Sunday, September 21, 2008

Instant Replay Debate: The 5 Minute Home Run

Well Instant Replay, you got one right. Last night, against the Minnesota Twins, Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Rays launched a home run that was called on the field as 'fan interference'. The fan interference play was ruled a double, Pena was awarded second base and Eric Hinske would have crossed home plate with Akinori Iwamura moving to third. The 'double' was overturned and Pena was justly rewarded with a home run.

As it stands, Instant Replay has overturned one play, in three reviews. While FOX, TBS, and ESPN would clamor for a .333 hitter despite his other statistics, we all know there is more to a picture of a player then his batting average. That is, instant replay is not 1 for 3, it is, for all intents and purposes, 1 for 1.

However, what has it done to the game?

In the two previous occasions the umpires made the correct call. The first, occurring in Tampa, as Alex Rodriguez's home run was confirmed, and as I mentioned previously, had no real affect on the game.

The second, occurred in Houston, as Instant Replay proved that Hunter Pence's RBI double was called accurately by the umpire crew. Similar to the Rodriguez call, the game was more or less out of reach, and whether Pence was allowed to cross home, or had to stay at second would not have made a big difference. That is, instead of the Astros leading the game 9-2, they would have had an 11-2 lead.

Fan Graphs does an excellent job at plotting win probability at a given point during a specific game. Here is how the game looked without Pence's home run:

If that image is not clear enough, how about this? According to the data provided by Fan Graphs, after Pence's double the Pittsburgh Pirates had a 0.7% chance at winning the game. The next inning, Steven Pearce hit a one out home run for the Pirates increasing their odds of winning by half a percent.

In other words, the two runs that were potentially lost, held little to no value in the big picture.

Each of the previous Replays took a little over 2 minutes and solved nothing. It stalled the game on the field and for no reason.

But finally, Instant Replay does something! Or does it?

After over 4 minutes of replay-which jumped out to the FSN Florida commentators almost immediately-the umpire crew reversed the call, giving Pena a home run. 4 minutes?

In a game that typically takes in the range of 3 hours, 4 minutes isn't a big deal. In a 6-0 game (7-0 after the ruling on the field), 4 minutes can feel like an eternity-probably enough to lose some of your TV audience and consequently advertising revenue-although that could work the other way as well for various reasons.

The Twins-Rays game ended with a score of 11-1, in hindsight, the call was extremely inconsequential. But how did Pena's home run affect the win probability of this game?:

Looks fairly inconsequential, right? Pretty much. Not as terribly un-meaningful as the previous instant, but close. That is, prior to Pena's home run, the Rays had a 96.4% chance at winning the ballgame. After the home run, 99.2%. The double, which would have left a runner on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs, while scoring a run, probably would have placed the win probability over 97%.

In other words, this overturned call eliminated about a 2% chance that the Twins had in winning the game anyways.

Really? That's why we are delaying the game? I cannot wait for Major League managers to figure out how to use Instant Replay as a method for warming up pitchers. That is, keep in mind that foul balls can also be reviewed.

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