As a fan of baseball who watches a couple of hundred games a year (yeah, no need to tell me what a loser I am, I know…), I was very intrigued by a couple of things when MLB announced changes were coming to instant replay for the 2014 season last August:
1) How would the mechanics of initiating reviews work?
2) What types of plays would be reviewable?
In my opinion, these are the 2 most important aspects of replay, as they dictate to what extent replay can be used, and when it can be used. I think that while many of the rules will help the game, the replay rules fall short in both of these areas, and for no good reason.
First, the manager’s challenges: The new rules state that a manager gets 1 challenge in the first 6 innings, and 2 challenges for the last 3 innings (plus extra innings, if applicable). When a team faces a high quality starting pitcher, they usually get one inning (and one inning only!) where they get something going offensively. That inning is the most important inning in the game, bar none. A manager should have all of his challenges available for that inning. Who cares if he has 2 challenges in his pocket when the setup guy and the closer mows down his lineup!! The manager should have his challenges available when he needs them, not when MLB thinks its most interesting. It is always painful to watch your favorite team in “that” inning get screwed by a bad call. The fact that a bad call, with instant replay, can still determine the outcome of a game is ludicrous!
The second place MLB really screwed up is in the types of calls allowed to be reviewed. In my opinion, MLB umpires are the best referees of any sport when the ball is in play. They may miss one or two fair/foul or safe/out calls a game, and that is it. Their record is outstanding and speaks for itself. However, when it comes to ball/strike calls, they make me pull my hair out!! Most broadcasts now keep a Pitchtrax graphic (or something similar) up all of the time to torture fans with a clear, precise, graphical representation of the inability of MLB umpires to consistently call correct balls and strikes. The fact that MLB hasn’t pushed through a challenge on (at the very least) a 3rd strike call or a 4th ball call really baffles me. There are some situations where borderline pitches would be inconclusive, but it seems to me that there are 5-10 bad 3rd strike/4th ball calls every game, and many are easily reviewable. In my opinion, balls and strikes are where the umpires need the most help, and MLB has done nothing to address this.
I think its great that MLB is starting to infuse technology into the game. In any sport, you always hate to see those umpires/referees who like to “take over the game”. But, I hate it that technology is integrated in baby steps. If the technology is there, why not use it to its full potential? I’ll be honest, I would be in favor of removing the home plate umpire, and replacing him with Pitchtrax. These technologies have a margin of error, but the error is measured in centimeters, not feet. When I see an umpire call strike 3 on a ball that is a foot and a half off of the plate, it makes me wonder why folks are so against using technology to its fullest…