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Is MLB Replay Just Making Things More Complicated?

"It's extremely difficult to have any faith in the process that's being used," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of MLB's new replay review procedure, which went against Boston on consecutive days. "On the heels of yesterday, it's hard to have any faith in the system."

This is not what MLB wants to hear, but after an obviously blown call was upheld and a very close call was overturned, it's enough to make a manager get thrown out arguing something that's supposed to be objective.


Above is a play from Saturday, a double by Dean Anna. After sliding into second safely, Anna took his foot off the bag—while the tag from Xander Bogaerts was still being applied.

Farrell challenged the call, after getting the thumbs-up from his replay assistant (who is just a guy in the clubhouse watching television replays). The angles from NESN and Fox Sports 1 were pretty damned conclusive—just look at the freezeframe above.

Inexplicably, the umpires in MLB's central replay office upheld the call on the field; Anna was safe. Or maybe it's not so inexplicable. After the game, MLB admitted the call was in error, and claimed its replay office "did not have immediate access to [a] conclusive angle."


That's pretty unforgivable. There's absolutely no reason umpires shouldn't have access to the same television angles that fans at home do. Whether this was a temporary technical malfunction or a built-in shortcoming, it should leave teams and fans with less than full confidence that baseball's review system is capable of serving its only purpose.

That explains Farrell's frustration, and set the stage for what happened last night:


Francisco Cervelli was ruled out on the back end of a double play which would have ended the inning. The Yankees challenged, the call was overturned, and New York was given what would turn out to be the winning run.

Farrell came out to argue and get ejected, and it was an ironic blowup. For one, he was arguing against a call made by umpires not even in the ballpark. For another, he was ejected by crew chief Bob Davidson—the first-base ump who initially made the out call and presumably agreed with him.


It was a damn close play, and that's before the disagreement on what umpires were supposed to be looking for. On the ESPN broadcast, John Kruk said Mike Napoli's glove had to be closed before the ball could be considered secure. Farrell, on the other hand, said "we were instructed that when the ball enters the glove — not that it has to hit the back of the glove — is where the out is deemed complete."


There is similar confusion on whether or not a fielder has possession of a ball as he transfers it from his glove to his throwing hand, a call that's being made inconsistently and carries huge loophole implications. Nobody knows what a catch is anymore. This is something you'll hear all the time in football, where super-slow-mo replays have made it possible to dissect the mechanics of milliseconds on plays that in real speed appear obvious.

I still believe replay is inherently good and worthwhile. But it was inevitable that it would introduce more uncertainty into certain situations, more complexity into formerly simple plays. Saying "a fielder has the ball when it's in his glove" is no longer a tautology when you can count frames. We are presumably not far away from an umpire explaining to an aggrieved manager that a fielder "was in the process of making a baseball move."


John Farrell elucidated how in solving its old problems, baseball has created a whole mess of new ones.

"As much as they're trying to help the human element inside this system," Farrell said, "it seems like it's added a human element at a different level."

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