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How will Ron Roenicke use instant replay?

We're pondering what Ron Roenicke will do with his new-found responsibility under MLB's expanded replay system

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Mark Hirsch

The long-awaited MLB instant replay system has arrived, and it places a significant new tool in managers' hands. They will now get to challenge one call a game. If their first challenge is successful, they'll be awarded a second challenge. If the manager runs out, umpires have discretion to review a play that would have benefited the impoverished manager after the sixth inning. The universe of challengable calls is vast and includes virtually everything but balls and strikes.

Some have argued that the current set-up is heavily skewed toward liberal use of the challenge. Basically, a manager should use the challenge at the slightest hint of a close call, because "the likelihood of there being an opportunity to impact a play later in the game is so incredibly low." The data support this theory, with a sufficiently close call estimated to occur just once per game. The umpires miss 20% of those close calls.

The liberal use of the challenge, though, goes against the system's design. Replay was supposed to be reserved for egregious errors like this. "You don't really need a pocketful of challenges," said LaRussa. "It doesn't come around all that often."

Which of the two replay versions fans will get remains to be seen, and rests largely in the hands of managers. Will they become as challenge-happy as their NFL counterparts, tossing flags at every remotely arguable call? Or will they hold on to them out of fear that a game-changing play later might go unreviewed?

Naturally, I wondered how Ron Roenicke will use his new toy.

Mercifully, managers won't actually have to throw flags, rosin bags, or Altuves to initiate a challenge under baseball's new rules. All they have to do is tell the umpires they want to challenge a play when they previously would have approached to discuss or argue a call. And that gives us a point of comparison.

My initial thought was that a manager's use of a challenge might be predicted by how likely he was to confront umpires directly under the old rules. Perhaps as a nod to the sacrosanct notion of "tradition" in baseball, the sentiment seems to be that managers' first inclination will still be argument; the umpires have been instructed to ask early on in the dispute whether the manager wants to use his challenge.

Unfortunately, data on manager arguments doesn't seem to be readily available. Manager ejections are monitored, though, and ejections almost always occur after argument. Ron Roenicke has just five ejections during his tenure with the Brewers:

  • June 20, 2011. Nyjer Morgan is hit by a pitch, but Bob Davidson rules that Morgan didn't make enough of an effort to avoid it, and calls ball one. Dale Sveum is ejected for arguing from the dugout. Roenicke then goes out to argue the call and is ejected.
  • July 7, 2012. Zack Greinke is ejected when he erupts after a runner is called safe at first. Roenicke is ejected when he goes out to argue.
  • August 8, 2012. Less than a month later, Jerry Narron is ejected in Houston for arguing balls and strikes. Roenicke soon follows. The team is three outs from finishing a blowout win. The Astros were fun to have around.
  • April 23, 2013. Chase Headley swings through strike three, but both home plate umpire Gary Darling and third base umpire Clint Fagan blow the call and decide Headley checked his swing. Roenicke is ejected when he yells at the umpires from the dugout.
  • August 9, 2013. Roenicke is ejected for arguing a (correct) fan interference call.
What stands out about these ejections is that almost all of the plays on which they occurred are not likely to be challengeable under baseball's new rules. Whether a batter sufficiently tried to avoid being hit will probably remain in the umpire's discretion, and instant replay isn't going to save Roenicke's ace pitcher from being ejected for showing up the umpire. Balls and strikes are off limits, too.

Maybe Roenicke just has a propensity to engage in stupid arguments. After all, even under the old rules, no favorable action was going to come from an on-field spat with the umps in the above circumstances. Three of Roenicke's ejections followed another Brewers player, so it could be that Roenicke simply felt obligated to speak up in their defense. With no penalty for wrong challenges, maybe Roenicke will simply challenge plays out of a sense that he "owes" it to his players.  In other ejections, Roenicke appears to have been trying to make a point more than persuade the umpires they were wrong.  Maybe he takes that approach, challenging a close play simply to draw the officials' attention to a particular issue.

But then, there are his own words on the matter on Tuesday (full video below):

"I don't know if you need to replay something when you need five angles and you need super slow-motion to see it. I don't care about those plays. I care about the obvious ones that can change a game."

The replay system is still being hammered out, and there's plenty of time for Roenicke to change his mind. I'd hope there will be further study in the clubhouse and front office before official games start. But if Roenicke holds true to those comments, expect him to be judicious in his use of the replay challenge.