Incentives for Umpires To Correct Call With Video Replay

January 22nd, 2014

The Times had an interesting piece discussing baseball’s expanded use of instant replays. Now, managers will be able to ask for one video replay per game. If the manager wins the challenge, then he gets a second challenge, but no more than two can be used per game by a manager.

I wonder what the ability of manager-requested challenges will have on an umpire’s willingness to reverse his own calls before it goes to the video. In the olden days, a manager would run out to the umpire and plead his case. Nine times out of ten, the umpire wouldn’t change anything, and may even throw out the manager. But, once in a blue moon, perhaps after conferring with the other umpires, the call would be reversed.

But now that the manager can affirmatively request a challenge, it would seem to create an incentive for the manager to not reverse his own calls. In other words, let someone else fix the mess. Tony La Russa’s comments reflect this.

Classic manager/umpire confrontations, feared to have been legislated out of the game in the August announcement, will remain. But with the ability to use technology, La Russa said, they should be more civilized.

“If the manager comes out to argue and he has a challenge left, the umpire could say, ‘O.K., I’m listening to you and I’m not going to change my call — are you going to challenge?’ ” La Russa said. “That’s how the process would start.”

Or, is a manager more willing to reverse a call on his own if he knows that the manager can throw the challenge flag, and someone else will reverse him? Are umpires (like judges) more likely to second-guess themselves if there is a higher chance of their being reversed?

I hope someone can run numbers on this, comparing manager-umpire confrontations before and after the expansion of replay.