Stop Bunting

Choo smokes a leadoff single to right on the third pitch of the game; a high fastball.  Elvis comes to the plate and drops a bunt down the third baseline, moving Choo to second with one out.  The pitcher makes the same mistake to Prince, leaving the first pitch of the at bat letter-high and Fielder deposits it into the homerun deck in right.  2-0 Rangers. 

In a high school game; the leadoff hitter battles out a 9-pitch at bat to draw a walk in the top of the first.  On the very next pitch, the two man drops down a slow rolling bunt on a pitch that was a little off of the plate, putting speed on second with one out.  The high school coach loves to have his pitcher work with a lead, so they are playing for one.  The third batter then received a base on balls in just five pitches, it is clear that this pitcher is going to be erratic today.  Worried about the free passes, the pitcher then grooves a fastball to the cleanup man that results in a double to the gap and an early two run lead. 

 

The above are classic bunt situations where managers choose to play for one run to take a lead because it is the traditional play.  Years of baseball thought process has engraved the sac bunt into the minds of so many managers and it has become the automatic response at particular times in the game.

However, although it is traditional, is it the right play?

Absolutely not. 

As sabermetrics continue to change the game of baseball, they continue to cause managers to adjust their way of thinking, introducing more efficient in game strategy through concepts of simple math (translate: facts). 

Yet, for some reason, so many still cling to the traditional baseball decisions, thinking that it would be the wrong move to choose logic over institution.

Yes, tradition and history are what make baseball so different from any other sport.  However, letting tradition affect in game decisions is akin to choosing not to vaccinate your children; you are compromising what you really do know for what you think you should know.

Let’s start with the basic facts.

Sacrifice bunting is giving the defense a free out.  Free.  No work, no need to make quality pitches.  According to ESPN Stats and Info, the sacrifice bunt results in an out just over 96% of the time in major league baseball.   According to a 2011 study of high school baseball in Texas, an attempted sacrifice bunt resulted in an out 83% of the time.  This out is just about the most sure thing you can give.

Attempted sac bunts in the bigs also result in the lead runner being throw out 17% of the time and a double play being turned 8% of the time.

It is understood that the out is granted in the situation and an understood part of a sacrifice, but let’s look at other methods of getting to second if you insist on playing for one run.  From 2000-2014, base stealers in MLB were successful 72.3% of the time.  The success rate is loftier at the high school level (not including the increased likelihood of a wild pitch or passed ball at the amateur level).   

Would you rather have a 73% chance of having a runner at second with no outs or an 83% chance of having a runner at second with one out? 

The answer seems obvious.  Just how important is it to get that man to second anyway?

According to Dan Levitt of baseballanalysts.com, using a study that gathered information over 15 years of professional baseball, the expected run table for an inning sets at .877 in situations where there is a runner at first with no outs.  However, if you decide to bunt the runner over, your expected run table for the inning drops to .693 with a runner on second and one out.

In essence, you are voluntarily killing your own rally.

In addition to the expected run table, basic percentages say that the sac bunt is the wrong play.  According to Baseball Prospectus, you have a 24.4 percent better chance of scoring a runner from first with no outs than you have of scoring a runner from second with one out.  24.4 percent!  Swing away. 

In addition, in situations with two base runners, teams stand a 10.4% better chance at scoring one run with runners on first and second with no outs than they do with runners on second and third with one out.

So, why is it that teams keep bunting?  It is clear that many baseball traditionalist will not embrace sabermetrics, but why turn a blind eye to simple math?

My answer:  You’ve got me.  No idea.

In the words of Greg Jayne from The Columbian, “outs are a commodity. They are the currency by which the game is governed, and willfully giving up an out is never worth the extra base that a bunt can provide. It's trading a piece of gold for a piece of silver. This likely has always been true, or at least since the Deadball Era ended in 1920.”

When Ron Washington left, I thought the Rangers had escaped from this archaic managerial style and the constant in game logic defying decisions that we had lived through over the past few seasons.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Wash and I appreciate the level of baseball he got from his players every day, but at times, his in game tactics belonged in the 1910’s rather than the 2010’s.  During Wash’s tenure, the Rangers were 5th in MLB in sac bunts by non-pitchers. 

Although the overall team number is down this season for the Rangers, guess who is the league leader in sacrifice bunts thus far in 2015?  You’ve got it, our number two hitter, Elvis Andrus. 

Jeff Banister has come out and said he “cannot stay with the status quo in doing some things” in regard to the bullpen.   He needs to apply this train of thought to other in game decisions as well.

Stop bunting; it’s well past due.