Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: Managing instant replay

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If you read this article from the New England Sports Network (NESN) about Nick Markakis‘ first pitch double last night, it kind of gives you the impression that the BoSox got cheated. Here’s where I stand on the issue: my personal opinion was that Markakis’ ball was just barely…foul. However whether there was enough video evidence to overturn the call on the field is a different story. MLB’s system is similar to that of the NFL in that the presumption is that the call on the field was correct unless the video clearly shows otherwise. I felt the same way about the review of a bang-bang play at first base later in the game; the Boston runner was safe, but there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call. But in that instance the umpires did overturn it. More on that later.

With that said, I found it very interesting that John Farrell opted to not only challenge a call in the first inning, but one literally on the first pitch of the game. Obviously, the first pitch is in theory just as important as a pitch in the seventh or eighth inning. However while Markakis did end up coming into score in that sequence, I suppose I would question a manager burning his challenge that early. Obviously Farrell thought he had a case, and I would probably tend to agree with him. But when you only get one challenge…is it really worth using that early?

In fairness, if the call is reversed the team gets a bonus challenge in a sense. But the fact is that it’s running a risk to blow through what might be the only challenge you have so early in the

game. And again in fairness to Farrell (who’s already been ejected from a game and later fined after criticizing the replay system), it will take some time before managers get the whole thing down pat. However just like everything else in baseball, I would submit that managers need to be strategic when it comes to how and when they use their challenge(s). I think that in this case Farrell felt that runs might be at a premium in that game since it was so cold (not to mention that Lackey and Tillman were on the mound), which is why he decided to go for it. The fact that Markakis was in scoring position played a role also.

Going back to the call that was overturned in the 8th inning, there was the impression that Boston somehow had gotten a supplementary instant replay review. Brock Holt was initially ruled out on a bang-bang play at first base. Replays seemed to show that the play was a tie, which is of course supposed to go to the runner. (Again as I said above, I thought he was safe – but that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call. In this case they did overturn it.) Farrell was immediately out of the dugout asking the umpires for a review.

Let me be clear; Farrell did not challenge this call. Obviously he couldn’t, because he didn’t have a challenge to use. He asked the umpires to review the play. After the 7th inning reviews are up to the discretion of the umpires. If they feel that the play was close enough to review, they can opt to do that. Again, there was the impression that Boston had challenged that call and had thus been given two challenges. But in a nutshell, between innings 1-7 the umps have to review a play when a manager asks – presuming it’s a reviewable play and the team has a challenge available. After the seventh inning if the manager asks the umps to use their authority to review the call, they’re welcome to say no.

The only issue I have with this is that MLB has several umpires who seem to feel they’re infallible. Without naming names, most people know who some of those guys are. Are we really going to assume that they’re going to swallow their pride and look at calls when the manager can’t make them do it? (Incidentally if a team still has a challenge at it’s disposal after the 7th inning they can still use it.) Furthermore, if a team has been fairly critical of an umpire over the course of a game, are we going to assume that the ump is going to happily oblige and review a call? For the sake of the integrity of the game, one would hope so.

As has been stated ad hoc, this is all going to take time to iron out. All things being equal last night, the Orioles end up winning the game 7-4 instead of 8-4. That’s a tough argument to make given that we can’t assume the game unfolds the same way, however needless to say that there would be a much bigger outcry about this day if the O’s had only won the game by a run instead of by four.

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