does point to the potential complications created by calls on the field resulting in the play being ruled dead. A foul ball that should have been ruled fair and a home run that shouldn't have been are a couple other examples.

Scenarios created by such situations will have to be worked out in order to make expanded use of instant replay in Major League Baseball an effective solution. I think it can be done, but it's just a little more difficult than most people think.

On a related note, one thing I would like to see is more explanation from the umpiring crew regarding calls requiring interpretations of rules that aren't common knowledge to fans. It's something they do in the NFL and, although I follow football much less than I do baseball, it seems to me NFL officials receive much less criticism than MLB umpires do.

Maybe a better understanding of some of the more controversial calls would help. I'm not suggesting this be done during the games, as in football, but perhaps requiring crew chiefs to explain such calls in post-game press conferences would be beneficial.

1 comment:

  1. Good post.

    Would like a part 2 on where it definitely WOULD work where it's not used today like plays at first with no one on base, steals with no one else on base, etc.