More than 1,000 games into the season, the complaints about instant replay have tapered to a minimum, like they always were going to, because the game is far better with it than without it.
The focus on the collision rule at home plate is understandable due to the murkiness of the rule, and replay itself is shouldering much of the blame even though it's merely a tool for applying the misguided edict. Same thing went for the ill-fated transfer rule, which got foisted on replay because Luddites love nothing more than yelling from their porches that the robots are taking over.
Well, they are. And good thing. Because data through Tuesday shows nearly 250 blown calls have been overturned so far this season, a staggering number considering at this time last season replay had overturned just 19 umpire misses, all on home runs.
We've learned plenty about replay thus far, and below are 10 things you probably didn't know about it. Before that, here's one thing you almost assuredly do know and, if not, another you ought learn quickly: Replay is good, and it's only going to get better.
1. Umpires blow more calls than anyone anticipated
OK, so a society that harbors more contempt for officiating crews than the IRS probably did assume that umpires are every bit as bad as they seem. The truth is they're making instantaneous decisions on calls that come down to minute fractions of a second, and this isn't so much an excuse as it is to point out why instant replay is so vital. To expect anything close to perfection from humans not built to make such calls is ridiculous, especially when technology exists to bring us far closer to that ideal.
Through Tuesday, replay umpires overturned 246 of 533 calls, or 46.2 percent of the total run through the New York hub. During studies of calls last year, MLB estimated that umpires missed 377 throughout the season. This number, it turns out, was folly, and the league now understands why it grossly underestimated the number of overturns.
The replay system subsists on television-broadcast feeds. Without replay, broadcasts were far less likely to focus on the sort of super-close play that has become the basis of most challenges. In addition to changing the game, replay has helped TV evolve, too, where it can play advocate for getting the call right. And because of that, baseball is on pace for more than 560 overturns – one blown call remedied every four games.
2. Two plays account for more than three-quarters of challenges
Between the force play (235 challenges) and the tag play (171), 76.2 percent of challenges come on two common plays at the bases. Considering the early ideas of expanding replay focused on boundary calls (home runs, ground-rule doubles, fan interference, etc.) and fair-foul calls down the lines, the leap to including plays on the bases proved vital.
Almost all of the force plays happen at first base, with a runner trying to beat out an infield single, whereas the tag plays range around the diamond and can be the most difficult for an umpire to see from a good angle. Surprisingly, umpires seem to do a better job on the tag plays; of the 171, only 80 have been changed, an overturn rate of 46.8 percent. Perhaps force plays are more obvious, or more cameras focus on first base, but managers have been extremely successful on them, overturning 123, or 52.3 percent.
The next most-common challenges are home run (43), home-plate collision (25), hit by pitch (19) and fair/foul in the outfield (10).
3. Officially, the fastest replay was 23 seconds ... and it actually took almost two minutes
Zack Cozart fooled everyone in the stadium 11 days ago, including the firework tech who set off 10 blasts following Cozart's shot down the left-field line at Great American Ball Park. It was a classic line hugger, born for replay, and it showcases the system's inefficiencies.
Reds manager Bryan Price exited the dugout 20 seconds after Cozart swung. He talked with umpires for 44 seconds. They took about 17 seconds to walk to the headsets. At which point MLB confirmed the foul call, a minute and 44 seconds after Price came out of the dugout. Because only 23 seconds were spent corresponding with New York, the reported time is rather misleading.
The fastest call, it would seem, was by umpire Tim Welke on a not-really-all-that-questionable-but-better-safe-than-sorry Alex Avila home run. Welke spent literally eight seconds wearing the headset. One can imagine the umpire on the other side of the conversation told Welke to stop wasting his time.
MLB hoped the replays would take anywhere between 60 and 90 seconds. This has proven the most problematic part of the system. It's not just the managers coming out to do the awkward dance with umpires that initiates the challenge; at least something is happening there. It's that so many of the plays are so close, the crews rotating through New York – especially those there for the first time – have not yet developed the acuity to assess the plays as quickly as they must. It lends credence to the idea of full-time replay umpires, specialists who can cut down on the time.
Crazy-long replay times are mostly a thing of the past. Three of the four longest – 4:45, 4:40 and 4:35 – all came April 2, three days into the season. Then again, the second longest was June 12, a hit-by-pitch call that stood and took far longer than necessary.
Of the reported replay times, 91 took less than a minute, 220 were fewer than the target 90 seconds, 329 took two minutes or less, and 61 more than three minutes. Eliminating that last category altogether should be the top priority for replay going forward.
4. Mike Redmond is the king of replay
Actually, more of the credit is due to Cullen McRae and Pat Shine, the Miami Marlins' video gurus whose quick hands on the video equipment give Redmond the thumbs up or down to challenge. Of the 14 challenges Redmond has levied this season, 12 calls have been overturned, including one stretch in April and May where he popped off 10 straight.
The other top managers in getting calls overturned: San Francisco's Bruce Bochy (13 of 18), San Diego's Bud Black (7 of 10), Kansas City's Ned Yost (12 of 18) and Atlanta's Fredi Gonzalez (10 of 15).
5. Rick Renteria and Joe Maddon love to challenge
Renteria, the Cubs' rookie manager, leads baseball with 25 challenges. Even though he's hitting less than 50 percent, Renteria's 12 overturns are second most in baseball next to Bochy. He should be applauded. Even if Renteria has missed more than he's made, getting a dozen calls to flip before the All-Star break almost certainly added a strong dose of win probability to his games.
Maddon, on the other hand, is toward the bottom end of overturned calls (seven) and right behind Renteria at the top of challenges (24). Eight of his challenges have been confirmed (meaning replay officials have video evidence showing the call was correct) while nine have stood (not enough evidence for confirmation, nor enough for a "clear-and-convincing" overturn). Maddon, the Tampa Bay manager who during spring training talked about potentially exploiting loopholes in the system, is now suggesting calls that stand shouldn't cost the manager his replay challenge, which is taken away unless the call is overturned.
"Basically they're saying, 'It could have gone either way,' as opposed to a play that's been confirmed, where I was wrong totally as a manager," Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times this week. "I like instant replay. I think we knew there was going to be items that need to be polished up."
6. Mike Matheny doesn't care much about replay – and isn't very good at it, either
The St. Louis manager has challenged the fewest times: nine in 73 games, or not even once a week. He also has the lowest overturn percentage with his challenges – 2 for 9, or 22 percent.
Granted, not even half a season remains a fairly small sample size to judge a manager. Perhaps the umpires have been tremendously accurate in St. Louis' games. Maybe Matheny doesn't believe in disrupting the pace of a game. Whatever the case, it's worth noting whether Matheny changes his tack as the season goes on, especially with the Cardinals chasing Milwaukee in the NL Central.
7. Seth Buckminster probably doesn't like replay very much
Buckminster is a rookie umpire, and replay has made him look like the sort of rookie who ends up back in Triple-A. Replay has overturned 10 out of 15 calls by Buckminster already this season. Only six other umpires in baseball have had double-digit calls challenged – and only Doug Eddings (7 of 12) joins Buckminster in having more than 50 percent overturned.
Four umpires haven't been overturned thus far: Chris Guccione (6 for 6), Dan Bellino and Vic Carapazza (5 for 5) and David Rackley (3 for 3). The most maligned umpires have proven rather fallible: Joe West (2 of 4 overturned), Laz Diaz (3 of 4) and Angel Hernandez (6 of 9). And the man for whom replay exists, Jim Joyce? While injury has limited him to 18 games, not a single one of his calls has been challenged.
8. The very worst people at challenging calls are ... umpires?
It's true. Umpire-initiated challenges have resulted in overturns just 17 of 84 times. That's 20.2 percent, or worse than Matheny.
On some level, this makes sense. If an umpire is calling out his peer – or, on occasion, himself – chances are he's doing so to make extra, super sure a call was right. They err desperately on the side of caution. Exactly half their 84 challenges have come on home runs, and only 10 of those have been overturned. Twenty-five have come on home-plate collisions, and nobody – not even those in the replay center – know how to determine what's right there.
(As an aside: For all the consternation that came from the controversial Russell Martin plate-blocking of two days ago, the plate-blocking rule has accomplished exactly what it intended. Collisions at home plate – and the concussions that accompanied them – no longer exist. This is good. This is very good. This was the whole point of the rule. The kinks soon will work themselves out. A catcher on a force play like Martin will have the right to stand on the plate without concern he's going to get plowed over. Baseball righted the transfer rule. It will right this to balance logical and practical application.)
9. Replay feuds exist
Fine, feud is too strong a word, but "patterns that could eventually lead to consternation" simply is not a terribly economical phrase. Three managers have challenged individual umpires three times.
Mike Scioscia vs. Quinn Wolcott: three challenges, one overturn.
Clint Hurdle vs. Bob Davidson: three challenges, one overturn.
Walt Weiss vs. Lance Barksdale: three challenges, three overturns. The last time a Barksdale was this scared of someone named Walter was in West Baltimore.
The single greatest "feud" in replay is the unlikeliest. Umpire-on-umpire crime is a plague on society, and what Jerry Layne is doing to Mike Estabrook amounts to gross negligence. Five times this season Layne, a crew chief, has asked for replays on Estabrook – and five times the call has been upheld.
Stop questioning your guy, Jerry! Stop questioning all the umpires! Layne is 0 for 9 on overturns when initiating a challenge – including one time he asked for a replay on a record-keeping call he himself made.
10. The Texas Rangers are the unluckiest team of 2014
Certainly we knew that considering their days spent on the disabled list are twice that of the next team. Compounding that is a problem that would not have existed in 2013.
The Rangers have had 17 overturns go against them. The next-closest team is Colorado with 13, Philadelphia and Arizona with 12, and Milwaukee with 11.
Over time, those numbers should even out. One of replay's greatest attributes is the absolute lack of bias. When something strives for a noble cause – the truth – fairness does tend to prevail. And for a system that still has its kinks but spends most of its time working magic, that's plenty good enough.
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