Guide to MLB’s Expanded Instant Replay Rules

When the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season officially begins for most teams Sunday and Monday (the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia last week), fans, players and managers will notice a significant expansion of the use of instant replay.  New rules, approved unanimously by owners in January, detail the plays subject to review, and how a review would be initiated and conducted.  This entry is intended to serve as a guide for understanding the new rules.

Plays subject to review include home runs, ground rule doubles (e.g., when a ball hits the ground in fair territory and lands out of play), and fan interference calls (e.g., when a fan alters a ball that is in play).  Stadium boundary calls are reviewable (e.g., when a fielder falls into the stands attempting to make a catch).  Force plays at a base are subject to review; however, whether a fielder touched second base on a double play attempt is not.  All “tag” plays, including pickoff and stolen base attempts, can be reviewed.  Fair or foul determinations in the outfield are reviewable, as are “trap” calls on outfield hits.  If a batter is hit by the pitch and awarded first base, that play is now reviewable.  Timing plays are also subject to review (e.g., whether a runner scores before the third out is recorded).

Each manager is granted one challenge per game.  Once a replay review is initiated, the umpires will convene at a designated location and the crew chief will connect with the Replay Command Center at MLB headquarters in New York City. There, a Major League umpire will view a variety of video feeds from cameras in the park to determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call. If there is not, the ruling on the field is upheld, and the challenging manager cannot challenge another play in the game.  If there is clear and convincing evidence, the call will be overturned, and the challenging manager retains the right to challenge another reviewable play during the game.  However, a manager is limited to a maximum of two challenges in any game.  The crew chief can initiate a review at his discretion, if all manager challenges are exhausted, and the seventh inning has begun.

The new rules have not only added some additional strategy, they have mandated some technology advancements in parks. Specifically, teams will now have video specialists in their clubhouse, who also access the available to replay officials, and communicate with a manager to help determine whether to challenge.  This technology has been standardized to ensure both the home and visiting team has equal access to video.  Finally, the new rules expand a club’s ability to show replays on the ballpark scoreboard, enhancing the park experience for fans, and reversing a long-held baseball tradition of limiting scoreboard replays of controversial calls to avoid embarrassing an umpire.   The new rules will remain in effect through the 2014 postseason.