Stop Defending the Bunt

Too many people on twitter are now defending bunting.*

I reflexively hate bunting, so let me say up front that there are times when bunting is appropriate. Most pitcher sacrifice bunts are just fine.  If you have a poor hitter who happens to be a good bunter in a “low run-scoring environment,” (whatever the hell that means) it can be a viable strategy.  If one additional run (because more often than not the sacrifice is a one-run strategy) will greatly increase your win expectancy, it can be a good play.  It’s also smart to bunt every so often just to keep infielders honest.**

In short, it’s a good idea in very limited, very specific situations.  It’s generally not a good idea, and it’s especially not a good idea in the top of the 6th inning of a close game with multiple runners on base.  If I may quote MGL:

“Now, the question, and the reason why I chuckled, is, “Would you ever exercise a squeeze with anything but a single runner on third, unless the other runners didn’t count, like in a tie game in the bottom of the 9th or later?” The answer is no (although I suppose it is possible to occasionally be correct).”

I’d like to posit another rule, which is that unless a single run raises your win expectancy greatly, no one except a pitcher (and probably not even that) should be bunting after a lead-off double.  TWO people should definitely not be bunting.

In the top of the 6th the Brewers were leading 2-1.  Rickie Weeks led off with a double and Cody Ransom followed that up with a walk.  With Kershaw nearing the end of his evening (at 110 pitches) and seemingly losing effectiveness, Ron Roenicke called for Carlos Gomez, who already had 2 hits in the game and is batting .324/.342/.459 off of left-handed pitching, to sacrifice. According to this admittedly outdated RE chart, even had Gomez been successful he would have decreased their RE by .106.  Moreover, Gomez was attempting to set up Weeks and Ransom for the just-called-up catcher and the pitcher’s spot.  That’s just ridiculous.  Your run expectancy with guys on 1st and 2nd and no outs is a run and a half.  If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get, as the saying goes.

Ron then compounded this error with a safety squeeze.  The safety squeeze has the benefit of not being as risky as the suicide, though it gives back some of that value by being pointless.  Another free out was given and the Brewers got the one run they were trying for.  Gallardo then bailed everyone out by blistering a single that he almost hit too hard.  Additional singles by Hart and Aoki added a few much needed insurance runs.

No one should assume that Ron made the correct decisions just because Gallardo bailed him out.  Having a good hitter bunt to set up two lousy hitters (and Gallardo, while a good hitter for a pitcher is still a lousy hitter overall) is stupid.  Having a good hitter bunt to set up another bunt in front of a pitcher is mind-boggling.  Having 2 runners on with no one out is a good situation.  Yes, a double play is possible***, but a big inning is also possible and since the Dodgers have 12 outs left one run might not be enough.  In fact the Dodgers went on to score two more runs in the 7th which would have tied the game at 3 had the Brewers’ plan gone accordingly.  Of course the Brewers scored one run in the top of the 8th which still would have put them over the top, but that inning was again completely destroyed by a ridiculous sacrifice.

The Brewer’s best hitter is Ryan Braun.  It’s not really close.  So if Nyjer Morgan leads off an inning with a single and Corey Hart follows up with another single, and you have Nori Aoki**** lay down a sac bunt, the consequences are that you hand the Dodgers a free out, and you take the bat out of the hand of your best player.  Aramis drove in one run on a groundout (which could have been a DP), but what could have been a big inning with Braun and Ramirez batting with guys on turned into a depressing, small ball surrender.  Moreover, Ron did almost the exact same thing in the 5th inning when Hart led off with a single, except in that instance Ramirez DID ground into a rally-killing double play after they intentionally walked Braun.

Even if you like bunting more than I do, the bunting in this game was terrible.  Even though it didn’t kill a big inning in the 6th (and it still may have killed an even bigger inning) it was designed to kill a big inning. It handed the Dodgers 4 free outs (one in the 5th, two in the 6th, one in the 8th) and took the bat out of Ryan Braun’s hands twice.

That is simply awful managing.

*You know who you are.

**I’m reading “The Book” by Tango/Lichtman/Dolphin right now.  You should too, if you like baseball strategy.

***And as we see in the 5th, the bunt doesn’t necessarily eliminate the DP, sometimes it just delays it.

****I should also mention that Aoki is one of their best hitters.  When he sac-bunts in front of Braun you’re not only giving them an out and taking Braun out of the equation, you’re also taking Aoki out of the equation.

7 thoughts on “Stop Defending the Bunt

  1. A-fucking-men.

    I find it staggering that 90% of MLB managers don’t appear to have any understanding of the concept of run expectancy. It’s not *THAT* difficult of a concept.

  2. You forgot to bring up the most common defense of the Gomez bunt: he has a .415 BA on bunts, so its always a good idea for him.

    Right now his actual average (career) on bunts is .415. However 25 times he bunted and didn’t reach, but it didn’t count as an AB because he sacrificed a guy. That knocks the average down to .350.

    It also doesn’t account for all the times that he tried to bunt, failed to get a bunt down, reached a 2 strike count and then had to try to get a base hit with two strikes, when he has a .151 career average. If he doesn’t get the bunt down right away, he’s screwed.

    As you point out – he’s been kill LHP this year, in a larger sample last year he had a .278 BA against LHP. I don’t think the percentage of reaching on a bunt nears the percentage of reaching on a non-bunt.

    This all happened in the 6th inning too, so it wasn’t even a 1 run situation. Just so, so bizarre.

  3. Pingback: In Defense of Bunting (but Just a Little) | Disciples of Uecker

  4. I’m on board with you. I would never have a non-pitcher bunt before the 7th inning. People ridiculed Ken Macha for always waiting for the 3 run HR instead of manufacturing runs with “small ball”. My saying is small ball creates small run totals. I sure hope Braun went to Roenicke after the game and told him to NEVER EVER have the hitter in front of him bunt again and take the bat out of his hands. Even when Fielder was behind him, I didn’t like to see it happen.

  5. Pingback: Miscellaneous Thoughts on Bunting « Cream City Cables

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