Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sac Bunts

Let me clear something up from the get go; I like the sacrifice bunt. I'm not afraid of it in the way that the "Moneyball" crowd is. However, I do see it's utility as being limited to specific situations. I've noticed that Ron Gardenhire doesn't follow my sac bunt "limited utility" theory.

I'm specifically referring in this post to the sacrifice bunt with nobody out and a runner on first base. In this situation, for the reasons that follow, I think it's a poor decision that will result, more often than not, in the very thing that happened in tonight's game against the Red Sox: namely, nobody scoring.

For the purposes of the argument, I'm going to use a favorite device of the economist and just pretend that everything is equal. For our purposes, all of our hitters have a lifetime batting average of .250, have equal tendencies, and are in every way equal. The complexity of the real-world makes that completely unrealistic, but I think it's still useful to demonstrate my point.

When you have a situation with a runner on first and my equally talented hitters coming up, with nobody out, you have a general probability that one hitter in the next four will get a base hit. For two batters, then, there is generally a 50% chance that one of the two will get a base hit. A base hit with a runner on first is not going to score the runner who is on first base, and one of the reasons that is given to justify the sac bunt in this situation is the necessity of getting the runner into scoring position. If you have a reasonably sucessful bunter at the plate, you're going to have about an 80-90% chance (I would guess) of sucessfully moving that runner up. But let's be even more generous and say that there is a 100% chance of success. The runner will move up to second base every time, and you will sacrifice an out for that advancement.

The problem with this is that you now have just a 25% chance that the next hitter will get a base hit. If he does not, you have a runner on 2nd (or maybe 3rd) with two outs. Sac flies cannot score the runner. Slow groundouts cannot score the runner. You are stuck needing a base hit from your last hope.

In the alternative, if you let your hitter swing away in this situation, with no one out and a runner on first, there is a 50% chance that one of the next two hitters will get a hit of some kind. If they get a hit, you will accomplish your goal of advancing the runner into scoring position, and you will keep the out that you gave up earlier. For me, the numbers suggest that the better play in this situation is to let your hitter hit away. If you have any speed on the bases, try to steal second. If you have a decent contact hitter at the plate, try to hit and run. Any of these plays is better in my mind than the sac bunt.

Now, there are circumstances where the sac bunt is the superior play. If you are in the National League, and your pitcher is now up, the sac bunt is a perfectly acceptable choice here. If you are in either league and have a light-hitting middle infielder at the plate, it also is acceptable. But generally speaking, I think this is a poor, low-percentage play that is utilized because of the manager's fetish with having runners in scoring position.

I'll end this post by specifically discussing the situation in which Ron Gardenhire chose to utilize the sac bunt tonight. Torii Hunter was on first base. Jason Kubel was hitting. Nobody was out. Hunter had succesfully stolen second base a couple of innings earlier, and had also been thrown out at third. Undoubtedly, the Red Sox were paying closer attention to him here. But Torii is quick, and he's a pretty good base stealer. My first choice would have been to have him take off and try to swipe the bag. My second choice would have been to let Kubel, who has been starting to swing well, actually try to hit. In no possible situation would I have chosen to sac bunt with these conditions. Hindsight is 20/20, but this is not something I just developed. I'll do my best to track these opportunities over the rest of the season, and report back on what I find. My guess is that the sac bunt with nobody out and a runner on first is a generally ineffective way to secure your team a run.


  • At Wed Jun 14, 10:32:00 PM , Blogger Marty said...

    Bunting, like intentional walks, exists methinks just to give the Manager the illusion of making decisions

  • At Thu Jun 15, 07:07:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    I can't disagree...although last night's bunt with no one out and runners on 1st and 2nd is a situation where I think the sac bunt was the right call. I'd like to think that players are smart enough to know when it's a good "bunting situation," but I think most players have too much of a hero complex to pull the trigger on it.


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