MLB Instant Replay: System Has Managers, Players Crying Foul, But How Is It Really Working?

Instant replay came to MLB for the 2014 season, allowing managers for the first time to challenge umpires’ calls on the field, with the calls for all games being reviewed on video replay in a “command center” in New York City. The new system, which allows instant replay of a wide variety of calls, has already proven highly controversial — and the season isn’t even three weeks old.

Several games last weekend appeared to show some cracks in the system, that brought complaints from players and managers. Boston Red Sox Manager John Farrell was ejected from a game in New York against the Yankees on Sunday arguing a call that was overturned on what he said was “inconclusive” evidence.

Last week, Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton had call go against him and responded by saying, “Come on, MLB. That’s terrible! And you can quote me on that.”

On Tuesday, MLB handed down a fine to Farrell for saying, “it’s hard to have any faith in the system.”

Major League Baseball has had a limited replay rule in effect since 2008. But only borderline home run calls could be reviewed.

Going into the games of April 15, the start of the 2014 MLB season has seen 93 challenges, as compiled by the stat site Baseball Savant. Of those, 32 — or 34 percent — have resulted in calls being overturned. But 25 of those replay reviews have been initiated by the umpires themselves.

MLB managers are allowed one instant replay challenge per game — a second if the first is successful. The manager with the most challenges through April 14 was the Tampa Bay Rays Joe Maddon, with six challenges in his team’s first 14 games.

Detroit Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus, however, issued five challenges in just 10 games, making him the most trigger happy MLB manager when it comes to the instant replay rule.

Six teams had only called for only one instant replay each, while four teams had not called for the use of instant replay at all.

Force plays (45) and tag plays (19) accounted for 69 percent of all instant replay challenges.

“We’ve had really very little controversy overall,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday. “Everything in life will have a little glitch here and there where you do something new. You’ll hear about the one or two controversies, but look at all the calls that have been overturned.”

The “controversies” or in some cases blatant mistakes, however, have tended to overshadow the successes. Though Red Sox Manager Farrell was ejected Sunday, he was more upset about a call in the previous game when a Yankees runner was declared safe and the instant replay review upheld the decision even though the runner’s foot was clearly off the bag when the tag was still on him.

MLB Instant Replay Mistake
A photo from the Yankees-Red Sox game last Saturday, showing a runner clearly out when a replay called him safe.

MLB later admitted the mistake, saying its replay officials did not gave access to a camera angle showing the tag, even though the game was being televised by three networks.

Also on Saturday, in Atlanta, Washington Nationals’ batter Nate McLouth was shown on replay to beat out a bunt when umpires called him out. But somehow, the call was upheld after an instant replay challenge by Washington Manager Matt Williams.

“I’m extremely frustrated by the process at this point,” Williams said later, reflecting feelings throughout baseball on the roll-out of MLB instant replay.