Overruled: The Challenge of Repla

replay

It has definitely been a rough season for the Rangers when it comes to challenging plays on the field and having plays against them challenged. If you ask any Rangers fan, particularly on twitter, you’d probably get an answer that I shouldn’t repeat here. Manager Jeff Banister said “We’ve had a lot of those kinds of plays go against us this year” referring to a call in which he believes went against his team when it shouldn’t have. Just how bad has the luck been this year?

Let’s take a look at how MLB’s replay system has worked as a whole and how it’s worked out (or not) for the Rangers. We’ll start with 2014 so that we have a reference point for 2015.

2014

Major League teams challenged 1,276 calls in 2014. Of those calls, 608 (47.65%) were overturned and 668 (52.35%) were not overturned. The Chicago Cubs (56), Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays (48), Rangers (44), and the Detroit Tigers (40) were top five in the league in issuing challenges. Keep this in mind for a little later in the article.

The Rangers also had 42 challenges issued against them – 4th most in the league. 29 or 69.05% of those challenges issued against the Rangers were overturned. The league average? 47.65%. That means the Rangers had challenges overturned against them at more than 40% higher than the league average. No one in the league had more challenges against them overturned. Both NY teams, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Chicago (Cubs), Philly, and Seattle were the only other teams where at least 60% of the challenges issued against them were overturned.

If you compare those numbers to the numbers in the first paragraph, you can see that all the top five teams, sans Toronto, pretty much got the hose from MLB regarding challenges. They had the most issued against them and the most overturned in the opposing teams favor.

Just 13 or 30.95% of the challenges issued against the Rangers worked out in their favor. League average? 52.35%. So the Rangers were having challenges issued by the opposing team work out in their (Rangers) favor at more than 65% below the league average. See this info in the chart below for a visual representation of this data.

Disclaimer: All this information was gathered from Baseball Savant. Their link to create these charts as images was not working correctly at the time this was written so I have instead taken screen shots and made my own text on them to give you a visual to go along with the information provided. If you’d like to play around with these charts yourself, here is a direct link.

TXchallengedIs it a conspiracy? I highly doubt it. Is it bad luck? Possibly, but I have another theory I will explore in just a little bit. But first let’s take a look at how the Rangers did when they challenged a call on the field.

The Rangers fared much better when they challenged calls – succeeding, and failing, at a 50% clip. They were a bit better than league average in both categories as calls were overturned at a league average of 47.65% and not overturned at a league average of 52.35%. Interim Manager Tim Bogar was 4-9 during his 22 game stint and Ron Washington was 18-13 in the inaugural year of the challenge. But are they responsible for when and when not to challenge? Not exactly. I’ll explain in a minute.

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So, 2014 was good to the Rangers when they challenged calls but when it came to the opposing team challenging them, it was less than ideal – to put it lightly. It’s hard to say that any one of these replay calls that were overturned directly affected the outcome of the game unless the play that was overturned resulted in the game ending run. It is safe to say that some calls may have upped the win expectancy of one team or the other but in most cases, there was still more of the game to be played.

Did some of these calls cost the Rangers a run? Absolutely. Did some of these calls take away a run from the opposing team? Absolutely. That could be another article for another day though as right now we are focused on the challenges themselves.

Let’s move on the this season. This is the season that Rangers fans have been loudly audible about in terms of the replay system. It seems like the Ranger are getting calls overturned against them as often, if not more, than they were last year and it seems like the Rangers losing more of their own challenges. Is this true?

2015

So far this year, MLB teams have challenged 894 calls which, unless there are 400 more challenges in the final two months of the year, will be less than last season. An improvement? Time will tell.

Of those 894 challenges issued, 433 (48.34%) have been overturned. That’s up by a little more than half of a percent from last season so far all intents and purposes we can see it’s the same. That leaves 461 (51.57%) challenges that have not been overturned. That is down just more than half of a percent from last season. Again, virtually the same. However, MLB will look at this and say this is an improvement over the first year.

But if you look at the tweaks that have been made (crash play at the plate, transfer rule, neighborhood plays) to the system since the beginning of last year, I would say that no progress has been made simply because the numbers are the same despite some things that were overturned last year aren’t being overturned this year because of the tweaks.

As far as the Rangers are concerned they have had 30 challenges issued against them which is 7th in the league though the Cardinals lead the league with just 33. Of those 30 challenges, 19 (63.33%) have been overturned. League average? 48.43%. Just like in 2014, the Rangers are having challenges against them overturned at just under 35% higher than the league average. Think that’s bad? The Dodgers are having challenges overturned against them at more than 77% and the Nationals are at 75%! The Giants (69%) and Rangers are the only other teams above 60%.

Just 11 (36.67%) of the 30 challenges issued by opposing teams against the Rangers have not been overturned and worked out in the Rangers favor. The league average is 51.57%. That means that challenges issued against Texas works out in their favor about 45% less than the league average. Ouch.

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So now that we have data for two years of challenges issued against the Rangers, can we start to call it a conspiracy? No, that’s just dumb thinking on our part. Can we say it’s bad luck? Absolutely we can. That other theory I discussed above – we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s look at how the Rangers have fared on when they challenge a play this year.

So far in 2015, the Rangers have issued 36 challenges – 4th most in the league. Of those 36 challenges only 13 (36.11%) have been overturned and worked out in the Rangers favor. League average? 48.34%. Let’s do some more math and we can figure out that the Rangers are winning their challenges at a rate of about 30% less than the league average. That is down significantly over last season in which they were exactly 50%.

This means that 23 (63.89%) of the 36 challenges issued by the Rangers have not been overturned. League average? 51.57%. I don’t need to do any more math to tell you that this number is not good. Their challenge rate this season has been pretty atrocious. Who’s to blame? The new manager? The new bench coach? MLB Replay Officials? As much as we’d like to blame MLB, can we really do that?

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Bottom line, the Rangers simply are not using good judgement when issuing challenges. Or are they?

Enter Joey Prebynski. This is that other theory I’ve been teasing the entire article.

When replay was in it’s infant stages, Rangers Assistant Advanced Scout Joey Prebynski was tabbed as the guy that would man the replay center for the Rangers. Prebynski, at just 31 years old, seemed to be assigned a very important role, one that could theoretically win or lose a game. When asked if he was nervous about being the go to replay guy, Prebynski replied, “It’s just one aspect of the job and something every organization is faced with — and every club is faced with the same situation. It’s up to use to create a situation that works.”

Prebynski gets all the replay views that the MLB Replay Center in New York gets. They both get more than we do as fans, both on TV and at the Ballpark.

My biggest issue with replay so far is not the lack of winning the challenges, but it’s the way it’s being handled, on a couple of different fronts. First, if Prebynski has all the views and camera angles that New York has, why is he giving the go ahead to challenge so many plays and losing so many of them? Do he and the folks in New York have different views and opinions on what is safe or out? Is Prebynski being a “homer” thinking his team can win, or deserves to win, every challenge? Even worse, is he judging with emotion?

Second, and this is my biggest issue, what the hell does MLB deem “clear and convincing evidence” to uphold or overturn a call? Here are some examples of what I mean.

Below is a video of a game between the Mariners and Rangers played at The Globe earlier this season. The Rangers challenged that Rougned Odor was safe at first base after he was called out by the umpire. The umpire signaled that a tag play was made. The call was “confirmed” by the folks in New York meaning that there was enough evidence to support the call on the field. Check it out

Show me where there is clear and convincing evidence to confirm that Odor was tagged, or even that Logan Morrison stayed on the base. Someone, please, show me!

Then you have calls like the one below. Where we all feel like there isn’t “clear and convincing evidence” that a call should be overturned. Alas, MLB thinks there is. Check this one out

Sure, we can make assumptions and say that Beltre’s fingers moved when the glove went by but no where in that video does it show me “clear and convincing” evidence that a tag was made. If we assumed based on something that happened in the video, then we could make an argument for just about any replay that’s challenged. Assumptions shouldn’t be needed, warranted or accepted during a replay.

Then you have plays like this and the nit-picking that goes along with it. If there is a neighborhood rule and a fielder doesnt have to touch the bag when turning a double play, then when your foot comes off the bag an inch during a pop up slide, it should work the same way. If you over slide the bag, then yes, you’re out but barely coming off on a popup slide – come on!

You either touch the base and hold it until time is called or you don’t. An out is and out and not touching the bag shouldn’t be any different with the neighborhood rule. I understand it’s safety and what not, but my opinion stays the same. Touch it or the runner is safe.

Did you notice anything about those three videos? None of them are the Rangers feed. There are angles in those videos that I don’t remember seeing on our broadcast. Do other teams have views that we don’t have? For us fans, it matters, at least for our peace of mind. If Rangers replay man Joey Prebynski has all the views that New York has, then it really shouldn’t matter.

This leaves so many questions unanswered. Why is Prebynski losing so many challenges? Sure Banny and Buechele have the final say so in whether or not they decide to challenge but Prebynski needs to be better in my opinion. Why are other teams having so much success against the Rangers in challenges? Is this just nothing more than two years of the odds against workings against the Rangers? Will they even out over the next couple of years? Why doesn’t MLB supply us with views that they use to determine the definitive call?

I do think that replay is working. Is it perfect? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Does it need work? Absolutely. I still think they need to figure out the whole neighborhood play and whether not it can be challenged if a throw to first is not made. As a whole however, replay is doing it’s job.

So next time the Rangers lose a challenge, just remember, it’s not just Banister making the call out there. He gets enough blame for other things, he doesn’t need anymore.

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Billy Casey
Billy is a baseball fanatic and has been around the game since he was four years old. The first ever game he attended was in September of '89 and Pete Incaviglia denied him an autograph after he had a bad batting practice session. Billy has held a grudge since. Billy is also a baseball coach who is known to dance around the dugout like Ron Washington during big plays in the game.

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