MLB’s replay system still far from perfect

With two outs in the fifth inning of yesterday’s Hoston Astros-Los Angeles Angels contest, Carlos Correa of the Astros broke for second on a 2-1 pitch. It was a bang-bang play, and umpire Angel Hernandez ruled that Carlos Perez‘s throw had just barely nabbed Correa. That was news to the Astros’ shortstop, who was pretty sure he had beaten the throw.

So began the official MLB review process.

It took the fellows calling the game for the Angels approximately 10 seconds without the aid of super slow motion replay to determine that Correa was indeed correct. His heel hit the bag before shortstop Erick Aybar applied the tag. This was obviously a blown call that would be easily overturned. With the score still 3-2 in favor of Los Angeles, Houston would have a crucial runner in scoring position (granted, Jed Lowrie was batting, so whether anything game-changing was about to happen is doubtful) and a chance to tie the game.

Doing their due diligence of course, the LA announcers viewed the play from a few different angles and slowed it down frame-by-frame. Over the next two-plus minutes, the players on the field milled about. The managers sat stoically in the dugout. Correa planted himself firmly on second base, awaiting a cheerful verdict.

He never got one.

Correa was called out, and I’m sure the following rule was cited:

To change a reviewable call, the Replay Official must determine that there is clear and convincing evidence to change the original call that was made on the field of play. In other words, the original decision of the Umpire shall stand unchanged unless the evidence obtained by the Replay Official leads him to definitively conclude that the call on the field was incorrect.

This is the same rule that applies to the NFL’s instant replay. Having such a rule implies that it is very difficult to overturn the call on the field. It’s taken this long to institute instant replay in professional sports, and we’re still fighting it kicking and screaming. Baseball’s system does at least remove the pressure of reviewing the call from someone who was actually involved in making the call. It is still flawed in that the final ruling is very dependent upon the initial ruling.

If the entire purpose of the review process is to get the call right, shouldn’t the call be made from scratch? The Correa slide into second is the exact type of play that replay was created for — a bang-bang play in real time, an easy change in slow motion. This challenge was sitting on a tee just waiting for an easy decision. However, with the shred of doubt implanted by the initial call on the field, somehow Correa walked off the field as the third out. Maybe Jed Lowrie was not about to deliver his one hit every 4.5 at-bats, but in a game with playoff implications, this call had to be made correctly.

The call will never be able to be made completely in a vacuum without knowledge of the initial call on the field. Not without some extremely slick editing, and baseball’s certainly not going to go down that path (unless Joe Maddon gets his nerds). The umpire watching the play in New York, however, must be given the freedom to make his own call as an umpire, not a reviewer. As the system is currently structured, the reviewer must watch the video and find evidence that proves his colleague on the field was wrong (or right, let’s give the umpires some credit). That extra bit of wiggle room makes it easy to stick with the initial ruling on the field without giving a real explanation.

There are very few calls this easy that will not be overturned. There is no perfect solution to instantly reviewing calls on the field, but there are certainly steps that can be taken in an attempt to approach a perfect system. The “clear and convincing” evidence clause has to go. When a call on the field is questionable, why not get a fresh call from a fresh set of eyes? That’s not a difficult change to the system. The use of replay technology is still in its infancy with baseball, but it must be allowed to grow.

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