In the first year under the manager challenge system of instant replay, Buck Showalter challenged 28 on-field calls. 14 of those were successful. I was curious how helpful these calls were to the team. Using the 2014 base-out run expectancy guide from Baseball Prospectus, I analyzed each successful call and noted a) what the run expectancy would have been had the call stood and b) what the new run expectancy was after Buck's successful challenge. I counted calls that hurt Orioles' opponents the same as calls that benefitted the Orioles directly.
I didn't take the game score or inning into account because Buck can't control those things. Actually, he only partially controls whether to even challenge. Like many things in baseball, it's a team effort that makes it hard to assign credit/blame appropriately. When Buck thinks a call might be worth challenging, perhaps at the urging of a player, he jogs onto the field. That's the signal for team employee Adam Gladstone to begin rewinding and reviewing the play with bench coach John Russell. The two confer and Russell tells Buck whether to challenge.
As it turns out, replay didn't help the Orioles much at all. Buck’s successful challenges helped the Orioles’ run expectancy by fewer than 8 runs. That’s less than a win. For a team that won its division by 12 games, a win isn’t that valuable. But for playoff teams that scraped by, like the Tigers, Cardinals, Athletics, and Royals, the win or so replay saved them was very meaningful. The teams behind them that missed out by a game or two could also have used that win.
Here are the six challenges the Orioles initiated that helped the team the most. Some plays increased the Orioles' run expectancy, whereas others decreased their opponent's run expectancy.
May 1st: Tony Sanchez phantom HBP overturned in first game (+0.5722 runs)
(Watch the play here.)
The Orioles and the Pirates played a doubleheader this day. In the top of the second inning of the first game, Bud Norris retired Neil Walker before allowing a single to Starling Marte, who stole second base on the first pitch to Sanchez. Norris got another called strike on Sanchez but missed the zone on the next two pitches. The third pitch ran way inside as Sanchez prepared to swing. The home-plate umpire, Pat Hoberg, ruled that the pitch hit Sanchez on the hand. Buck protested and was rewarded when the video showed the ball hitting the knob of the bat.
Had Sanchez reached, there would have been runners on first and second with one out. According to the BP run expectancy chart, in that situation a team scores 0.8623 runs in the inning. But in this new universe, Sanchez lined out to third. The situation then was a runner on second with two outs, for a run expectancy of 0.2901 runs. Thus Buck decreased the Pirates’ run expectancy by 0.5722 runs. The Orioles went on to win this game, 5-1.
September 13th: Jacoby Ellsbury leadoff single overturned to out (+0.5787 runs)
(Watch the play here.)
The Orioles were at home facing the Yankees. The very first batter of the game, the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury, hit a 1-0 pitch to the right of second baseman Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty dove to his right to stop the ball and fired to Steve Pearce for the out. The throw was high enough that Pearce had to not only stretch for it, but also leap off the bag. Umpire Ed Hickox ruled Ellsbury safe, but replays showed that Pearce came back to the bag in time with the tippiest of tippy-toes.
Had the call on the field stood, the run expectancy for the Yankees would have been 0.8181 — that’s with a runner on first and no outs. Instead there was no one on with one out, a run expectancy of 0.2394. Ultimately, the Orioles lost the game, 3-2. All three Yankees runs came in the second inning, the third run scoring on a double steal of second and home.
June 25th: Tyler Flowers double overturned
July 6th: Nelson Cruz TOOTBLAN overturned into double (+0.7999 runs)
One June 25th, the Orioles were at home facing the White Sox. Ubaldo Jimenez pitched to Tyler Flowers with runners on second and third, nobody out, and the Orioles trailing 2-0. Flowers smacked a 1-2 pitch to deep left field, over the head of a leaping Steve Pearce. The baserunners scored easily, putting the Orioles in a deeper 4-0 hole, and Flowers slid into second with a double.
Or so he thought. Buck challenged the tag play at second base, and after a replay it was overturned. Instead of nobody out and a runner on second (1.0393 runs), there was one out and nobody on (0.2394 runs). Eventually, the O's came back to tie the game, winning 5-4 in the 12th inning on a wild pitch.
The same play happened a few weeks later in Boston, but in reverse. In the top of the with nobody out, Nelson Cruz hit a double off the Green Monster that was fair by just a few inches. Left fielder Daniel Nava threw quickly to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and second-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ruled that Cruz was out. The folks in New York thought differently and ruled Cruz safe: he juuuust got his hand on the bag before the tag. A one-out, none-on situation (0.2394 runs) turned into a runner on second with no outs situation (1.0393 runs).
The O's went on to win this wild game in 12 innings, 7-6. David Lough led off the 12th with a triple and scored the winning run on a wild pitch.
June 9th: Chris Davis gets rare bunt single vs. shift after replay challenge (+0.9241 runs)
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Adam Jones singled to lead off. Chris Davis then came to the plate and bunted against the shift, down the third base line. It was an excellent bunt and pitcher Jake Peavy had to make a sliding grab-and-throw on it. Davis appeared to beat the throw to first by a step or so, but umpire Brian Gorman punched him out.
Thankfully, Buck challenged and Davis was ruled safe. The situation went from a runner on second and one out (0.4782 runs) to runners on first and second with none out (1.4013). Unfortunately the Orioles failed to actually score that inning. However, when all was said and done in the game, they won, 4-0. They hit three home runs in the game.
June 22nd: Brett Gardner triple taken away on overslide after challenge (+1.0472 runs)
With the count 3-1 against Chris Tillman, Brett Gardner lashed a ball down the right-field line to open the bottom half of this game. Nick Markakis was playing Gardner straight up and so had a long, long run to play the carom off the wall. He scooped up the throw and fired to second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who then wheeled and fired to Manny Machado at third base.
Meanwhile Gardner had motored around second base and slid hard into the bag at third. Umpire Tom Hallion spread his hands for the safe call while Machado turned and argued. Buck came out to initiate the challenge, and New York confirmed that Gardner was out. He’d slapped the bag hard with his left forearm well before the ball arrived, but the momentum of his slide carried his left arm forward and off the bag entirely. He very quickly reached back with his left hand to tap the bag, but Machado had been holding the ball on him the entire way.
He was out. The leadoff triple (1.2866 runs) was turned into a bases-empty, one-out situation (0.2394 runs), the biggest swing in the Orioles’ favor all year. The Yankees never did score in the game and the O's won, 8-0. Jonathan Schoop opened up the game's scoring with a solo home run against Masahiro Tanaka.
In case you're curious, here's the full list sorted by run expectancy benefit. A value of 0 indicates the call would have resulted (or did result) in the third out.
|Play that was Challenged
|RE if on-field call had stood
|RE after overturned call
|RE in favor of Orioles
|Brett Gardner safe at third on a triple
|Chris Davis out at first
|Tyler Flowers safe at second on a double
|Nelson Cruz tagged out at second base trying for a double
|Jacoby Ellsbury safe at first
|Tony Sanchez was hit by a pitch
|Nelson Cruz out at first
|Nelson Cruz was not hit by a pitch
|Lorenzo Cain safe at first
|Ben Zobrist safe at first
|JJ Hardy caught stealing at second
|Lonnie Chisenhall safe at first
|Robinson Cano safe at first
|Colby Rasmus safe at first
|Total runs saved:
|Average runs saved per call:
Thanks to baseballsavant.com for maintaining a searchable replay database and to FanGraphs.com for tracking base-out states all game. Stay tuned on Thursday when I go through the opposite list and examine which challenges hurt the Orioles the most in 2014.