If you missed it, Major League Baseball took its first step into a brave new world on Monday.
Nearly two months after the league announced that expanded replay would be implemented in 2014, the league made replay available for a test drive in three spring training exhibitions on Monday: Blue Jays vs. Twins, Angels vs. Diamondbacks and Cubs vs. Brewers.
Cue the tensest of tension! For while much had been done to make everyone aware of how replay would work, nobody had ever actually used it before. Monday was Phase 1 of a grand experiment.
But fear not. There ended up being three replays, and on the whole they don't suggest that MLB needs to go back to the drawing board.
The First Blue Jays vs. Twins Replay
For historical purposes, mark this down: The first use of expanded replay occurred with two outs in the bottom of the sixth in a Grapefruit League contest between Toronto and Minnesota.
It started with a soft grounder up the middle by Twins outfielder Chris Rahl. Toronto shortstop Munenori Kawasaki fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw to first pulled Jared Goedert off the bag. By the time he got his toe down on the bag, first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth ruled that Rahl had the play beat.
Or did he? Since force plays are among the many plays covered under the new replay rules, out came Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons to issue a challenge.
The whole scene looked like this:
In all, pretty much as expected. Gibbons calmly signaled his intent to challenge, and then two umpires retreated to the communications setup on the side of the field, conversed with replay officials away from the field and decided to uphold the call.
According to Blue Jays radio host Mike Wilner, the call was upheld due to a lack of clear evidence that it should have been overturned:
Was this the right call?
Well, we can put it this way: It was a defensible call.
This screenshot is as close as I could get to the moment Goedert got his toe down:
It looks like Goedert had Rahl beat and that he should have been called out. But at the same time, it's awfully hard to tell both in this image and in the video reviews whether or not Goedert's toe hit the dirt before it hit the bag.
And when Rahl actually touched the first-base bag, it's still not clear where Goedert's foot is:
Rather than complain about something, we're going to take this as an opportunity to note two important things:
- There are going to be replays where the "right" call isn't going to be entirely clear. Best get used to it.
- The good news is that there are going to be more camera angles and, thus, replay angles for regular-season games.
"It's such a rudimentary system right now," Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said, via Tyler Mason of Fox Sports North. "They don't have all the camera angles and they don't have all the monitors that they'll have during the season."
In a word, things are going to be a bit more enhanced when the games actually count.
But for now, one thing spring training is good for is getting a sense of the timing it's going to take for replays to occur. To that end, by my count it took about 25 seconds for Gibbons to issue his challenge and then about two minutes for the actual review to play out.
According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, it was indeed about a two-and-a-half-minute process:
That second part is true, as Stark reported in January that MLB was hoping reviews would only take between 60 and 90 seconds. In light of that hope, 2:34 is a bit long.
But as it turned out, this was the slowest replay of the day.
The Only Angels vs. Diamondbacks Replay
The day's second replay happened in the top of the second of the tilt between the Angels and Diamondbacks. It involved a stolen-base attempt by Angels infielder Luis Jimenez on a botched hit-and-run, in which he was tagged by Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill and called out by second-base umpire Bill Miller.
The scene looked like this:
Angels manager Mike Scioscia took a bit longer than Gibbons to issue his challenge, as I timed the gap between the out call and the end of Scioscia's conversation with Miller at between 35 and 40 seconds.
The process as a whole, however, was a bit faster. Here's Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:
Once again, there's some debate as to whether the "right" call was made. One of the angles showed this:
And another showed this:
The first angle is useless. While less useless, it's still hard to tell from that second angle. Once again, extra camera angles would have been helpful.
However, since we can see that Jimenez's foot isn't yet on the bag and that Hill's glove might be touching Jimenez's leg, we are looking at yet another defensible call. And while Scioscia took his time making the call to challenge the play, at least things moved quickly after that.
Which brings us to the third and final replay of the day...
The Second Blue Jays vs. Twins Replay
The second replay of the Toronto vs. Minnesota game happened with two out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Doug Bernier grounded one up the middle that was fielded on a sliding play to the shortstop, but the throw to Goeder was too late for Will Little (Culbreth had rotated elsewhere) to call an out.
Since Gibbons had lost his first challenge, by rule he wasn't allowed to challenge this play. But even if they've lost their initial challenge, managers are still allowed to talk to umpires about controversial plays. And after the top of the seventh inning, umpires are allowed to go to replay on their own.
In other words: No, there's nothing that bars managers from talking umpires into replays if the situation is dire enough.
That's what happened, and the scene looked like this:
I have the elapsed time between the safe call and the decision to go to replay at somewhere around 30 seconds, about in the same neighborhood as the decision process of the first replay.
The second replay as a whole, though, was a lot faster. Here's Tyler Mason:
As for whether the right call was made, it's a true bang-bang play on video, and the best angle of the play produced nothing but a blurry screenshot:
And from this angle, it's hard to tell where the ball is when Bernier crossed the bag:
So once again, it's not entirely clear what the "right" call was. But since it's not obvious from either the video or the images that Bernier should have been called out, this is still another defensible decision.
That's the day's box score for you: three replays and three defensible calls in a total of seven minutes and eight seconds.
Which launches us into a summary of the day's lesson...
A Summary of the Day's Lesson
Here's the thing: We really haven't gotten a good look at the big picture just yet.
One thing we didn't see on Monday is an overturned call. Instances like those are going to involve moving runners around and giving bad news to a manager who thought he was getting good news. They'll be a bit more complicated.
Elsewhere, we covered how regular-season games are going to have more camera angles and more monitors. We also know from Rhett Bollinger's report on MLB.com that the replay center in New York wasn't being used on Monday. Replays were being handled in satellite trucks outside the stadium.
Knowing this, it's a safe bet that there will be more clarity when it comes to actually figuring out the right call in regular-season games. Which is good.
But as far as the timing of Monday's replays goes, we can say this: It could have been worse, and it's probably going to be typical in the long run.
Though managers might not be popping out of dugouts as quickly in the regular season when they're looking to challenge something, the trade-off should be a conversation with the replay people in the clubhouse instead of a conversation with the umpiring crew. A window of 25-40 seconds for replays to be put into motion should be the norm.
And something like that does fine for "good enough" in my book. My fear has been that managers and/or umpires might take minutes to make up their minds. Based on what happened on Day 1, it seems that won't be the case.
And while the whole process didn't happen as quickly as MLB was hoping (again, 60-90 seconds), the league can probably live with reviews moving as quickly as the third one (2:03). That's about as fast as NFL reviews move, according to research done by Aaron Gordon for Sports on Earth, but baseball games should feature fewer total reviews than football games.
It's not perfect yet. But based on what we've seen so far, replay in baseball shouldn't be a total mess right out of the gate.
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