Tuesday night, an Arizona Fall League game included a serious experiment with expanded video review to help the umpires get the calls right. I watched the game, and it worked!
Wednesday night, there was another experiment. I wasn't near a working television, so I didn't watch the game. But Big League Stew's Mark Townsend did, and apparently there were two challenges. In the first inning. In the top of the first inning. Which does make you wonder, as Townsend points out:
Getting the call correct is the most important thing, but game flow and keeping the home viewer's attention isn't very far behind. Early returns there might not be as positive, but it's all in the testing phase right now. AFL managers have been given unlimited challenges to use this week and are encouraged to challenge as frequently as possible to iron these issues out. If the proposed system is implemented in MLB, managers would only get a single challenge for the first six innings and two for the final three innings
Still, it's a little scary to think two calls needed to be reversed in that short a time frame. At that rate, critical portions of regular season games could turn into replay fests pretty quickly if MLB ever went beyond the three challenge limit.
Just a couple of thoughts about all this ...
One, I wonder if this five-game test -- I think it's five games, anyway -- is nearly long enough. Why not use the entire Arizona Fall League season to get a big sample of plays and games, and work out the inevitable (but unpredictable) kinks? I suspect there will be more testing and fine-tuning next March. But there won't be much time to internalize whatever knowledge is gained during spring training, with Opening Day right around the corner.
Two, one of Wednesday night's challenges came after an infield bobbled a grounder and made a hurried throw. There were four challenges Tuesday night, and two of those came after infielders bobbled grounders. Seems like there are a lot of bobbled grounders, and those are going to lead to close plays. Baseball is finely tuned; you don't bobble the grounder, and you're almost always going to get your man. Which is why you don't see many infield hits unless the fielder just can't get to the grounder in time. And you don't see many bobbles in the majors. The bobblers get weeded out before they get there. But not before they get to the Arizona Fall League.
So the AFL's sort of a stress test for the new system, because there should be more close, challenge-worthy plays when the players, and particularly the fielders, aren't as good as the big boys. It's a stress test, but it's not a perfect test. The perfect test won't come until the diamond is populated with all big boys. Big boys who are good at breaking things.