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  1. I went to a lot of games this year, and from all the cries for and applauds of bunts, I would question whether a majority of baseball fans realize bunting usually decreases run-scoring or run expectancy. Please don’t mistake this for a “you got to get out and go to the games” comment. I’m just saying the idea of the bunt as selfless double play preventer is pretty hard to crack.

    I tried, though. I remember during the playoffs somebody on the Tigers – Santiago, maybe – tried and failed to get a bunt down. “Why is he bunting?” I asked after both of his failed attempts. “Gotta move up those runners.” was multiple neigboring fans’ reply. Well, the same hitter then laced a single with two strikes and as we all applauded, I looked around and yelled, “That’s why you don’t bunt!” as I high-fived those same fans. I usually try not to be that annoying, but this was the playoffs, dammit.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo — November 7, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

  2. How about bunts without error? Or even actual sacrifice bunts?

    These examples are interesting but are a little like highlighting the best popflies of 2011 – i.e. the ones that weren’t caught!

    Comment by Aaron (UK) — November 7, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  3. I like the premise of this post, but I don’t think an attempt at safely reaching base on a bunt attempt (assuming Nyjer Morgan was trying to reach base) should count. If the batter is trying to safely reach base that throws run expectancy out the window. He’s trying to get a base hit just like any other batter in that situation.

    Comment by Jeff — November 7, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  4. Noticing a trend here, pretty simple proposition. When the defense blows the play in a clutch situation it dramatically changes win probability. I think we all knew that already, how about bunts that did not result in errors? Or even bunts that resulted, as planned, in outs?

    Comment by Corey — November 7, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  5. I’ve had this same question asked in the past, and I see the point, but let me give two responses as to why I didn’t do it that way. The first isn’t so great, the second might make more sense (although it may not to you!). Hopefully this will somewhat answer some of the comments along the same lines.

    1) Lame response: that’sa bit harder to query.

    2) If you look at detailed sabermetric analyses of bunts, a big part of what makes bunts better than one might think “on average” is that so many of them do result in errors. So from my perspective that’s one reason that bunts are advisable more than some more dogmatic saberists in the past have said, so I wanted to highlight that. Not saying it’s the only way to do it, but it’s what appeals to me the most.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Comment by Matt Klaassen — November 7, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Perhaps an interesting question that should be addressed by the author isn’t what are the 3 biggest-impact bunts of the season, but rather, has bunting developed a bad name because of the assumption that a sacrifice is required. Based purely on your three examples and on my memory, I would venture a guess that bunts result in bungled defensive efforts far more frequently than, say, a regular groundout, or certainly a flyout. In fact, is there a play in baseball which results in an error, or to speak more generally, in a defensive failure more frequently?

    Following this logic through, let’s suppose that in 10% of bunts a failure by the defensive team leads to an error and an extra base for all runners. Weighing this against the other 90% of bunts which simply result in an out and an advance of the bases by the other runner(s), we’re likely to see that our expected outcome from a bunt is a little more favourable.

    Lacking the comprehensive database of these bunts, I can only speak in terms of what COULD be shown by the numbers, but I’d be very interested to see if such an adjustment might alter the traditional sabermetric view on bunts as a tool in the game.

    Comment by TP Baseball — November 7, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  7. Any idea what % of the total number of bunts (incl. failed bunts resulting in Ks) in 2011 resulted in an error? Would be interesting to see.

    Comment by Chris C. — November 7, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  8. The thing I don’t understand about the saberist view on bunts is that there only point seems to be that they decrease run expectancy. But almost all other outs are even worse, and every hitter is much more likely to get out they than are to not make an out. I’ve never actually seen the math on if the chance of a WPA increase (through a hit or walk) at the risk of a bad out (doesn’t move up the runner) is clearly better than taking the slight WPA decrease through a bunt. Does that make sense?

    Comment by Max — November 7, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  9. 1. Just take your list of bunts from this query and keep looking down until you find the top 3 non-error bunts. Seems like it would take about 2 extra minutes?

    2. I can imagine that a bunt could be harder to field than a normal ground ball, but I’ve never seen any data saying so. That would be a really interesting piece to read – “the hidden value of bunts: errors”.

    I agree with Aaron that this piece left me wanting a lot more about bunts, because these plays you list don’t seem to honor the idea of a “successful bunt”. But at the same time your logic makes sense, and I think this could be a really great series of articles about the true value of bunts when you account for good/medium/poor fielding. If your opponent is fielding a really crap 3b, maybe the math says your speedsters should be bunting a lot. Who knows!

    Comment by Telo — November 7, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

  10. Assuming “productive outs” (those which increase WPA for the batting team) are rare, isn’t league-average OBP the relevant comparison here?

    (Essentially, I’m assuming that WPA increases if the batter reaches base and decreases if he makes an out. Run-scoring sac flies would violate this assumption but if you can score a run with any ball hit to the outfield, why bunt?)

    So, in our sample of non-pitcher-hitting bunts, if the batters all took a business-as-usual approach, I would expect that WPA would be positive roughly 32% of the time (league-average OBP) instead of the 35.5% of bunts which were successful.

    Note that even if the above is true, it doesn’t necessarily prove that bunting is a *good* idea–you’re pretty well taking the 3-run homer out of the list of possible outcomes by ordering a bunt, for example.

    Comment by Jeff — November 7, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

  11. Well, I say double plays and triple plays decrease run expectancy more than sac bunts, so count me as one who is totally against this revolution against bunting.

    It seems to me that people are OK with making multiple outs on one pitch now. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    Comment by ChrisR — November 7, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  12. the bunter guarantees an out (if the bunt works). then, all the next batter has to do is get just himself out, and ta-da! Same effect.

    It is not “people are okay with making multiple outs on one pitch.” What you are advocating is called “playing not to loose.” Yes, double plays are bad. But they are also unlikely, to the point that bunting someone over just to avoid the double play is far co costly to be worthwhile. A manager who bunts to avoid the double play is like someone buying insurance on a car, and paying far, far more than the car is worth for it. It seems “safe,” but it is a lousy return on investment.

    Comment by williams .482 — November 7, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

  13. It was Nyjer Morgan, for crying out loud. I don’t think he knew what he was trying to do.

    Comment by williams .482 — November 7, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

  14. Isn’t it entirely situational? If you have a runner on 1st who’s super slow and less than 2 outs and you have a 75% GB and a GB pitcher and the guy on deck is hot, doesn’t that make sense to bunt? I’m sure aggregately (is that a word?) it’s not a good idea to bunt, but I’m sure there are lots of examples where it would be. Even stuff like a slow footed 3B, sending the runner in motion. Or even doing it with 0 outs as opposed to 1should factor in.

    Comment by Antonio Bananas — November 8, 2011 @ 1:44 am

  15. I wonder what the three best “sacrifice” bunts were in 2011. I have no problem at all with bunting for a hit, it’s the giving away free outs that bugs the hell out of me.

    Comment by Brian S. — November 8, 2011 @ 3:04 am

  16. well the last paragraph is key: the results of the 32% of the time that a player is reaching base are going to be much better WPA-wise than a successful bunt. The fact that league-average OBP is so close to the percent of successful bunts is partial evidence that bunting is generally inferior to trying to get on base. Recording an out will be worse than most “unsuccessful” bunts, but in most situations I’m sure that difference is much smaller than the difference between the average positive results of reaching base vs. successfully bunting.

    Comment by shamus — November 8, 2011 @ 4:30 am

  17. Thanks for the response Matt, and I get the point about errors potentially being more likely (the extra research Telo suggests would be great here).

    What would be really nice is total seasonal WPA on bunt attempts by players/teams. Of course even this will miss the effect of trying to bunt and winding up in a x-2 count and then swinging away.

    My gut feel for bunts is that the truth must lie somewhere between the pure saberist “almost never bunt” and what actually prevails. WPA, although a fantastic tool, misses out so much that is relevant (pitcher skill, speed, power, GB/FB etc.) that there must be plenty of bunts with a marginally -ve WPA that would probably be +ve WPA if appropriate adjustments were made to allow for these factors.

    Comment by Aaron (UK) — November 8, 2011 @ 5:51 am

  18. “By now most baseball fans realize that the majority of bunts decrease the bunting team’s run-scoring.” I don’t think so, Matt. You’ve been running in SABR-circles for too long.

    Comment by delv — November 8, 2011 @ 8:53 am

  19. I fail to believe that a Fredi Gonzalez ordered bunt didn’t crack the top 3. The law of averages would say he had at least a 50% chance, since I think he ordered most of the leagues bunts.

    Comment by chris — November 8, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

  20. I disagree that all this WPA gets attributed to the bunt. This article could be more accurately names the 3 biggest errors on bunts in 2011.

    Comment by Joe — November 8, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

  21. I actually wrote a blog post about that Kerry Wood error after that game and the lack of fundamentals the Cubs seemed to showcase in that game and throughout the season. The cubs were throwing the ball all over the place this year in all the wrong situations.

    Comment by Subtle — November 8, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  22. Well, if you look at the run expectancies depending on the number of outs and the runners on base you will see that trading an out for a base is almost always a bad idea. For instance with a runner on 1st and no outs the run probability is .953, with one out and a runner on 2nd (so a successful sacrifice bunt) this probability is .725. Unless in situations where a double play is very likely, e.g. slow baserunner on 1st, groundball pitcher, very bad hitter that is striking out a lot, then bunting is not a good idea.

    Comment by sindarta — November 14, 2011 @ 5:30 am

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