Recently, there has been a lot of concern expressed about the longer games in Major League Baseball this season. Radical and controversial “solutions” are being considered such as automatic intentional walks and raising the strike zone.
One area apparently not under pressure is regulating the explosive growth of instant replays. Like it or not, I think this has almost certainly been the biggest reason for games taking longer to complete.
The sheer numbers seem to support my contention. According to the database at Baseball Savant, there have already been 510 instant replays across the game in 2016 – with less than one-third of this season played through May 30 - 31.4 percent of all scheduled contests, to be exact.
The 510 count compares to 1360 replays all of last season and 1276 in 2014. Maintaining the current pace would lead to 1624 replays during the full 2016 season, or a whopping year-to-year increase of 19.6 percent.
I join those who are in favor of replay for the simple reason the umpires clearly need a lot of help getting plays right. The percentages of original calls overturned due to replay have been consistently between 45 and 50 percent.
Overturned rates range from 47.7 percent in 2014 to 49.2 percent last year to 45.7 so far in 2016. Rendering it specific, over the last 2 1/3 seasons, over 1500 calls initially made by umpires were wrong.
Obviously, not every one of them had a game outcome riding on the balance, but I consider the totals staggering.
The reason this subject is on my mind is a very odd occurrence that I witnessed during the St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers game on Tuesday night.
The umpiring crew, with the infamous Angel Hernandez behind the plate, did not distinguish itself. At one point in the contest, Hernandez lost track of the outs, rolling a baseball back toward the mound after the second out of the inning.
That isn’t the oddity, though.
In the eighth inning, facing the aptly-named Brewers right-hander David Goforth, Cardinals infielder Jedd Gyorko blasted a long, three-run home run. It turned a close 5-2 game into an 8-2 laugher.
Next, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sent rookie outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker to the plate to pinch hit. The rookie slammed a long ball into the second deck, which on its way out, passed in front of the mesh section of the right-field foul pole at Miller Park.
Hazelbaker clearly saw what almost everyone else saw, which was that his blast was nothing more than a most impressive 452-foot foul ball. Yet first base umpire Will Little waved his index finger in a circle, sending the obviously-confused hitter around the bases.
Once back in the dugout, it was an odd scene, as the Cardinals standard player reception line was less enthusiastic than usual in congratulating Hazelbaker. Many seemed to be looking over their shoulders. Last as always was pitcher Carlos Martinez, who threw the customary cup of water in the hitter’s face (to cool him down, I guess).
I had my most-retweeted comment of the year when I wondered out loud at that instant if when the home run call was overturned, would Hazelbaker get to douse Martinez in return?
Predictably, once the headsets were brought onto the field and the mandatory umpire discussion with New York ensued, the home run call was overturned. The damper version of Hazelbaker was returned to home plate with another strike to his credit.
The outfielder then hit a chopper to short. With Hazelbaker demonstrating impressive speed, it looked as if he had just beaten Jonathan Villar’s throw to first in a bang-bang play. The call by Little was “out,” however.
What ensued was the second umpire review - in the same at-bat.
Consulting the video also resulted in Little’s second overturned call in a five-minute span. Upon review, Hazelbaker was placed at first with an infield single.
The whole escapade was odd and it was irritating, but ultimately, they got it right.
I don’t have an answer to the problem of longer games, but I don’t want to see instant replay curtailed. On Tuesday, the first reversal actually helped Milwaukee and the second one hurt them less in a game they would have lost handily, either way.
But that isn’t the point. Everyone’s goal should be to get as many calls correct as possible.
If it ever gets to two reviews per at-bat, however, then it will be past time to address the real underlying issue here – the quality of umpiring.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.