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Prep Sports

INFIELD CHATTER: Room for improvement on instant replay

In data released last week, Major League Baseball reported that through the first 541 games of the season, there were 344 instant replay reviews of on-field calls.

Of those reviews, nearly half — 169, or 49.1 percent — resulted in a ruling being overturned. The remaining calls were broken down as 20.1 percent confirmed (69 plays) and 29.9 percent “stands” (103 plays), meaning the video evidence wasn’t conclusive either way so the initial ruling remained. Another 0.9 percent — just three calls — were identified as “rules check.”

The final number is the length of time spent reviewing each call. MLB reported an average of 1:23. Over 344 calls that’s 28,552 seconds. In other words, nearly 476 minutes or almost eight hours. There’s no value judgment here, just an observation.

That 83 seconds is not quite as long as it takes to sing the national anthem, “God Bless America” or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Of course, all of those interludes are scheduled, whereas replay reviews are not.

As some games have more than one review, having only 344 replay breaks thus far means roughly 200 games haven’t had a single stoppage to head to the footage. Count me among those who think replay has improved the fan experience overall — egregious oversights have been almost eliminated from the game — although there remains room for improvement.

Obviously the less time spent on reviews the better, and were I the commissioner I’d be working toward bringing the average down closer to 60 seconds. I’m still a little troubled by reviews that rely on a single frame to overturn calls that looked correct on the field and even in conventional slow motion. Generally this happens when a fielder is awarded a putout because a sliding runner, despite beating the ball to the bag, breaks contact with the base for a moment invisible to the human eye.

One thing baseball should consider is deploying additional technology to reduce the types of plays subject to review. I remain shocked that professional tennis tournaments first deployed the Hawk-Eye system for ball tracking in 2006 and MLB is still relying on eyeballs and video cameras to determine if batted balls are fair or foul.

And yet, one of my favorite things about instant replay is indisputable affirmation of the on-field ruling of a bang-bang play. Earlier this month, the Cubs’ Kris Bryant made a dazzling stop at third, then fired to first where Anthony Rizzo dug the ball out of the dirt. The umpire called the runner out. It didn’t seem right to me in real time or the first replay, but sure enough there were three angles showing the human expert mere steps away from the action had been right all along.

A few other noteworthy numbers …

It’s not often one pitch sets three records, but that’s exactly what happened May 5 in Texas when Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel finished the win against the Rangers. It was Kimbrel’s 300th career save, making him the fastest to reach the mark in terms of appearances (494), save opportunities (330) and age (29). He displaced three different pitchers on those leaderboards — Mariano Rivera (537 games), Joe Nathan (335 save chances) and Francisco Rodriguez (31 years old).

The Braves put up six runs in Monday’s win at Wrigley Field, making them the first team this season to reach every final score from 0 to 13. The Angels (nine runs), Pirates (12) and Mariners (13) all are just one score away. Every team has finished with two, three or four runs at least once. The Brewers are the only team to not score only one run in a game, and most impressively the Yankees and Rangers still haven’t been shut out.

And finally, the three 2018 no-hitters — Oakland’s Sean Manaea against Boston, Seattle’s James Paxton against the Blue Jays and the Dodgers’ combined effort against San Diego — took place in three different countries. The LA-San Diego series was being played in Mexico, and Paxton was throwing in Toronto, the first Canadian to throw a no-no in his home country. The only other Canadian with a no-hitter is Dick Fowler, the Philadelphia A’s pitcher who no-hit the St. Louis Browns on Sept. 9, 1945.

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