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Are the Yankees too conservative with video replay challenges?

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Always requiring confirmation from the video monitor before challenging a play seems unnecessary.

Chicago Cubs v. New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB via Getty Images

The Yankees have a track record of being too cautious when it comes to initiating replay review. It doesn’t matter whether it was reasonable for first-base umpire Greg Gibson to enforce a time limit on manager Aaron Boone’s ability to challenge a baserunning play in the eighth inning of Yanks’ game against Baltimore on April 26th. Gibson’s judgment of the situation didn’t need to be relevant. Gibson’s enforcement of the rule only became relevant because the Yankees got too caught up in the replay process and are hesitant to be wrong.

It should have been an easy decision for Boone to challenge the play and have the umpires review whether DJ LeMahieu touched home plate before Aaron Judge was tagged out at third. Instead, when Gibson told Boone time was up, Boone was still waiting on video replay monitor Brett Weber’s determination as to whether or not the Yankees should use a challenge to review the play.

It may make sense for teams to use challenges sparingly early on in a game, but in this specific situation, it was the eighth inning and the Yankees were down by three runs. Moreover, a reversal of the call would have had a significant impact on the Yankees’ chances of winning the game, as LeMahieu’s run, if it scored, would’ve cut Baltimore’s lead to just one run.

Why should Boone wait for Weber’s go-ahead before using a challenge in that instance? The Yankees’ fear of losing their one challenge per game clouds the team’s ability to realize that this was a tough-to-call play in the eighth inning of a close game. If the Yankees don’t use a challenge in that moment, when are they going to use it? The team would benefit from loosening its approach to replay review. In the later innings of the game. Boone shouldn’t need to go through all the choreography involved in deciding whether or not to challenge a play — he should just challenge it. (In the last game of the Yankees’ series against the O’s, Boone appeared to exercise a less liberal approach when, out of desperation, he unsuccessfully challenged the Orioles’ walk-off sacrifice fly by claiming Ramón Urías left third base early).

It helps to have a reference point when suggesting the Yankees are overly-cautious in deciding whether to challenge a play. The MLB Instant Replay Database tracks statistics dating back to 2014 regarding how often teams use their opportunities to challenge an umpire’s call. Among MLB teams, the Yankees consistently rank near the bottom when it comes to the percentage of plays the team challenges each season. In the 2019 season, the Yankees used fewer (28) challenges than any other team. For comparison, the Phillies used the most (65) in the 2019 season. Last year the Yankees used the second fewest; Milwaukee was the only team to use challenges less frequently than the Yanks in 2020.

How often did the Yankees successfully overturn calls?

Season Team Overturn Rate %
Season Team Overturn Rate %
2018 Yankees 75.61
2018 All MLB teams 46.74
2019 Yankees 64.29
2019 All MLB teams 44.4
2020 Yankees 60
2020 All MLB teams 44.75
MLB Instant Replay Database

The telling percentage in this case, however, is the Yankees’ high success rate with replay challenges. In each season since 2018 the overturn rate among all MLB teams hovers between 40 and 50 percent. In contrast, the Yankees’ overturn rate has never dropped below 60 percent in that period. A more aggressive approach to using challenges might help the Yankees get an edge in close games. If using challenges more often comes at the expense of the team’s success rate in overturning challenges, so be it. Winning is more important than maintaining a high replay challenge success rate and that’s obvious.