3 Lessons MLB Can Learn from the NFL's Replay System
The MLB instant replay system is definitely still a work in progress.
John Schuerholz, the Atlanta Braves president and the MLB replay committee chair, admitted as much, via Jayson Stark of ESPN.
"I'm not going to try to claim that we have a perfect system. But it's better than we had before. And I believe we are greatly reducing the number of incorrect calls that were left standing in the past."
As the league works to perfect its new system, what better resource to call upon than the NFL, which, of course, has a far more extensive history of utilizing technology to get calls right.
The NFL originally introduced replay way back in 1986. The league then scrapped the system entering the 1992 season before bringing it back in 1999 with the addition of coaches' challenges. As the NFL's history of replay clearly indicates, it will take a considerable amount of time before MLB gets its system completely right.
So, here are three lessons that baseball can learn from the NFL as commissioner Bud Selig and his lieutenants continue to improve the MLB replay system.
1. Give Managers 2 Challenges
Entering the season, one of the loudest critiques of the MLB replay system was that each manager only got one challenge per game—he only received a second if he won the first.
It took exactly two days for that rule to produce a game-changing effect for the San Francisco Giants.
In a contest against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 1, Matt Cain clearly tagged out A.J. Pollock before he slid home. The Diamondbacks' broadcasters even admitted it, which you can hear in this MLB.com video. But it didn't matter because manager Bruce Bochy had already burned his challenge earlier in the inning.
In the aftermath of the missed call, Giants' broadcaster Dave Flemming provided his take on the situation.
But it's unsustainable to have system where a blatant, obvious missed call alters outcome of a game + goes unreviewed. Erases all the good— Dave Flemming (@FlemmingDave) April 2, 2014
Flemming is spot on. It is "unsustainable" to have such a crucial call go "unreviewed." The simple solution would be to do what the NFL does and give each manager two challenges per game.
Sure, that could slow down the pace of the games. But as Jayson Stark of ESPN notes, the whole point of replay is to get calls right:
"I hope they all keep in mind that what really matters is calling the play right, not calling the play fast."
2. Don't Be Afraid to Overturn Calls
In the opening month of the MLB replay system, there appears to be a major reluctance to actually overturn calls.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN, of the first 105 replay reviews, 38 were overturned, which works out to a success rate of about 33 percent. That's not a shockingly low figure, but it is certainly lower than what has been seen in the NFL in recent years.
Back in 2011, 52.6 percent of coaches' challenges were overturned while 47.1 were reversed in 2012, per Mitch Goldich of The Huffington Post.
One explanation for the relatively low success rate with MLB replay reviews is that the officials who review the plays at the New York command center are umpires themselves. It doesn't seem unreasonable to suspect that they could be hesitant to correct the missed calls of fellow umpires.
3. Do a Better Job Explaining the Outcome of a Review
There's really nothing worse than watching as a couple of umpires stand around with headsets on and await word from the command center in New York. Unfortunately, that's a familiar scene these days at ballparks across the country during replay reviews.
In the NFL, the referees wear microphones and frequently provide explanations as to why a call was or was not made. The same should be happening in baseball. After controversial replay reviews, the crew chief should provide a brief explanation of why the replay umpire arrived at a particular decision.
Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports suggests that MLB could make the process even more "transparent" by tweeting out an explanation:
"The replay umpire would dictate his analysis of the play, and, after a quick transcription by another MLB employee, fans everywhere could see the rationale behind the ruling."
That would be an easy and highly useful addition to the replay system.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.