Following up on Chris’ piece on the bunt play from yesterday, I wanted to discuss when the bunt makes sense, since many Yankee fans seem to think the answer is never.
In general, the bunt play decreases you chances of scoring and the facts are indisputable. Ben from RAB spelled it out yesterday:
In fact, it has been proven that at no point in the game does giving up an out in exchange for a base lead to a better chance at scoring runs — and runs, after all, represent the ultimate goal of a baseball game. Before we arrive at Nick Swisher, Joe Girardi and the bunt that made me want to punch a wall, take a look at Baseball Prospectus’ run matrix. This chart details how many runs a team at bat scores in any given situation. For example, with runners on 1st and 2nd with no one out, a team is expected to score 1.50766. With one out and runners on 2nd and 3rd, a team is expected to score 1.43489 runs.
However, there can be specific instances in a game involving certain players with specific skill sets (or lack therof) where the bunt play makes still sense. For example:
1) If you have a speedy base runner up at the plate who’s good at bunting, like a Brett Gardner type.
2) You have a hitter who’s slumping badly and/or is slow footed and more likely to hit into a Double Play facing a certain pitcher.
3) A slow footed base runner who’s followed by a speedy runner in the lineup also makes sense in avoiding the Double Play. Eliminate the slow guy, advance the runners and the run can score on an out with the next batter.
4) The hitter involved is an excellent bunter, who can bunt for a hit.
5) You see an opening in the opposing team’s defense that you think you can exploit. Mike Lowell playing 3B would be a good example. Jason Giambi at 1B would be another.
6) You’re down by 1 run at home and want to maximize the chances of scoring a run to ensure the game continues. You will typically do it with the bottom of your lineup (8-9) to give your best hitters (1-3) the opportunity to drive the base runner in.
7) You’re tied on the road, assuming that the player(s) involved make it likely to be executed successfully.
It just bugs me though when people say ‘the bunt is never a good play’ because that’s simply not the case. 2, 3 and 6 applied on the Swisher play. The marginal statistical difference isn’t worth ignoring the players you have on the field with their given skill sets and/or factoring in the game situation. Some make the distinction that it’s the Sacrifice bunt they don’t like, but that’s not what happened with Swisher. Pure Sacrifice Bunts are themselves pretty rare, in most instances the player is attempting to bunt successfully.
No good Baseball manager will take the general match up over the specific. I always shake my head when you see on TV that ‘Player X bats XXX vs the Yankees’, which is almost totally meaningless. You want to know how a certain batter fares vs today’s starter, assuming there’s a meaningful sample size. I’ll take specific match up over the general one every time, and that includes the bunt play. 7 1/100th’s of a run shouldn’t override common sense.
I wonder why people weren’t more up in arms about Nick Swisher instead of Girardi. The TWO pitches he attempted to bunt at were both up in the zone and AWFUL pitches to bunt at. The key to bunting successfully is pitch selection. That is supposed to be Swisher’s specialty, and is therefore another reason to ask him to execute a bunt. As the 8th place hitter in the lineup, a spot he occupies frequently, he should be fluent in the skill of bunting. His speed is sub par, so he’s a prime DP candidate.
For me, Swisher deserves far more blame than Girardi, since he’s the one who executed horrendously. If Girardi deserves blame, it’s not for the play (which was fine) it’s that he should know his players’ abilities better. I doubt Joe will ever ask Swish to do that again, it backfired terribly in a huge spot. Better to learn this now than in October.
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