Matt Williams is a first-time manager this season, with only a stint on the bench in the Arizona Fall League in 2012 on his resume. He's been a major league player and coach, but as for managing, he'll be learning on the job. When it comes to the new rules on instant replay, however, he knows that it's an even playing field, with all the major league skippers starting from scratch.
"Did you see the smile come to my face?" Williams asked a reporter who brought up the new rules on replay last month at NatsFest. "I'm not the rookie anymore," Williams said. "Because everybody is now in my boat. It's going to be interesting to understand at what point we want to do it. How it impacts our team and our game at that point. And with the potential limit of how many we can do, we have to make those decisions, it's going to be interesting."
The Nationals' manager traveled to a briefing on the new replay rules in Kissimmee, Florida on Friday afternoon and on Saturday he shared what he learned with reporters.
Here's a quick look at the discussion on replay with Williams and reporters over the last month-plus, showing Williams' evolving thinking on the new regulations as he learns more about how the system will actually work:
• Process of challenging: "If you go out and argue, you can't stall by arguing. So you've got a certain amount of time to go to the home plate umpire and say, 'I want to challenge that call.' And then they'll get on the horn to New York and somebody will let them know whether they got it right or they got it wrong. And there's no arguing after the fact either. So the question is how that's all going to work with a manager that's been around a long time. Whether he's actually going to go out there and argue a point or make it look like he's talking to an umpire and whether he'll be able to challenge at that point."
• Rule: Each manager gets one challenge per game, if you lose the challenge, that's it. If you win, you get another challenge. A crew chief can call for a challenge after the seventh inning. So what if you lose the challenge?
Williams: "There's no way for me to be able to say, if I've lost my challenge, there's no way for me be able to say I want to challenge that. So I can go out and stomp around all I want, it doesn't mean that they get a chance to look at it."
But you can't challenge another play?: "Then it's just stomping around because you still want to stomp around, because you disagree."
• Arguing after losing challenge: "I want to be able to, one, be the guy that they throw out as opposed to one of my players, first. Secondly, I think it's important to have your opinion known. Often times, that's not an argument, it's just a discussion, but I want to have my opinion known. If I think he was safe and they called him out, I want to walk out there and say, 'I think he was safe.' Or, 'After the game, take a look at that. Let me know tomorrow when we have the exchange of lineup cards.'"
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• What was he told about timing of challenges: "Just that there's a timing element, so there's all kinds of different aspects to it, but depending on the situation, timing is going to be important. When you can and can't challenge. What that timing is. We learned about what plays are challengeable. What aren't. They're still defining that as we speak.
"But they gave us an indication of what would be and what wouldn't be and how to go about doing it because nobody has ever done it. So they explained to us what the process would be, how it gets back to NY, who evaluates, how it comes back to the field and how we in turn get the call from the relay from the umpire on what the call is."
• It won't always work: "So there will be calls that are overturned, there will be calls that it's not definitive. They don't know. So that's something that we're going to have to deal with, because sometimes we're going to say we want to challenge that play and they won't be able to tell. Even with the system that they've got and slow motion and everything, sometimes it's just too close to tell, so that's going to be part of it too."
• Examples of challengeable plays: "A ball that is grounded over the bag is not challengeable. A ball must land in fair/territory or foul to challenge, behind the umpire because they simply don't have angles to cover that. They would have to put a camera everywhere within the ballpark to cover those, so some of those they just can't see. And they can't see effectively enough to make a ruling."
- "Neighborhood play, depending on the throw is challengeable. So if we believe that the throw took him off the bag, then that is potentially challengeable."
• More on timing of challenges: "It depends on the situation. Without getting too detailed about it: If a play happens and one manager decides to go make a pitching change. The other manager that wants to challenge from the other dugout must do that before the [new pitcher] leaves the bullpen."
- "If it's a play that ends the game it must be done immediately."
• Spring Training Trials: "We'll get the full literature on it in the next week or so, and then we'll be able to practice it in Spring Training. We'll have a walkie talkie system which will be good. We can practice. Some of our games we'll be able to actually do it. It will go to a truck, it won't necessarily go back to New York, but at least we can practice the process of it."
• Process of challenging a play: "You simply walk out, depending on where the play is, if it is a play at second base you can walk out to that particular umpire. It's my understanding that you have the ability to go talk to them about the play and then challenge. So you don't have to walk out immediately. With the majority of them they encouraged us to go to the crew chief for that series. Talk to the crew chief and let them know that we'd like to challenge that play."
- "We will have access to our video guys. We will have access for them for them to review and for us to make the decision whether we want to challenge that play or not."
So you can go out and argue and kill time by talking to the ump?: "Yes. Well, not yes. But yes they encouraged us to make our decision and not bend those regulations. They encouraged us to do that, but yeah, there's time because you can't be expected to see it the way they would have to see it in New York. Our video guys will get the same feed they have in New York so we can make an educated decision."
• Process of reviewing plays: "We've talked about how we'll go about doing it. Again, we'll have the ability both home and road to have a direct line to the dugout and be able to evaluate a play, look at it and have somebody let us know what their thoughts are. Every team will have that."
• Point of rule changes, adding instant replay: "I think everybody, including the umpires, just want to get the call right. And we've seen that in recent years where they've come together and discussed it on the field. Ultimately that's what they want. They want to make the right call. And so this provides them an opportunity to get together if they choose to get together. It provides the managers the opportunity to challenge something and an independent third party, if you will, to look at it and lets us know what the proper call was."
• When to challenge a play?: "It's an interesting thing from a manager's perspective because you can imagine as soon as something happens on the field, the fan reaction is going to be, 'Challenge. Challenge. Challenge.' But you have to weigh those things and figure out whether that's something that is really going to make a difference within that inning or within the game."
One last example: "Your eighth hitter with two outs hits a ground ball to shortstop. You think he beat the play. But you have your pitcher up next. The likelihood of that pitcher getting a hit is generally not great as compared to a position player. Do you challenge that when in fact you can have something else later in the game that could be of more significance for your club?"
It's still a work in progress, and as Williams said Saturday, they still don't have all the literature on it, but the Nationals' new skipper is obviously preparing for the new rules and wrestling with the possibilities...