Instant replay is taking a hold of MLB this season, and there is some controversy on both sides about the new regulations. Some feel that baseball is losing its purity with the institution of replay reviews, while others feel that the changes came nowhere near soon enough. Here at TOC, we fall into the latter camp, and each week this season, we’re going to bring you some of the most discussed replays of the week that was.
March 31st, Pirates vs Cubs: the first replay.
It’s appropriate that the first replay review of the season featured the Chicago Cubs, and it’s even more appropriate that the Cubs lost this challenge. Chicago manager Rick Renteria challenged the out call on Jeff Samardzija at first base on this double play. The replay confirmed the call on the field that Samardzija was out, and the Cubs had a potential scoring threat snuffed out.
March 31st, Braves vs Brewers: the first overturned call.
It’s also appropriate that the first overturned call featured Ryan Braun, which led to numerous Twitter comedians making the joke that Braun has a knack for getting things overturned. Chris Johnson double clutched his throw on this slow runner, and his throw beat Braun to the bag by half a step. Upon review, the umpires realized this and overturned the safe call on the field.
April 1st, Giants vs Diamondbacks: controversy erupts.
Managers are eventually going to get the hang of this challenge this. Bruce Bochy isn’t there yet. With the Giants up 4-2 in the fourth inning, he challenged a safe call on a pickoff attempt by Matt Cain. A.J. Pollock was ruled safe, and Bochy wasn’t convinced. The review was inconclusive, and the call on the field stood. Later in the inning, Pollock scored on a passed ball – but replays revealed Cain tagging him before he touched the plate. Because Bochy lost his challenge and the game was only in the fourth inning, the play couldn’t be revealed. Arizona went on to win the game 5-4.
April 2nd, Cubs vs Pirates: wait, you can challenge that?
One of the plays that isn’t reviewable under MLB’s new replay policy is the “neighborhood play” at second base. So when Rick Renteria challenged this out call at second base, there were questions over just what the hell was he doing. But upon review, it was evident that Renteria wasn’t challenging the neighborhood play – he was challenging the fact that the throw from Neil Walker pulled Jordy Mercer off the second base bag. The review confirmed that fact, and the double play was turned into an RBI ground out, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1. The Pirates would end up winning 4-3, but not before the game continued into the 16th inning.
April 2nd, Cubs vs Pirates: foul tip, or busted finger?
Oh, this was a mess. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Starling Marte appeared to get beaned by a pitch up and in by Pedro Strop. But the umpire said that the ball didn’t hit Marte, but instead hit his bat. A marathon replay session ensued, which told us…well, not much of anything. The initial foul ball call was upheld, and Marte eventually struck out.
April 3rd, Cardinals vs Reds: deflection.
If this play in Cincinnati ended up being an out, it would have been one of the plays of the year. Matt Holliday hit a fly ball to deep right center field, and Billy Hamilton appear to deflect the ball off of his glove into the glove of Jay Bruce for a catch. It was ruled a single on the field, and upon review, it was revealed that the ball didn’t hit Hamilton’s glove, but did hit the wall. Holliday was allowed to stay at first, and what could have been a web gem was just another play.
April 3rd, Yankees vs Astros: umpires can’t count.
This situation in Houston was ugly, and showed how replay can quickly spiral out of control. In the ninth inning of this game, the umpires lost track of the count to Yankees third baseman Yangervis Solarte. They actually needed to go through the at bat and track all of the pitches that Brad Peacock threw to Solarte, eventually coming to the conclusion that “hey, we were right after all and CAN count!” The crew at CSN Houston didn’t even bother looking at a replay for this one. It was just a complete mess from start to finish.
April 3rd, Mariners vs Athletics: oh yeah, the home plate collision rule.
In addition to instituting replay this offseason, MLB also slapped together a rule designed to eliminate home plate collisions. Essentially, runners aren’t allowed to steamroll the catcher, but catchers aren’t allowed to block home plate without the ball. In this play at O.co Coliseum, Sam Fuld was pretty clearly tagged out at home plate, but Bob Melvin wasn’t so sure that Mariners catcher Mike Zunino left Fuld with a clear path to home plate. Replay revealed that Zunino wasn’t blocking the plate without the ball, and the call was upheld.
April 3rd, Mariners vs Athletics: can I haz walk off?
Coco Crisp’s walk off homer on Thursday night was nearly wiped off the books after the umpiring crew took a look at whether or not the ball cleared the yellow line before bouncing back on the field, or if it hit off of the scoreboard under the yellow line. The home run call was confirmed after replay, but could you imagine if the call was overturned? At least the A’s didn’t dump Gatorade on Crisp and shove a shaving cream pie in his face.
April 4th, Braves vs Nationals: define “lodged”.
Ian Desmond led off the fifth inning with a laser down the left field line that ended up getting lodged under the left field wall. Braves outfielder Justin Upton immediately threw his hands up (as you’re taught from grade school) while Desmond flew around the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Upon review, umpires realized that the ball was indeed lodged under the wall (despite the protests of some who thought Upton’s ease in removing the ball meant it wasn’t lodged), and stuck Desmond at second with a ground-rule double instead of a home run. The overturned call had meaningful consequences – Desmond was caught stealing by Evan Gattis later in the inning, and Washington lost the game 2-1.
As you can tell, there are still a lot of kinks to get worked out with the replay system. Entering Monday’s slate of games, there were a total of 41 reviews. 17 calls have been overturned, and 24 have been upheld. The incredibly useful Baseball Savant website is tracking all of the replay data, and their data shows that nine teams in the league still haven’t pulled the challenge card yet. As the season moves along, it’ll be interesting to see how replay progresses, and which managers begin to stand out from the pack in regards to challenging plays.