This season all teams will be contending with a newfangled instant replay review system. Managers will be allowed to challenge, at their discretion, a wide swath of plays, from tags to hit-by-pitches to fan interference. And to the Nationals’ Matt Williams, a first-time manager, that is reassuring. “I’m not the rookie because everybody now is in my boat,” he said recently with a smile at NatsFest.
“It’s going to be interesting to understand at what point you want to do it, how it impacts our team and our game at that point and with the potential limit of how many we can do,” he added. “We’ve got to make those decisions. It’s going to be pretty interesting.”
In the past, umpires were allowed to only consult instant replay for review of home runs. But beginning this season, managers will be allowed to challenge a majority of plays. They include ground-rule doubles, fan interference, stadium boundary calls, force plays (except the “neighborhood play,” the fielder’s touching of second base on a double play), tag play, fair/foul calls (outfield only), trap plays (outfield only), batter hit by pitch, timing plays, touching a base (requires appeal), passing runners and record keeping (such as ball and strike counts and substitutions). All other plays, such as interference and obstruction, and balls and strikes will not be reviewable.
Managers will begin the game with one challenge, according to MLB.com. If he wins the challenge, he keeps it and can use it again later. But managers will not be allowed more than two challenges per game. And to add an element of strategy, if a manager incorrectly challenges a play through the first six innings, umpires can’t review calls involving that team until the beginning of the seventh inning. (Umpires can still review home runs at all times like they have in the past, but the head review official in New York will make the call.)
If a manager wants to challenge a play, he is, according to the rules, supposed to tell the umpire in a “timely manner.” If a manager appears to be stalling, he could be disciplined. Managers will be allowed to communicate via telephone with a team employee who can monitor the game video from the clubhouse but no additional video equipment is permitted. The timing aspect of a challenge is what Williams is unsure about.
“There are some cagey managers around this game,” he said. “The one question that hasn’t been fully answered in my own mind is you go out and argue, you got a certain amount of time to go to the home plate umpire to challenge the play. He’ll get on the horn to New York and they’ll let him know if he got it right or if he got it wrong. And there’s no arguing after the fact either. The question is how that is all going to work with a manager that’s been around a long time, whether he’s actually going to go out and argue the point or make it look like he’s talking and then be able to challenge it.”
The plays in question will all be reviewed by four-man umpiring crews at the MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York; umpiring crews will rotate through New York regularly to review games. Every stadium will have a communication unit, a hard-wired headset, near home plate. The decision of the replay official in New York will be final and he can overturn a call only if there’s convincing evidence.
The camera angles in all 30 parks will also be standardized. Reviews are expected to last between a minute and a minute and half. Teams will be allowed to show replays of the disputed plays in their in-park video boards. Both teams will have equal access to the same video feeds.
The entire system will be new to everyone and Williams said he is a fan. It will just take some time to adjust.
“It’ll be really interesting,” he said. “We’ll get a chance to do some of it in spring.”