So, one week into MLB's trial run with expanded replay in spring training, there's good news and bad news.
Bad news first: As noted by Anthony Rieber of Newsday, there have been some complications. Most have stemmed from how the tech in place now isn't as sophisticated as the tech that will be in place later. Due to these limitations, the spring trial run is more about managers and umpires getting the hang of the general protocol of things.
But there's also areas where "Huzzahs!" are in order: Neither managers nor umpires have been dragging their feet with the actual replay process. Though it was an ominous possibility when expanded replay was first announced in January, it doesn't look like the pace of play is doomed to become slower after all.
It was apparent early on that this was going to be the case. On the day of expanded replay's debut last Monday, the longest of the three reviews lasted two minutes and 34 seconds. After Tuesday, ESPN's Jayson Stark had some more official numbers on hand:
Interesting figures from MLB on 1st 2 days of replay: Reviews averaged 87 seconds, mgrs took 38 secs to challenge, total delay under 3 mins— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 5, 2014
Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz, who also chaired baseball's replay committee, spoke to Stark and said that the first two days of replay had "calmed everybody's fears" of expanded replay leading to frequent long delays.
Not much has changed in the days since. I wasn't able to find published times for all of the replays that have taken place, but you can get a good gist from looking around. A few more have fallen in the 2:00-2:30 range. A couple of other replays have taken less than two minutes.
There was one replay in an exhibition between the New York Yankees and Houston Astros Saturday that was even shorter:
Replay is used for the first time as the Astros challenged an out call at 1st on Villar. Replay confirmed call, took about 30 seconds.— Houston Astros (@astros) March 8, 2014
As Chad Jennings of The Journal News noted, that replay happened so quickly that Yankees starter Ivan Nova didn't even need any warm-up pitches before play resumed.
Now, when the replays start counting for real during the regular season, I doubt that we're actually going to see many replays that short. Frankly, I'm not even sure I buy Schuerholz's belief (per Stark's article) that replay delays will generally start lasting between 60 and 90 seconds.
No, the safer bet is that they're going to stay in the 2:00-2:30 range. The actual review process may be shorter once the reviews start to be handled at the Replay Command Center in New York rather than in satellite trucks outside of spring training complexes, but the trade-off is likely to be managers becoming more deliberate when it comes actually issuing challenges.
Because it's spring training, managers don't have to think twice about challenges right now. But once games start to count, you can expect to see them use stall tactics to give the video people in the clubhouse time to decide whether a challenge is in order. The league will discourage these stall tactics but will surely have a hard time policing them.
Here's the thing, though: Even if replay challenges do stay in the 2:00-2:30 range, that still counts as progress for replay in baseball. MLB had only been using replay for home run reviews, and those tended to take a while.
How long was the average home run review? Try as I might, I couldn't find a figure for that anywhere. It's also hard to tell from searching for home run replays on MLB.com's video database, as most of the videos are edited down.
The ones that aren't edited down, however, can give us an idea. For example...
- The first-ever home run replay in 2008 saw about a three-and-a-half-minute delay between Joe Maddon's emergence from Tampa Bay's dugout and the final call by umpires.
- A review of an Adrian Beltre home run in September 2012 also caused about a three-and-a-half-minute delay.
- A review of a Humberto Quintero home run last July caused yet another three-and-a-half-minute delay.
- A review of a Jarrod Saltalamacchia home run last September was shorter...but only to the extent that it lasted three minutes instead of three and a half.
Then there was this mess involving the Cleveland Indians, Oakland A's and Angel Hernandez last May:
A's manager Bob Melvin popped out of the dugout around the 0:30 mark. Hernandez and his crew emerged from beneath the stadium at around the 4:30 mark. There was thus about a four-minute delay. That's roughly twice what a typical replay challenge is taking this spring.
And you know what? It makes sense that replay challenges would be shorter than home run reviews.
For starters, managers no longer have to talk umpires into using replay. Nor do umpires have to get together for a conference before deciding whether a replay is needed. There will still be situations when they will do that at their own discretion after the seventh inning, to be sure, but those conferences will no longer come with every replay situation.
Secondly, precious seconds are saved by having the umpires stay on the field for the review process. They no longer have to travel back down below the stadium and back out again.
There will be a third major difference once the season actually begins. As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports noted, all umpires had for home run reviews was a single 19-inch monitor. At the Replay Command Center, Paul White of USA Today says there will be two main monitors and additional monitors around those.
And that's not for all games. That's per game. The umpires stationed at the Replay Command Center will be able to see a whole bunch of replays and images at once instead of one at a time.
Back in August 2012, Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated noted that the introduction of home run replay hadn't served to slow down the general pace of games. Games between 2008 and 2011 took about the same amount of time as games in 2007, the year before home run replay came to baseball.
This, friends, is encouraging.
There are certainly going to be more replay challenges than there were home run replays, but that they should be generally shorter by one, two or even three minutes is a good trade. If home run replays didn't lead to drastically slower games, then replay challenges shouldn't, either.
This is to say nothing of another benefit that could come with expanded replays: fewer lengthy manager-umpire disputes.
You know, like this one:
Between the time they huddled up and the time they broke up, the umpires took about a minute and a half to decide to change that call. Jim Tracy came out pretty much immediately, and he ranted and raved for a good two minutes before he finally retreated. In all, it ended up being about a six-minute delay.
Vin Scully said it best (because of course he did):
What’s a shame, really, (is that) we have this equipment and no one takes avail of it. I mean, they say it would slow up the game. What did that do? They could have had someone upstairs or an umpire go and look at the tape. Instead, a big argument and the manager’s kicked out of the game...
I'm not optimistic enough about instant replay to even dare think that we've seen the end of all manager-umpire disputes. There are still going to be plenty throughout the course of the season. But because managers and umpires can indeed finally take advantage of available technology, we should at least see fewer extreme time-wasting incidents like the one pictured above.
Again, there will be delays with expanded replay. Many of them will probably be longer than MLB is hoping for, and it's inevitable that replay will cause some games to be longer than everyone would prefer.
With even longer delays poised to go out of style, however, it's hard to see the arrival of expanded replay causing irreparable damage to the pace of play in general.
Maybe games won't become faster, but it will be a surprise if they become slower.
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