Too Much Instant Replay?

MLB announced that there will be a dramatic expansion in the use of instant replay next year if a proposal currently under consideration is approved by the owners.  Under this proposal a vastly greater number of calls will be reviewable (MLB says approximately 89% of calls will be reviewable) and each team will receive three review opportunities per game, one during the first six innings of the game and two during the last three innings, with the team retaining each challenge that is successful.

While baseball definitely needs vastly more instant replay review than it now uses, I can see at least one big problem with the system MLB is proposing to implement.  If teams get three replay reviews per game, they will use them and there will be additional long delays in every game.

According to this article from espn.com, replay challenges currently take “just over three minutes” on average and the commissioner’s office hopes to get the time down to 1 minute and 15 seconds.  I strongly doubt they’ll get the challenges completed this quickly.

The replays I’ve seen on TV have taken a lot longer than three minutes for the umpires to go wherever they go when a challenge is made on a home run call to review the replay footage and then return to the field to announce their call.  I will admit, though, that I haven’t seen a replay challenge all that recently, and the umpires may be getting faster at it.

Even assuming that new systems are put in place to speed up the review process, I very much doubt it will ever take less than 3 or 4 minutes of dead time for umpires to fully review replay footage.

The games are already long enough with all the pitching changes in today’s game and three minute breaks between half innings for television commercials.  Giving teams three replay reviews per game probably means at least 10 more minutes of dead time during a baseball game on average.

If teams have three replay challenge opportunities per game, I have no doubt that they will use all three just about every game, because the proposed system’s only penalty for incorrectly using a replay challenge is not getting yet another replay challenge.  Particularly in the late innings of a game, why would you fail to use a replay challenge if there was any possibility you might get the call on the field overturned?

Also bear in mind that at the major league level most plays on the bases are close.  How often does a stolen base attempt result in a bang-bang play at second?  Almost all of them.  If the batter is fast and hits a weak ground ball, how often is the play at first close?  Almost every time.

What I think would make a lot more sense, which I’ve proposed before, is to give each team a fixed number of replay challenge opportunities per season, say somewhere between 40 and 100.  If a team uses a replay opportunity and the play is not overturned, they lose that replay opportunity.  If the play is overturned, the team does not lose a replay opportunity. In other words, if a team had 60 replays per season, they would be able to make 60 unsuccessful challenges before they run out of challenges.

The seasonal number of replay opportunities should be such that teams do not elect to challenge calls on the field every single game, but instead save their replays for truly key plays when they really have a reasonable shot at getting the play overturned.  Doing so would increase strategy by forcing managers to decide whether they should challenge a particular call on the field.  Teams that make fewer challenges early in the season would have more at their disposal late in the season.

With the right number of challenges, a majority of games would have no challenges at all, but managers would have enough challenges at their disposal if the umpires blow multiple calls in any one game.

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