In the top of the eighth inning last Saturday between the Blue Jays and the Athletics, Blue Jay outfielder Melky Cabrera tried to score from first base on Jose Bautista’s double down the left field line, but he was gunned down on the relay throw by shortstop Jed Lowrie. Cabrera, however, vehemently proclaimed catcher Derek Norris’ tag missed him, prompting a challenge of the call. Unfortunately for him, the umpires decided based on the subsequent review that there was insufficient evidence to overturn it.
Naturally, this did not sit well with Bautista, who voiced his disapproval: “This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes. I think they should just ban it.”
Bautista is not the first player to question the new replay system; it’s had its fair share of criticism, most of it rather apt. But Bautista’s comment is over the top — an eradication of the system after this current season is simply not going to happen — and anyone who’s displeased with the new system should realize such a radical step forward for the game would not be without a myriad of problems and nuances.
For example, the first uproars occurred in the season’s first week over the transfer rule on catches — if the player removes the ball from his glove and drops it, is it still a catch? Before the season began, umpires came to understand that the rule’s application meant a catch was confirmed when the ball was secured in the fielder’s throwing hand. When these plays started happening, many went to replay and umpires began enforcing the stricter interpretation.
For many fans, this resulted in plenty of ridiculous rulings of non-catches that otherwise seemed like obvious catches — look up former Indians right fielder Elliot Johnson on April 9 against the Padres.
The MLB was quick to remedy the issue April 25 by clarifying the interpretation and essentially telling us that what we all thought was a catch is indeed a catch.
But other issues still remain in need of clarification, most of which relate to the fact that the human element is still very much at play in the system.
First, umpires still have the ability to decide what can be reviewed. On Monday, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was ejected when he contested the umpires’ review of what appeared to be the so-called “neighborhood play” — in which a fielder during what is usually a double play never actually steps on second base to avoid colliding with the sliding runner — in the bottom of the ninth against the Mets, a play that the MLB deemed unreviewable in the new system.
Second, the notion of “clear and convincing” evidence for overturning calls appears quite subjective. In an April 9 game between the Twins and the Athletics, Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki was called safe at third after a throw from right fielder Yoenis Céspedes appeared to throw him out.
The review upheld the call, but replays show third baseman Josh Donaldson’s foot on the bag with possession of the ball, leaving one to wonder why calls appear quite clear to fans at home while the footage is still not conclusive enough for the umpires in New York.
These are not the only issues that have become evident — time delays, where to place runners when a call is overturned, etc. — and new situations down the line are sure to test the system, but people must understand that as the system becomes tighter with each passing season, the game will be better for it.
It’s done a great job so far. As of Tuesday, there had been about 683 reviewed calls this season, according to baseballsavant.com and mlb.com, and 328, a solid 48 percent, were overturned.
This includes the first walk-off replay win when the Pirates got by the Giants on May 6. Without replay, there is the chance the Pirates lose in extra innings, and who knows what one game will mean in terms of the four-team race for the National League Central Division crown.
The only downside I see is that 328 incorrect calls by umpires over the first half of the season accounts to about one blown call every 4.1 games through 1,351 games. It’s difficult to place these numbers within seasonal contexts, but for comparison, after the MLB did a video review of every play last season, it determined umpires missed 377 calls, which will be surpassed easily this year if the rate continues.
I’m not sure what that says about the state of umpiring currently, but replay will certainly make them more accountable and serve as a guide to avoid mistakes; it will be interesting to see what the MLB makes of its first year when the season concludes.
Nonetheless, the MLB embraced technology that has been around for a while, and although fans, players and managers may want to bemoan the inconsistencies, nuances or calls that don’t go their way, the continuing system could make or break a team’s playoff chances or even save a pitcher’s perfect game.
Rob DePaolo is a rising junior in the College. Sideline Summer appears every other Friday at thehoya.com.