By the end of Saturday’s game, the 2014 season has amassed over 13,000 plate appearances, over 2,800 hits, over 9,100 put outs, and over 4,500 total bases, many of which contain at least one element that is now reviewable. Out of this assortment of plays, throws, catches, and batted balls, only 23 umpire calls have been overturned, a microbe in the cosmos of a season only two weeks old.
But despite its size, replay is the mouse that roared. Managers already are frustrated with the system. Matt Williams and John Farrell both have voiced their displeasure at instant replay’s inability to get obviously wrong calls right. This can’t be a huge surprise to anyone, and certainly not Bob Melvin, who was thumbed out of a game last May after protesting the umpires’ failure to reverse a crucial home run call despite the availability of replay. But if it’s not a surprise, replay’s deficiency is an early black eye to its proponents.
Alas, the “instant” nature of instant replay also has proven aspirational. According to Nick Groeke in this morning’s Denver Post, the 71 replays so far have taken an average of 2 minutes 15 seconds. That’s 159 minutes. Carry that out over the course of the season, and that makes for 33 hours of waiting on umpires, with no assurance that they’ll correct wrong calls. And as anyone who watched Friday night’s Rockies game knows, the 2:15 average is over-conservative, since it doesn’t include the time it takes for managers to slow-walk out to the field, stalling until they get word from the dugout over whether or not to challenge a play.
Replay, then, has shown itself to be time-consuming and fallible. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless, to be sure. It just means that (a) declarations of victory ala Groeke’s are woefully premature, and (b) it’s an imperfect system. As an imperfect system, its benefits have to be weighed against its costs. Two weeks in, replay’s costs are apparent. The burden should shift, then, to replay’s advocates to show its benefits. So far this season, I’m not seeing any that would tilt the scales.