Early on, the length of Major League Baseball games is at an all-time high and the new replay system appears to be a big reason for the slowed down pace.
So far, there have been 48 games played with instant replay and those games have averaged a whopping 3 hours, 12 minutes.
That would easily top the previous high of 2 hours, 58 minutes per game, set in 2000 and matched last year.
While it is still early and the pace may pick up as the weather gets nicer, it is clear that the new expanded replay is having an impact.
The expanded replay system has two major flaws that are slowing games down to a crawl.
Teams are intentionally delaying games to make their own reviews
A common sight early on this season is how managers are gaming the system.
The purpose is to give the manager’s own video people a chance to look at the replay.
When there is a close play, we are constantly seeing managers take a slow walk to the umpire followed by a civil conversation in an effort to stall the game.
A small sampling of these moments suggests they typically halt a game for 2-3 minutes each time and often the play is not challenged.
Lame duck challenges
Managers are given a single challenge in the first six innings of a game. Like timeouts in the first half of a football game, many managers are going to use their challenge in the fifth and sixth inning since they are going to lose it in the seventh inning.
The result is we are seeing frivolous challenges in the middle innings.
A perfect example occurred when A’s outfielder Sam Fuld was thrown out at home going for an inside-the-park home run. As you can see, the play wasn’t even close and the umpire had a perfect view.
However, it was the final out in the fifth inning and the run would have tied the game. So there was very little downside to the A’s challenging the play and they did.
To make matters worse, the replay system failed and the umpires had to go to a backup system, resulting in a 5:10 delay to the game.
The number of reviews are way up.
Last season there were 97 umpire replay reviews in 2,431 games, or once every 25.1 games.
This year, there have been 24 reviews in 48 games or once every two games.
This is not unexpected as the system has been expanded. But the shear volume is clearly going to impact the average length of an MLB game even if the system is designed to be fast.
There are simple solutions.
One solution would be to make teams issue a challenge within the normal pace of play. If a manager walks out to the field, the team is no longer permitted to challenge a play. This would keep managers in the dugout until a decision is made to challenge a play.
Another possibility would be to give umpires the power to initiate reviews at anytime (not just after the first six innings) and give managers a single challenge to be used at anytime in the game.
We would still see some frivolous ninth inning challenges. But fewer games are in doubt in the ninth inning and managers may be less inclined to delay the game.
Things will get better
At this point, everybody is still feeling out the new system and adjustments will be made..
Until then, look for the games to take longer when most people would prefer the pace of play to be faster.
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