In game five of the NLDS, between the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals, the drama was cranked up to 11. A back and forth affair led up to the Nationals being down by one, with a runner on first and two outs in the eighth inning. Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras picked off Jose Lobaton. He was initially ruled safe and it was sent to replay (the play). The replay showed that Lobaton clearly beat the throw back to the base but his foot popped up during his slide as Anthony Rizzo held the tag. The play was overturned and the inning was over. Replay review made the correct call but it illustrated a much larger problem in baseball.
Most fans would agree that replay has been a boon to the game. As much as the purists may complain, its better to get calls right. However, there has been, a probably, unintended consequence of replay. Base runners are being called out on replay due to popping off the bag for mere microseconds and millimeters. Let’s refer to these as “split-second outs”, outs called because a player’s body did not stay on the bag through every second of the replay. These replays are undoubtedly having an affect on the game of baseball.
Stolen bases are already a rare thing in today’s game and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. The chance of being called out on replay review is sure to put up more stop signs. Replay is even changing the way players slide. Sliding technique has changed for many speedsters if one takes a close look. More and more players are sliding head first both arms outstretched to the center of the bag. They then allow their bodies to ride over the bag to maintain constant contact. Fielders are now keeping gloves on runners in the hopes that maybe replay will lead to an out. Which is exactly what happened to Jose Lobaton. He beat the throw and was safe until physics forced his leg up for a split-second. “Split-second outs” are changing the game, but will the MLB change the rule?
Analysts, casual fans, and replay haters all rail against “split-second outs”. A few of these analysts suggest changing the replay rules somewhat. Their suggestion is to create a safe space above the bag to avoid “split-second” outs. The argument for eliminating this out is that it’s a ticky-tack call. A runner makes an athletic play clearly beating the throw. However, because of his speed and the hardness of the base it is impossible to maintain contact with the bag. To the umpire the runner is safe. The runner beat the tag but under replay review the runner bounced up just slightly on the slide and is called out.
These types of calls would literally be impossible to make without the aid of a camera. No umpire is ever going to be able to see a player lift off the base in such a way. If one did that’s an easy out call that would likely not need a replay challenge.
Everyone has an opinion on how these kind of replays should be called but what really matters is how the MLB perceives it. The league won’t change the rule because the fans are upset or analysts are questioning the intelligence of the league. It’ll be because it fits into Commissioner Manfred’s ideal baseball game. Commissioner Manfred has made it very clear that he wants to create more offense, more exciting plays, and shorten the game time. Changing the replay rules on “split-second” outs would allow for more base-stealing, which is tied to more offense. Base stealing by itself is exciting and more offense is always more exciting so that’s a two for one special.
A “split-second out” possibly changed the entire outcome of game five and it may be the final catalyst to cause a rule change. There was already some discussion of eliminating the takeout slide and then Chase Utley slide happened and the rule was changed that offseason. A similar thing happened with blocking the plate, there was discussion about eliminating it and then Buster Posey and Alex Avila got injured in separate collisions. Although no one has been hurt, keep an eye out for news regarding a rule change, as early as this winter.