Mensching: With replay, Tigers’ Gardenhire is up to the challenge

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

No one’s going to forget the Tigers’ Opening Day loss to the Pirates only a few weeks ago. Nick Castellanos appeared to score the game-winning run in the 10th inning to start the season on a happy note.

While the players celebrated, jumping up and down and dogpiling near home plate, the umpires signaled that the play had been challenged and would be decided by a replay official in New York City.

Video replays from every angle sure made it look like Castellanos avoided the tag. It was certainly close, but not close enough to overturn the call on the field. Or so we thought.

Castellanos was ruled out, and the game went on for another hour before the Tigers couldn’t counter Gregory Polanco’s three-run home run in the 13th inning.

At that point, if you just wanted to throw your hands in the air and wonder why they even have replay if they still can’t get the calls right, the choir would have responded with a hearty amen.

But that would be a bit of frustration showing. More often than not, when the replay is shown on the scoreboard and television, you can make a fairly good guess which way New York is going to decide. They might not be perfect, but they make more calls right than wrong, and that’s what we’re looking for in replay.

If you’re wondering, all five times opposing managers challenged a play the Tigers were involved in, the ruling on the field was overturned.

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On the other hand, this year’s Tigers might not be a team that will rack up a lot of wins by the end of the season, but there has been one curious statistic to note: Manager Ron Gardenhire has made regular use of replay, and he’s done it quite well.

The Tigers are one of three teams to make six challenges so far — or about one every other game when you consider they’ve only played 13 this season — per Only the Braves and Cardinals have made more challenges, with seven apiece.

What makes the Tigers most remarkable is that every single challenge by Gardenhire has gone in their favor, with all six rulings benefiting the team.

Only four teams are “undefeated” in challenges, with the other three teams totaling seven (White Sox, three; Royals, three; Rockies, one).

Gardenhire’s biggest success this year came April 5 against the White Sox, making an 18 percent swing in the win expectation, per Baseball Reference. He challenged a call at second base that Jose Iglesias was forced out in the 10th inning in what would have been chalked up as a “neighborhood play” in the past.

It would have been the second out of the inning. New York ruled that White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson was behind the bag rather than on it, so Iglesias was safe. He later went on to score to make the game 9-7.

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For his career, Gardenhire has made 27 successful challenges in 46 tries, or about 59 percent of the time. Most of those came in 2014, his last year managing the Twins.

He’s proven to be better than his peers. This year, the success rate is about 47 percent (excluding challenges initiated by umpires). So far he’s better than Brad Ausmus, who was successful 53 times in 100 challenges in Detroit.

This probably isn’t going to have much effect on the Tigers this season. The difference between a lot of losses and a lot of losses minus one or two isn’t that great.

But it’s interesting to see so far and might be a useful trait for Gardenhire to have if he’s still at the helm when the team begins playing meaningful games again.

If it’s a skill, it’s a good skill to have. One good challenge can change everything.

Kurt Mensching can be reached at