Defend The Indefensible: THE SACRIFICE BUNT

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Will post more later, but, yeah, in my house, it can go suck a Neagle.

David R. (popshots75`), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:02 (eighteen years ago) link

The National League.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:08 (eighteen years ago) link

Pitchers get a free pass. But when your 3rd hitter is credited w/ a sac bunt (hello to last night's Mets), DIE DIE DIE.

David R. (popshots75`), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:10 (eighteen years ago) link

Does Mike Matheny get a pass too?

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:12 (eighteen years ago) link

And, yeah, there are situations where it's probably pragmatic (cf. runner on 2nd late, aforementioned pitchers or 8th place hitters), but to just do it because "the situation dictates" is nonsense.

Jay Bell is a pox on 2nd place hitters everywhere.


I sure hope Matheney bats 8th!

David R. (popshots75`), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:12 (eighteen years ago) link

I think it's got its place as a strategy (esp. in the National League) but obv doing it willy nilly is just plain stupid. Outs are precious precious things.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:15 (eighteen years ago) link

do you even like baseball, dave r.?

hstencil (hstencil), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:25 (eighteen years ago) link

RFI: Pitchers Who Can Hit The Ball

Also, Matheny (thus far) in 2005 is outperforming many, many other highly touted catchers (Kendall, Mauer, AJ Pierzynski, I-Rod, Lieberthal, Piazza, Estrada, Posada, V.Martinez... to name about a dozen): .320/.370/.560

I'd hardly bring his name up at this point (also wrt: your other complaint about the A's), are you even paying attention this season? ;-D

gygax! (gygax!), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:31 (eighteen years ago) link


Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:31 (eighteen years ago) link

amen, though i just about had a heart attack when mazz called the totally unnecessary suicide squeeze last week.

jonathan quayle higgins (j.q. higgins), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:33 (eighteen years ago) link

stence, I wouldn't be a pain in the ass about this stuff if I didn't love the game! As if criticism is a sign of hate! (Alternate response: "What, this isn't the I HATE BASEBALL board?")

G!, I almost missed your winky & thought you were actually big upping Matheney over 50% of MLB catchers based on 50ish ABs. (Sidebar: Neifi w/ 5 hits yesterday! Including a bunt single!)

My roomy & I had a discussion about this while I was watching this Brewers' game. I was saying (OK, sorta yelling) "Spivey, don't you dare bunt!"; my roomy gave me the "are you nuts?" look, saying that OF COURSE you're going to bunt the runner over. I said the out is more important than the base in this situation; he shook his head.

Then I flipped to the A's / Blue Jays game. 2nd or 3rd inning, Mark Kotsay was on 1st, & Charles Thomas turned around to bunt, but pulled back. I sez, "now HERE'S a good situation to bunt"; my roomy gave me the "are you nuts?" look, saying that OF COURSE you don't want to bunt here, you want to score as many runs as possible early. I said that, here, you can afford to sacrifice an out to get a runner in SP, and with 2 above-average runners involved, the chances of fun stuff happening are increased; he shook his head.

My contentions / thoughts (probably cribbed from other sources, & sure to be amended later on):

1) Bunting w/ the tying or go-ahead run on 2nd base late in the game is justifiable.
2) Bunting runners over w/ crappy hitters (pitchers, Matheney, any or all Molinas, Arizona middle infielders) at the plate = OK (but blame the GM for sticking you in such a wicket).
3) Bunting with anyone in the top half of your line up at any time during any game ever for all time = NO NO NO NO NO, even if it works. Reggie Jackson was right, Jim Leyland was wrongo. If you don't trust your top 4/5 guys to get a hit in these spots, then they shouldn't be hitting that high in the lineup. Give the ABs to folks that can do the job, i.e. get on base & score teh runs
3a) Bunting w/ the tying runner on 1st & your big guys coming up = the reason stencil thinks I don't like baseball.
4) Bunting for base hits = a lost art (sigh), but fuck it, swing the bat, dood.
5) For the most part, the bunt's probably best used as a threat to keep IFs on edge than as an actual run-producing device.

Of course, this is all dependant on who's hitting and who's on base. Speedy guys on base & at bat have a better chance at causing havoc than having Matt Stairs bunt Cecil Fielder over, regardless of inning.

David R. (popshots75`), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:53 (eighteen years ago) link

dude, like every thread, a dave r. two-paragraph rant filled with vitriol.

hstencil (hstencil), Thursday, 14 April 2005 17:59 (eighteen years ago) link

You say "vitriol", I say "tuff luv".

David R. (popshots75`), Thursday, 14 April 2005 18:00 (eighteen years ago) link

whatever, chuck eddy of ilb.

hstencil (hstencil), Thursday, 14 April 2005 18:10 (eighteen years ago) link


Yeah, he also said "if you play for one run, then that's all you'll get" which is one of my fave all-time baseball sayings.

So, if it's a tie game in the eighth or ninth, then you may only need the one run to win, and it's a worthwhile strategy. Or if you're down by a run late, same thing, tie the game up and give yourself a chance to win later.

Otherwise, forget it.

MindInRewind (Barry Bruner), Thursday, 14 April 2005 18:12 (eighteen years ago) link

"I'd hardly bring his name up at this point (also wrt: your other complaint about the A's), are you even paying attention this season? ;-D"

I only pay attention to the Giants when I am at one of their ballgames.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:19 (eighteen years ago) link

that's more than most "fans" can say.

hstencil (hstencil), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:40 (eighteen years ago) link

Haha ooooh burn.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:41 (eighteen years ago) link

Really though I think more people pay less attention at SBC Park than any other ballpark I've ever been in.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:42 (eighteen years ago) link

Hey, if you're not going to pay attention to the game, that's probably (from what I heard) the best place to do it.

David R. (popshots75`), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:47 (eighteen years ago) link

alex that's true at EVERY ballpark. try wrigley one time.

hstencil (hstencil), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:53 (eighteen years ago) link

(xpost)It's definitely the nicest stadium I've ever been to.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:54 (eighteen years ago) link

At SBC Park, my buddy was at the concessions, looked up at the monitor as the inning began, and saw "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 14 April 2005 19:56 (eighteen years ago) link

four months pass...
Too Much of a Sacrifice?
While Old Guard Stands by Bunt, 'Moneyball' Crowd Says It Comes Up Short

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 28, 2005

The sacrifice bunt is evil, say the sabermetricians with their numbers and charts and spreadsheets. The cost of the out given up is greater than the value of the base gained, and they can prove it mathematically. Offer to elaborate about this to Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, to show him the charts and spreadsheets, and a big hand emerges from below his desk and jabs -- palm out, fingers spread -- at the air in front of your face: Stop. Put your charts away, son.

"I don't live by the numbers," Robinson said firmly, "and I don't manage by the numbers. I put on the bunt when the situation calls for a bunt."

Home runs are cooler, and the triple is still the most exciting play in baseball, but inch-for-inch, no offensive play inspires as much passion as the lowly sacrifice bunt.

Its advocates, though dwindling in number, still get a thrill out of a perfectly executed one, and they still cringe at a botched one, which causes them, inevitably, to decry the state of modern baseball fundamentals. Critics of the sacrifice bunt, on the other hand, contend it is a losing play that, mathematically, reduces a team's scoring potential in most situations.

If the sacrifice bunt is indeed evil, then Robinson is the devil himself. Through Friday's games, the Nationals led the majors with 70 sacrifice bunts. By contrast, the Texas Rangers were last in the majors with eight. The mean for baseball's 30 teams was 42.

The vast gap between first and last can be explained in part by the inherent difference between the American and National leagues, as well as the relative strengths of the Rangers' and Nationals' offenses, which rank third and 30th in baseball, respectively, in runs scored.

"In our park, it's literally true that no lead is ever safe," said Rangers Manager Buck Showalter, during an interview in his office at Ameriquest Field. "So it doesn't make sense to give away an out with a sacrifice bunt, with this lineup in this park. That's not to say I'm anti-bunt. It's just a matter of our unique circumstances."

At the same time, the strategy of the sacrifice bunt sits at the crux of the power struggle within baseball between the younger, "Moneyball" crowd, and the sport's old guard soldiers, such as Robinson.

"People's adoration for the play is antiquated and needs to be updated for the modern game," said James Click, a writer for Click acknowledged that his type of analytical thinking "is not something that's received well among the old-school crowd in baseball, which is unfortunate."

Last year, Click authored a three-part article that claimed to prove, mathematically, that the sacrifice bunt was, in most cases, a losing proposition. Click's conclusion was that it is an "archaic, outdated strategy."

Using data from the 2003 season, Click found that a team with a runner on first base and no outs subsequently averaged 0.919 of a run per inning. But with a runner on second and one out -- which is to say, following a hypothetical sacrifice bunt -- a team averaged 0.706 of a run per inning. That means a bunt in that situation actually "costs" a team 0.213 of a run each time it is deployed.

Similarly, with a runner on second and nobody out -- another potential bunt situation -- teams averaged 1.177 runs per inning, while a situation with a runner on third and one out yielded only 1.032 runs.

However, Click realized those numbers did not tell the full story, because they relied on an "average" player on an "average" team, with no regard to whether a team was playing for one run -- i.e., in the late innings of a close game.

So Click ran simulations using actual players to determine the thresholds for which specific hitters should and should not bunt. His conclusion: With a runner on first base and no outs, any hitter with an on-base percentage (OBP) of at least .206 and/or a slugging percentage (SLG) of at least .182 -- numbers that would encompass practically every hitter in the majors, including many pitchers -- should swing away. The only exception is when a team is playing specifically for one run, in which case the thresholds are a .282 OBP and/or .322 SLG.

"For most pitchers, it's probably a wash as to whether [a bunt] is a good idea," Click said in a telephone interview. "And with good-hitting pitchers, it's not a good idea. Any [hitter] who is good enough to have a major league job shouldn't be bunting in that situation."

And yes, Click said, that includes shortstop Cristian Guzman, the Nationals' notoriously pitcher-esque hitter.

The Nationals, he said, "are playing in a park [RFK Stadium] that's a pretty extreme pitchers' park. So I can understand, in a way, why they play that way with that lineup. You'd be hard-pressed to get big innings going in that park. But at the same time, if offense is so hard to come by, it's foolish to give away outs. . . . To simply say the sacrifice is always a bad idea is not true. But is it used too often? Yes."

After a pause, Click added, "It's a point of contention between people who work with stats and people who play the game."

That is putting it mildly. Robinson, for one, resents the notion of some guy sitting in an office somewhere in California telling him how to manage a game.

"I decide whether to bunt based on the situation, where we are in the game, who the hitter is, who's pitching for the other team, how good [a defensive player] the third baseman is," Robinson said. "We're not a real good team at [driving in] runners in scoring position. We don't have a lot of guys who can turn the game around with one swing of the bat. We also hit into a lot of double plays. All of those things factor into it."

Robinson bunts primarily with his pitchers, of course -- they account for 33 of the team's 70 sacrifices this season. But utility infielder Jamey Carroll (11) is tied for the lead for most number of sacrifices on the team, and everyone from Brad Wilkerson (three) to Jose Guillen (one) and Vinny Castilla (one) have laid down sacrifice bunts. However, as Robinson points out, sometimes his best hitters decide to bunt on their own.

As a future Hall of Fame outfielder in Baltimore, Robinson played for four seasons under Manager Earl Weaver (himself a Hall of Famer), who is widely considered the father of the anti-bunt movement. In his book, "Weaver On Strategy," the legendary skipper lists his "laws" of managing, the fourth of which is, "Your most precious possessions on offense are your 27 outs." Weaver's Fifth Law is a corollary: "If you play for one run, that's all you'll get."

"I hated playing for one run," Weaver said recently. "But I didn't always take my own advice. I never bunted with Frank Robinson or Boog Powell or Eddie Murray at the plate, of course. But I did it with [Mark] Belanger and [Paul] Blair, two real good players. I think I bunted them too much."

"He didn't want to give up an out," Robinson says of Weaver. "But each manager has to do what he thinks is best. Going up there and just swinging the bat -- I don't have that type of personality. He had that type of personality."

In recent years, Weaver's Fourth Law, regarding the precious nature of outs, has become one of the principal guideposts of the "Moneyball" crowd in baseball -- which is to say, the group of thinkers and front-office types who adhere to the philosophies described in Michael Lewis's 2004 book of that name.

Under the "Moneyball" principle -- which has gained traction around the game after being initially linked to only a few adherents, such as the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays -- teams seek out hitters with high on-base percentages (who, thus, make fewer outs), and shy away from stolen base attempts.

They also tend to eschew the sacrifice bunt. Thus, it is probably not a coincidence that, other than the Rangers -- who have baseball's most powerful lineup and play in one of its most prolific hitters' parks (Ameriquest Field) -- the next three teams with the fewest sacrifice bunts this season are the Red Sox, Athletics and Blue Jays.

"Basically, my philosophy is, if it's the ninth inning and we have the winning run on base, I have no problem sacrificing," Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi, a onetime protege of Athletics GM (and "Moneyball" protagonist) Billy Beane. "But I'll tell you this: It hasn't worked too well. Earl Weaver had the greatest line -- if you play for one run, that's all you'll get. . . . It's not cut-and-dry in my book, but if I had my druthers, we wouldn't bunt very much at all."

ESPN and Comcast SportsNet analyst Buck Martinez, whom Ricciardi fired as Blue Jays manager in 2002, said Ricciardi used to drop by his office regularly to try to persuade him not to bunt so much. In 2003, the year after Martinez was fired, the Blue Jays set an all-time record for fewest sacrifice bunts in a season, with 11.

"I can understand the argument," Martinez said. "But the bottom line is, there is no one way to play baseball [or] to manage a baseball game."

Surprisingly, Bill James, who is often called the patron saint of the "Moneyball" movement because of his pioneering use of statistics to evaluate players, does not fully embrace the arguments made by Click and others against the sacrifice bunt.

"All studies of the sacrifice bunt of which I am aware show that the sacrifice bunt is a poor percentage play," James said in an e-mail. "But I have never found this argument convincing. The studies of the sac bunt tend to assume that there are two outcomes of the play -- a "successful" bunt, in which an out is recorded but the base[s] is [are] gained, and an "unsuccessful" bunt resulting in a forceout or pop out. In reality, there are a dozen or more reasonably common outcomes of a sac bunt effort, including a foul ball, an infield hit, an error on the third baseman [or somebody else], a fielder's choice/all safe, and a double play.

"There is really no way you can evaluate the bunt convincingly unless you establish the frequency of the entire range of options."

James concludes: "I do agree that there is little reason to believe that profligate bunting helps a team win. But if I were a manager, I would certainly signal a bunt with a good bunter against a poor defensive third baseman, and probably in some other situations as well."

The decline in emphasis on the sacrifice bunt has been accompanied by an equally profound decline in hitters' ability to bunt successfully, a self-perpetuating cycle that makes managers less inclined to put on a bunt play. That decline also can lead to someone getting hurt, as it did on May 10, when Baltimore Orioles outfielder Luis Matos broke his ring finger while making an awkward bunt attempt.

A successful bunt doesn't get you on "SportsCenter," the thinking goes, so why practice it? Baseball stages a home run derby as part of its all-star festivities every year, but there are no plans for a sacrifice bunt derby.

"The bunt is kind of a lost art," said Milwaukee Brewers Manager Ned Yost. "Even our pitchers who are supposed to be good bunters -- and we work on it every day -- they struggle to bunt. A lot of times, our success or failure [in a game] hinges around the bunt. And if a pitcher can't get a bunt down early in the game, it can kill us. Bunting is still a big part of the game, but it's fallen by the wayside in the last 10 years or so."

Robinson, too, grows frustrated by what he sees as a lack of dedication to fundamentals. In one game last month, two sacrifice bunt attempts by Guzman resulted in a combined three outs -- a double play and a strikeout -- without advancing a runner. In another game, Robinson decided to let Guzman swing away with runners on first and second and nobody out, and Guzman grounded into a double play.

Asked about the decline in the quality of bunting across the game these days, Robinson laughed and said even his pitchers hate bunting. "They cry about it," he said. "They'll say, 'I'm a pretty good hitter.' I'll say, 'You're hitting .130. How is that a pretty good hitter?' I tell them to get up there and bunt."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 20:17 (eighteen years ago) link

I think what Robinson should be REALLY frustrated is the fact that somehow he got saddled with a team that is forced to bat Cristian Guzman.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 20:32 (eighteen years ago) link

HAHAHAHA, Hatteberg out on a suicide squeeze bunt-pop-up with the bases juiced WITH NO OUTS!!! PURE BP-approved POWER™!!!!
-- gygax! (gygax0...), September 7th, 2005 3:52 PM. (gygax!)

gygax! (gygax!), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 22:26 (eighteen years ago) link

ten years pass...

well what about it?

skateboards are the new combover (Dr Morbius), Friday, 30 October 2015 20:18 (eight years ago) link

Broadcasters fawning over how such-and-such "lays down a bunt so perfectly/beautifully" makes me vomit.

brimstead, Friday, 30 October 2015 22:26 (eight years ago) link

i don't expect everyone to get a bunt down against big-league pitching, but a pro baseball player in the highest league in the world should at least know basic stuff like which way to aim the ball and never to lift the bat. it's not that hard to look like you have a clue, and (anecdotally) there seem to be a fair number of guys who don't

(which is a different argument than whether they *should* be asked to bunt)

mookieproof, Friday, 30 October 2015 23:35 (eight years ago) link


skateboards are the new combover (Dr Morbius), Friday, 30 October 2015 23:45 (eight years ago) link

two years pass...

Mickey Callaway twice wouldn't answer yes or no when asked if the call to bunt in the eighth inning came from the bench.

Asdrubal Cabrera clarified: "It was my call." Trying to get something going for a Mets offense that has scored two runs in 42 innings.

— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) June 6, 2018

the first thing a manager says every spring should be NO BUNTING WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION

mookieproof, Wednesday, 6 June 2018 20:38 (five years ago) link

one year passes...

mookieproof, Thursday, 23 April 2020 14:32 (three years ago) link

three years pass...

Oh shit

Hal Steinbrenner said Aaron Boone believes bunting is becoming a bigger part of the game. So the expectation is that will increase.

— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) November 7, 2023

mojo dojo casas house (gyac), Tuesday, 7 November 2023 17:35 (one month ago) link

If used sparingly and intelligently, I'm all for it. But, as I posted in the World Series thread, I thought Torey Lovullo really overplayed his hand two or three times, playing for one or two runs early in the game against the wrong team.

clemenza, Tuesday, 7 November 2023 17:53 (one month ago) link

Nyy only have one (1) regular who can bunt for a hit

Its big ball chunky time (Jimmy The Mod Awaits The Return Of His Beloved), Tuesday, 7 November 2023 18:32 (one month ago) link

They might get Stanton to do it I guess. Is it IKF who can bunt?

mojo dojo casas house (gyac), Tuesday, 7 November 2023 18:33 (one month ago) link

Almost tempted to guess Judge, as absurd as that sounds, just because he does everything well.

clemenza, Tuesday, 7 November 2023 18:33 (one month ago) link

I think that Jimmy and I are thinking they’ll get one of NYY’s non-hitters to do this, Judge prob would be but he won’t need to

mojo dojo casas house (gyac), Tuesday, 7 November 2023 18:39 (one month ago) link

Stanton can’t run so assuming he can get one down and not bail due to the face trauma he’s a double play candidate on a bunt.

IKF is a FA and likely not coming back unless he’s now a less good brett gardner

Its big ball chunky time (Jimmy The Mod Awaits The Return Of His Beloved), Tuesday, 7 November 2023 20:15 (one month ago) link

Four more years of Stanton's contract! Got to wonder on the plus/minus when the Yankees cut bait on him, as I cannot see that guy being worth a roster spot for that long.

I never liked that dude even when he was with the Marlins. I saw him lazy ole' a couple of plays in person at a game and thought he was a joke ever since. Of course he got his sh1t together for his contract season and had a great year at the plate and suckered the Yankees into signing him for like 20 years. Morons.

earlnash, Wednesday, 8 November 2023 03:01 (one month ago) link

he was traded to NYY

Its big ball chunky time (Jimmy The Mod Awaits The Return Of His Beloved), Wednesday, 8 November 2023 13:40 (one month ago) link

We're off the bunt now--hope David R. from 2005 is okay with that--but I like Stanton, and feel bad for him over all the injuries. He looked like a good bet for 600+ HR coming off his MVP season.

clemenza, Wednesday, 8 November 2023 13:47 (one month ago) link

Double-checked that: 28 years old, 267 HR. Not quite where Junior was at the same age (294), but close.

clemenza, Wednesday, 8 November 2023 13:51 (one month ago) link

interesting to read back through this thread and see the Sabremetricians in the prime of their pomp, taking great chunks out of the hide of accepted baseball wisdom in real time. the rage! The righteousness!

Humanitarian Pause (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 8 November 2023 14:55 (one month ago) link

I've probably forgotten someone, but I think the best bunter I ever saw was Rod Carew, who used to drag-bunt (guess) 20-30 hits a year. Weirdest bunt I ever saw was Otis Nixon's for the last out of the '92 Series. Don't think anyone expected it, but Timlin fielded it cleanly and got him at first.

clemenza, Wednesday, 8 November 2023 15:15 (one month ago) link

My guess is inflated, but this does have him as the second-best ever by pct.:,722%20rate.

clemenza, Wednesday, 8 November 2023 15:25 (one month ago) link

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