Although the Baltimore weather seems to suggest otherwise, spring has begun, and with it the return of America’s pasttime. After a Major League Baseball offseason which boasted some big name movements, all that work on paper will start to manifest itself into the on-field product.
New Replay System
Perhaps the largest storyline looming over this season is the implementation of the replay system. Under the new rules, managers are allowed one challenge over the course of the game and can earn a second challenge if they win the first. In addition, umpires can call for video review in the seventh inning and beyond.
So far in this young season, four plays have been challenged and one review has been called for by an umpire. All five reviews resulted in the correct outcome being called with an average wait time of 93 seconds.
Without a doubt the replay system will improve proper play outcomes. Of the five reviews, two created an overturned ruling and both of those plays occured at crucial moments in their respective games.
And yet, it is also uniquely odd to see umpires huddled together with headphones on, waiting for word from the MLB replay headquarter in New York. Unlike football, which has embraced every new technological advance with fervor, baseball has remained stuck in its history, almost stubbornly so. Despite that, or perhaps because of that, baseball fans are passionate about maintaining that old fashioned sense to their game and keeping the human element alive and well. How fans and talking-heads respond to the use of replay, with its pros and cons, will be something to watch moving forward.
For 19 years, New York Yankee Derek Jeter manned the shortstop position impeccably for the Bronx Bombers. For Jeter, an even 20 will be enough.
After playing in only 17 games in 2013 as he battled a lingering ankle injury, Jeter announced this winter that 2014 would be his final season donning the pinstripes. Like Mariano Rivera last season, Jeter’s final season will undoubtedly be quite an affair. For a player so well respected across the league for his talent, grit, and leadership, Jeter will be showered with praise and adoration at each stop the Yankees make.
While he will certainly be a first-ballot of Hall of Famer for what he has done throughout his career, at 39 years old there are also questions about how Jeter will be able to perform this season. Discounting last year’s outing, Jeter has been a model of consistensy at the plate, even leading the majors in hits in 2012. However, where Jeter has faltered is in the field. Age has taken its toll on the once stellar shortstop and advanced statistics suggest a player who has been on the decline for quite some time. Couple that with an equally aging roster, and the Yankees may not be able to give Jeter the fairytale send-off Yankee fans would love to see.
Red Sox Regression?
From start to finish, the 2013 Red Sox were the top team in the league en route to a World Series title. Boston relied heavily on career years from players like closer Koji Uehara and left fielder Johnny Gomes in addition to the rejuvenation of pitchers Johns Lackey and John Lester.
Because of how successful 2013 went, most people forget about what happened just one year prior. In 2012, the Red Sox finished dead last in the AL East with a 69-93 record, and entering 2013 most pundits did not expect much better from them. Although that Boston team was able to pull together a magical season for the Fenway faithful, regression to the mean is a hot phrase for baseball analysts anytime a player exceeds expectations. What about when an entire team does it?
How the Red Sox handle the success of 2013 makes them an interesting team to follow. On the one hand, if the managing of John Farrell and the infusion of young talent can make this squad a better version of 2013, then something special may be brewing in Boston. On the other hand, if players like Uehara and Lackey are unable to replicate their 2013 performances, we may witness a drastic fall from the top.