Kill the ump!

There is a case for instant replay in some sports, and not in others. I personally believe that any sport where an umpire or other official can make a call affecting the outcome of the game should have instant replay. In this day and age, with technology what it is, there’s really little or no excuse not to have it.

Michel Platini, the new president of UEFA, the European soccer union, has said he doesn’t believe in instant replay in soccer. He’s also said that he favors having a second referee. Those two statements seem to be at odds, one a recognition that referees cannot handle the workload of a modern professional soccer game, but the other saying that they won’t use what assistance is available. The argument is that soccer is a fast paced game, that would be hindered by having to stop and check replays all the time. I would argue the opposite, that the judicious use of replays in soccer would much enhance the game. Set up goal-line cameras to determine if the ball really did cross the line, and set up cameras to determine offside. Those are the two most controversial incidents in a game, and having someone review them would be relatively simple. Instead of having a linesman, who has difficulty keeping up with play as it is, making snap decisions based on trying to look at two spots at once (one, the ball, to determine exactly when it was kicked, and two, the players, to determine if they are offside at the moment the ball is kicked), having a fourth official looking at replays would allow the game to flow more. Instead of having a linesman flag for offside, let play continue while the fourth official reviews it. If a player who was offside goes on to score, the review will show he was offside and the goal can easily be disallowed, almost certainly quicker than it takes for players to get back to their positions to kick off again. Blowing the whistle when a player has cleverly beaten the offside trap is probably the most annoying thing about modern soccer, and doing anything to stop that happening is surely worthwhile.

The NFL has had an on-again off-again love affair with instant replay. Right now they have a bizarre set of rules about when a team can challenge or not, and how they lose the right to challenge. Having to instantly decide they should challenge, factoring in how many challenges they have left and how long is left in the game, has to be a nightmare for coaches. Do I challenge now, or wait until there’s a more egregious error that I can be sure will be overturned? How many minutes are left in the game are also a factor, because at certain apparently arbitrary points you cannot challenge, and there are certain rulings you cannot challenge. The average fan has no idea what these rules are, and rely on the talking heads to tell them. Still, they have instant replay and it has made a difference. The only statistic I could find on success rates of challenges in the NFL suggest that about a third of challenges were successful, but that number was several years old.

International cricket has used instant replay for years, where the umpire can ask for review of a play to determine run-outs, catches and other plays they consider too close to call.

Overall, the idea of getting the play right should supercede the idea of having an instant and irreversible decision, as we had Saturday in the Rangers-Astros game. With the score 3-1 to the Astros, a ground ball to short was thrown to third to get the force on the runner, for the third out. The umpire, however, called the runner, Mike Lamb, safe. Replays showed that Lamb was out by at least a foot, and that it wasn’t even a close decision. The call for instant replay would have shown that he was out, and the Rangers would have been out of the inning down 3-1, but instead the Astros piled on and ended the inning with a 6-1 lead which became the final score. You can argue (as apparently Michael Young did) that it just meant the Rangers losing 6-1 instead of 3-1, but you can also argue that with three innings remaining it is much easier to come back when down by 2 as down by 5. In fact, Win Expectancy calculations show that down by 2 at the top of the 7th you have a 14.9 percent chance of winning, but down by 5 you only have a 3 percent change of winning. That’s a change from about 1 in 7 to about 1 in 33, so it is a clear difference maker in the game.

Worse than instant replay being the problem though, the intransigence of the umpire caused the problem. You see, after the game Ron Washington said that the umpire, Tim Timmons, had told him the Rangers third baseman had missed the tag. In this case, because there were runners on first and second before the play, there was no tag needed, as it was a force play. So the umpire didn’t even know what he should have been ruling on! He should have been watching for the player to catch the ball and touch the base, instead he was watching for the player to catch the ball and tag the runner. No tag, no out. It is incredible that no-one pointed this out during the game, so he must have said that he was watching for the tag and missed the force out.

The arrogance of major league umpires is the ultimate factor. For a century they have been abused for their decisions, and they’ve gotten the mentality that they are always right and will not change their minds. They will eject people for arguing balls and strikes, and for generally arguing a lot of things. Replays have proven they are right a high percentage of the time, but not always. But once they make a decision they will not change it, regardless of the evidence presented. They have little to no accountability, and apparently little to no oversight. One of the best things that happened to them was a few years ago, when they resigned en masse as a bargaining tactic, and MLB accepted. A few of them were rehired, but it was an opportunity to get rid of some of the dead wood.

As I’ve been analysing Gameday data, I’ve noticed a lot of blown calls on balls and strikes. Most graphs I have seen online, and ones I’ve made myself, have shown pitches down the middle of the plate being called balls, and pitches half a foot outside being called strikes. I have read a lot about the system being used to evaluate umpires, Questec, and there are reports it has improved the calling of strikes. Still, in this case, every little bit helps, and maybe in the future there will be more ways to help umpires get calls right 100% of the time.

I used to referee youth soccer, and even at that level I found difficulty keeping up with the players at times. It wasn’t a matter of fitness, it was a matter of there being 22 players and 1 referee, and if a player kicks a ball 50 yards downfield the ref is instantly 50 yards behind the play. In baseball it’s easier, because there are now four umpires, one for each base. In the old days there used to be just one, so they recognized they needed help. In the playoffs they add umpires in the outfield, again to get the calls right. If they could stop making themselves a big part of the game, and making their decisions be final, and recognize that technology can help them, the game would be much better off.

Did that play cause the Rangers to lose the game? No. Will that play affect the Rangers season? Probably not, unless they really start winning. Is it just another annoying factor from the umpires? Yes. Let’s change the way the game is umpired, please.

In other news, Jerry Hairston went on the DL, so the Rangers might be able to win a little more. This has been a horrible rash of injuries the last couple of weeks, but they were playing bad before the injuries began hitting, so they can’t use that as an excuse.

This afternoon McCarthy goes against Woody Williams, who is 1-5 with a 5.10 ERA. He doesn’t seem to have been pitching that badly, so he might have run support issues. McCarthy has been pitching better of late, so we could be in for a pitcher’s duel. Looking forward to it, since as I have mentioned before McCarthy is becoming my favorite pitcher, with the possible exception of Tejeda.

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One Response to “Kill the ump!”

  1. It’s the end of the world as we know it « Go Rangers! Says:

    […] way today. And an umpire added another reason to support instant replay in baseball. I’ve talked about it before, I believe in it, and the umpires should be able to admit when they are wrong, and should be able […]

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