When the Texas Rangers were playing the Seattle Mariners last Saturday night, the Rangers led 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning when Elvis Andrus reached on a two-out single off of Mariners' reliever Joe Beimel. With a one-run lead, two outs in the inning and a 1-2 count on Shin-Soo Choo, Andrus attempted to generate some offense with his legs by swiping second base. However, he left for second on Beimel's first movement, which was instead a pickoff to first base. Elvis was dead to rights, caught in a rundown between first and second, as you can see here:
You'll notice the immediate reaction of Andrus is to protest the out call the umpire just made that would end the inning. Indeed, Ron Washington approached Phil Cuzzi to challenge the call, and upon receiving the signal from the Rangers' dugout, a review of the call commenced. Due to the flurry of arms and legs and the lack of a camera angle that was unobstructed by the pitcher or the catcher, this particular replay took a lengthy three minutes and forty-five seconds to resolve.
In the end, the MLB replay command center in New York correctly reversed the call on the field, and Andrus was declared safe at first, and play resumed. This was why the MLB replay system was installed, to get calls correct and not have an umpire's mistake impact the outcome of a game.
Given the length of this replay, and the lateness and closeness of the game, the anticipation of the final ruling injected an air of importance into an otherwise unimportant play. An out call would have reduced the Rangers win probability (according to Fangraphs) from 68 percent to 65 percent, approximately. But to have the call reversed, essentially gifting Texas with an extra out in the inning and the heart of the order at the plate, that seemed important, and the ideal opportunity for the Rangers to capitalize on and add some insurance runs.
At least, it felt that way until Shin-Soo Choo flied out to left field on the very next pitch.
So was the MLB replay system wasted in this instance? Nearly four minutes of time was added to this game to get a call correct, but to have zero impact on the outcome of the game. How many more calls like this have there been in baseball this year, in which a replay had no impact on a game but to add to its length? Thanks to the website Baseball Savant, we can answer that question.
Through the June 18 slate of games, there have been 545 replay reviews in all of Major League Baseball this year. While Baseball Savant does not have length of replay listed, most were not four minutes long and we can speculate the average time of review is closer to two or three minutes. Of those 337 replays, 286 (or 52.5 percent) were not overturned. This means we know that there were 289 instances in which a replay had no impact on the outcome of the game.
Due to the volume of the other 259 replays that were overturned, I didn't review each one to see their impact on a game. I did, however, look at all of the replays that affected the Texas Rangers.
Texas has been involved in 40 challenged plays this year. Only 14 of those were challenges instigated by the Rangers, the other 26 were by their opponents. The Rangers have an above-average 50 percent success rate, getting 7 of their 14 challenges overturned. But their opponents have been even more successful, seeing 17 of their 26 (65 percent) of challenges go their way.
Determining which overturned calls led to a future impact to the game is tricky. Most of these types of plays would improve a team's situation, but very few would lead directly to runs scored. I chose not to speculate on what possible runs might have scored had an inning continued and some future sequence of events happened. Instead, I focused on only those innings in which a reversed call directly led to more runs on that play or on subsequent plays if the inning would otherwise have not continued.
With those caveats in mind, of those 40 challenges during Rangers games, and the 24 that were successfully overturned, there have been exactly two reversed calls that have resulted in runs scoring later in the inning. There were other calls that put one team in a better or worse position to score runs, and so the rest weren't entirely meaningless, but there was no clear path to reversed plays leading to more or less runs on the scoreboard, except for these two.
The first play was on April 14th, when J.P. Arencibia attempted to turn a double play on a bases-loaded comebacker to Pedro Figueroa, and Arencibia dropped the ball when making the transfer from his glove before throwing to first base. Having seen similar calls reversed in the days before this game, the Mariners wisely challenged, and the reversed call swapped an out at home for a run. Before replay, the call on the field wasn't even something MLB managers would deem worthy of making the walk to home plate to argue with the umpire. Everyone understood he dropped the ball on the transfer, and the out at home was successfully made. Had that been the case, a run would not have scored on this play, and Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly in the next at-bat would have ended the inning, instead of plating another run to give the Mariners a 7-1 lead. MLB fixed this loophole in the transfer rule 11 days after this play.
The second play was on May 25th, when Mitch Moreland looped a ball down the left field line that was initially ruled a foul ball, but was then reversed to be ruled a run-scoring double that plated Andrus. This pushed the Rangers lead to 9-2 in this game.
These three runs are the only runs that have scored during a Rangers game that would not have scored without a replay review impacting the call on the field. For 40 replay reviews, two runs in a 7-1 game and one run in a 9-2 game isn't much of an impact. Extrapolating this out to the rest of baseball, and we might wonder if the MLB replay system is worth the time that it takes.
In general, the baseball game viewer must be pleased that MLB has embraced the availability of replay technology and has the capability to get these calls right and not let the human element of umpire error influence the outcome of games. This will be especially beneficial in postseason play, when the magnitude of a blown call is greater. However, in reality over the course of a 162-game season the actual impact of umpire errors may be less than we once thought it was, and instead of being a security blanket preserving the integrity of baseball, the replay system is becoming just another reason to change the channel.