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Challenge system is a challenge for Cubs

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Updated: June 8, 2014 10:51PM



The Cubs spent the last week playing their best ball of the season, despite a 4-3 loss Sunday to the Marlins at Wrigley Field.

The throwback uniforms worn marking the 1940s portion of Wrigley’s centennial birthday party were one more reminder of a bygone era at a park that is the last of its kind.

Jumbotrons might yet become part of Wrigley if the Ricketts family gets its wishes. But another element of electronic, modern-day baseball already is part of the landscape — instant replay.

The biggest change to baseball in years might have turned out to be a bigger part of the game than officials imagined.

In the first two months of the season, 381 challenges were made in 759 games, according to Baseball Prospectus research. The success rate in those challenges was 47 percent.

The Cubs made 23 challenges, winning 12. Their opponents made 10 challenges, winning six. That means the Cubs ‘‘won’’ 16 times and ‘‘lost’’ 17.

‘‘I don’t necessarily think about the good or bad of it,’’ Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘I know we have our own way to employ it, strategies we employ and [weighing] how it might influence a game, even early in a game.’’

The Cubs have three coaches — one of them ‘‘quality assurance’’ coach Jose Castro — monitoring cameras to let Renteria know if a challenge is worth making.

‘‘They’re shuffling through eight or 10 different images. It’s pressure-packed,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘I don’t know how far it might be extended in its use, but so far I have no complaints about it.’’

But the system is sure to be refined, with Major League Baseball, the umpires’ association and the MLB Players Association compiling information and input.

‘‘We get communication from Tony [Clark, the players association executive director],’’ Cubs pitcher and player rep Carlos Villanueva said. ‘‘We talked about two weeks ago to see what type of feedback [players] had.

‘‘At the beginning, it was a little challenging, as everything new is, and I’m guessing there are still some things that need to be worked on.’’

Among them seems to be the time it takes to declare a challenge more than the time the actual review takes.

Baseball Prospectus found the average time of challenges was just over two minutes. But that doesn’t count the time a manager takes debating with umpires and waiting for his coaches to signal if a challenge has merit.

Those affected most are the pitchers waiting on the mound.

‘‘Sometimes it can get a little out of control and pitchers can get affected because you have to wait there,’’ said Villanueva, who has been involved in two challenges. ‘‘Mine haven’t been that bad, a couple minutes. But I’ve seen a few take 10 minutes in the seventh or eighth inning and the pitcher is trying to stay in a rhythm.’’

Renteria admits that can be a concern.

‘‘If I’m doing the challenging, now I’m stalling my own guy,’’ he said. ‘‘But the value of the play is what will decide if I pull the trigger.’’

Villanueva said players understand the purpose behind the system, including those like him who were not in favor of it.

‘‘I’m more of an old-school guy. I like the way things were, but I was just one vote and my peers were for it,’’ Villanueva said.

‘‘It’s a work in progress the first year, and we knew it wouldn’t be perfect. It’s something we keep an eye on, and if there is something we have to change, we’ll talk it over.’’



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