And The Worst Bunt of the Year Goes To…

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran!

I would say congratulations, but this probably isn’t the kind of award you want to win. So, let’s just skip the festivities and skip right to the recap, shall we?

In last night’s game between the Dodgers and Cardinals, Los Angeles held a 3-1 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th inning. Zack Greinke was pitching well, but he’d thrown 93 pitches and after facing a pinch-hitter for Adam Wainwright, was going to have to roll through the top of the batting order for the fourth time. This is danger territory, the type of spot where rallies are frequent and leads are often blown. Pitchers are less effective as they get deeper into the game and hitters perform better against a pitcher they’ve faced multiple times that day. The recipe for a comeback was in place.

And Greinke really hurt himself by walking the light-hitting Adron Chambers, who had pinch-hit for Wainwright leading off the inning. That walk took six pitches, and ended with Greinke throwing three straight out of the zone to put Chambers on first base. This brought up Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals All-Star second baseman, and the beginning of the best part of St. Louis’ offensive attack.

On the first pitch, Carpenter did this.

Carpenter Bunt

It went foul, so Greinke’s 100th pitch of the night officially went down as strike one. Given that he didn’t show the bunt until the pitch was on the way, the fact that he represented the tying run, and then that he immediately proceeded to swing away on the 0-1 pitch, it’s probably a pretty safe assumption that Carpenter was trying to bunt himself aboard, perhaps by reading a poor defensive alignment by Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe. While we give bunting a lot of grief around here — and by the subject of this post, you can bet that there is more bunting related grief to come — bunting your way on base when you represent the tying run is pretty great if you can do it.

Carpenter didn’t get the bunt down, though, and then after fouling off the 0-1 pitch, he was down 0-2 to Greinke, but managed to take a couple of change-ups out of the zone before he pulled the 2-2 pitch for a single to right field. That put runners at first and second with nobody out and Carlos Beltran coming to the plate. Beltran is an excellent hitter, posting a .368 wOBA this season, and because he’s a switch-hitter, he got to face Greinke with the platoon advantage.

Greinke has not quite been himself this year, and the entirety of his struggles can be summed up in his performance against left-handed hitters, who have hit .289/.357/.507 against him this year, good for a .375 wOBA. RHBs have posted just a .263 wOBA against Greinke, and the primary driver of those splits has been due to the long ball. All 10 0f the homers Greinke has allowed this year have come off the bats of left-handed hitters.

A home run, of course, would be the absolute best result of this match-up. Down 3-1 on the scoreboard, a Beltran homer would give the Cardinals the lead with six outs to go, and allow them to hand the ball to Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica to close out the game. Even a double would probably tie the game with Carpenter’s ability to run, or at least put the tying run on third base with nobody out. Beltran has 19 home runs and 22 doubles/triples this season, so an extra base hit was certainly quite possible based on the match-up.

Instead, Beltran did this.

Beltran Bunt

It was the second time all season Beltran had laid down a bunt. Dating back to the start of the 2007 season, Beltran had bunted just six times in the last seven years. This isn’t something he does regularly, and as you can see by the attempt, it’s not something he’s particularly great at. He got a cutter diving in at his ankles, so instead of pushing it up the third base line to try and get on base as Carpenter did, he ended up pushing the ball right back to Greinke for an easy force out at first base.

Greinke couldn’t get out Adron Chambers after getting ahead of him with two strikes. He then failed to put Matt Carpenter away as well, and his pitch to Beltran was the 104th he’d thrown on the night. He threw a pitch that, had it not been bunted, would have easily been called ball one. He attempted to fall behind a very good left-handed hitter who represented the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 7th inning, but Beltran just wouldn’t let him.

Instead, he got a free out, and while runners moved into scoring position, the Cardinals rally began to die right then and there. The following two hitters, Allen Craig and Matt Holliday, are both right-handers. Don Mattingly had Ronald Belisario, a right-handed specialist who has held RHBs to a .196/.269/.292 career line, warming up in the bullpen. With a pair of right-handers coming up, he made the easy decision to replace his tiring starter with a fresh reliever, making a St. Louis rally even less likely. Belisario would go on to get a run scoring groundout from Allen Craig that made the score 3-2, but Matt Holliday would hit into an inning ending groundout, leaving Carpenter stranded and the Cardinals still trailing by a run.

They would never really mount another challenge, and the Dodgers would win by that 3-2 margin. The fact that Craig and Holliday couldn’t drive in Carpenter, and that they went on to lose, isn’t what made the bunt a bad decision. We’re not the-ends-justify-the-means kind of folks. A move isn’t good or bad based on what happens immediately after a decision is made. In this case, this bunt would have been a terrible idea even had the Cardinals gotten a game-tying single from either Craig or Holliday.

The historical data makes this pretty clear. The Cardinals win expectancy went from 38.0% to 36.3% on Beltran’s successful sacrifice, and those numbers do not account for the actual players in the confrontation. The fact that Beltran is a significantly better than average hitter, facing a tiring starting pitcher who has had some serious problems against left-handers of late, pushed that match-up even further in St. Louis’ favor. A bunt in that situation could certainly be justifiable given the right batter/pitcher match-up — for instance, if this was when Adron Chambers had to pinch-hit for Wainwright — even though the successful sacrifice lowered the team’s win expectancy, but Beltran versus a tiring Greinke was definitely not the kind of situation where win expectancy overstates a team’s odds of sustaining a big rally. This is the kind of situation where win expectancy is underselling a team’s chances of coming back, based on the personnel due up for St. Louis at that time.

Sometimes, one could make a game theory argument for bunting even when it appears to not be mathematically correct at the time. For instance, if Uribe was playing back too far or not paying attention, the odds of a bunt going for a hit would have been higher than usual, which changes the calculation. However, Carpenter had just alerted the Dodgers to the fact that perhaps Uribe was giving them too much room, or that St. Louis saw the bunt as a potential option to reach base. While we don’t have the camera angles to show where Uribe was positioned, the element of surprise was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Carpenter had just tried to bunt four pitches earlier.

And, of course, the element of surprise only works if one is able to actually execute the surprise. Beltran is not a guy who bunts regularly, and even had he caught Uribe napping at third, his inexperience at getting a bunt down made a successful bunt unlikely to begin with. The element of surprise is a nice benefit, but it should not be enough of an enticement to coerce a good hitter who doesn’t bunt very often into trying to sneak his way on base.

Bunting is engrained in baseball’s lore as “playing the game the right way”. I would imagine that Beltran — who wasn’t available to the media after the game — probably believes he acted unselfishly, giving up the chance at RBIs and glory for the betterment of his team’s chances of winning. Based on Mike Matheny‘s responses to questions about the bunt in the postgame press conference — ““Sometimes we put a bunt on,” he said. “Sometimes we do it on our own.” — it seems pretty likely that Beltran was bunting on his own.

But this was not “playing the game the right way”. This was a bad tactic born out of a small ball mindset that shouldn’t apply to hitters of Beltran’s quality, and certainly not while facing a tiring pitcher who has had a problem giving up extra base hits to left-handed hitters this year. The sacrifice bunt isn’t always the wrong call, but this is a glaring example of why the culture of bunting is a significant problem.

Carlos Beltran should not believe that a bunt in that situation is a good idea. It’s not, and the evidence against giving up an out in that spot is overwhelming. Beltran took a chance at a big inning that could have easily resulted in the Cardinals tying the game or taking the lead, and turned it into a small-ball affair that led to St. Louis scoring one run that didn’t change much of anything.

When you play for one run, you’re only going to get one run. Earl Weaver was right about a lot of things, but maybe that was his most accurate belief about the game. Down by two, Carlos Beltran played for one run. It worked, and his team still lost.

The overuse of the sacrifice bunt will eventually die out, as more information leaks down to the field and the next generation of players grow up in an era where win expectancy tables aren’t relegated to nerds in the back office. The Cardinals have those nerds, and they are probably the premier organization in the sport right now, but Beltran’s bunt shows the continuing disconnect between the on-field personnel and even a great organization’s decision makers. Eventually, there will be more symmetry between the two parties.

For now, though, Beltran’s bunt will stand as 2013’s biggest reminder of why small ball should not be considered “playing the game the right way”. Playing the game the right way should maximize your teams chances of winning; Carlos Beltran’s bunt did just the opposite.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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JEB
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JEB
2 years 11 months ago

Austin Jackson had a pretty bad bunt last night as well as he hit himself with the ball outside of the box creating his own out.

dan
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dan
2 years 11 months ago

I was just about to post this same comment! I had never seen that happen in a game before.

Razor
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Razor
2 years 11 months ago

Wonder if his slump was in his head when he tried this… he hasn’t homered since June.

Thanks for this analysis- ESPN cut away from this play to show an A-Rod at bat last night.

CMR
Member
CMR
2 years 11 months ago

Just to give you more info: Whatever Beltran’s numbers are in the recent past, he’s definitely seeing the ball extremely well lately but has hit liners right at fielders and fly balls just short of the fence. There’s no batter–except perhaps for Craig–that I wanted more at the plate last night in that situation.

rustydude
Member
rustydude
2 years 11 months ago

I think slumps really do get in the heads of even good hitters. I was tracking Trout’s bunt attempts last season. For much of the season he didn’t bother to attempt a bunt. But if he went 2 or 3 games without a hit, he would often try it – and many times successfully, by the way.

The problem with this approach is eventually defenses will take advantage of this pattern, and the good hitter will lose all element of surprise.

Kevin H
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Kevin H
2 years 11 months ago

The commentators on the St. Louis broadcast seemed to feel the same way. To paraphrase, they said something like “There are times when a bunt is a good idea, and there are times, like this one, when a bunt is a terrible idea.”

Jimmy
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Jimmy
2 years 11 months ago

Beltran used to do this with the Mets as well and it would mystify even sac bunt devotees like Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel (the man who once called for a sac bunt twice against a position player pitching).

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
2 years 11 months ago

Still better than the Andrelton Simmons bunt in the Wild Card game last year.

-Not at all bitter Braves fan

stan
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stan
2 years 11 months ago

That was a bunt called by the bench. First, I don’t read Matheny’s comments as a denial that it was. Second, in the video it doesn’t appear that Beltran is doing anything but trying to pop the ball down right in front of the plate. If it was a bunt for a hit he would have tried to push it down one of the lines. If you’re insinuating that he put a sac bunt on all on his own, lets just say that occam’s razor doesn’t fit that notion.

Dylan
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Dylan
2 years 11 months ago

Beltran has a history of sac bunting on his own

Schuxu
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Schuxu
2 years 11 months ago

Really?
“It was the second time all season Beltran had laid down a bunt. Dating back to the start of the 2007 season, Beltran had bunted just six times in the last seven years.”

Or are you referencing a special occurence?

Jay29
Member
Jay29
2 years 11 months ago

How the hell does Occam’s Razor say it was a bench-called bunt? It’s not like Dave’s saying that it was either a bench-called bunt or one pre-ordained by the writings of ancient Egyptians or something.

Either situation is pretty damn likely and Dave gives a slight edge to the likelihood of it being Beltran’s call. That’s not an absurd claim that needs to be run through by Occam’s Razor.

bdhudson
Member
Member
bdhudson
2 years 11 months ago

Beltran came out and said he called it on his own…so…let’s just say that it does fit that notion.

Neil Weinberg
Editor
2 years 11 months ago

This is a really good breakdown of why bunting was a bad move for the Cardinals, but what’s interesting is that if Beltran hadn’t bunted, but instead gotten a hit, wouldn’t the attention be drawn to Mattingly not replacing the tiring starter in this situation? It’s the direct opposite of the Beltran bunt. Donnie made a mistake, but the outcome was good so he’s not a target.

I wasn’t watching this live, so there could be a reason why this wouldn’t have made sense, but it’s interesting to consider.

Nolan
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Nolan
2 years 11 months ago

Great piece Dave. It reminds me of something Jay Jaffe wrote about last year when the Dodgers were on the other end of some bunting nightmares. The threshold for a hitter bunting with 1st & 2nd with no outs was a .206/.235/.263 line based on the math done by James Click in 2004. I’ve always kept that in my head whenever I see a manager attempt a sacrifice in that situation.

Mike Green
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Mike Green
2 years 11 months ago

As Tango (and Bill James) have pointed out many times, this is not the correct way to analyze the win expectancy associated with a bunt attempt.

There are several possible outcomes: batter reaches base, “successful sacrifice”, “failed sacrifice” (e.g. a popped-up bunt) and a foul bunt which changes the count adversely. We’ll all agree that a “successful sacrifice” in this case was not in fact advantageous.

According to BBRef, Beltran has bunted 58 times in his career, 27 times he has been awarded a hit, 3 times he has reached on an error, and 18 times he has been awarded a sacrifice. If his chance of reaching base is 40% or 50%, the dynamics change completely.

On the other hand, batters who have attempted to bunt against Greinke have fared not fared as well- 102 attempts, 52 sacrifices, 12 hits, 1 ROE.

Putting it all together, I would probably not have chosen that time to bunt, if I were Beltran, but it is (to my mind) easy to see why he might have made the decision that he did.

eddiegaedel
Member
eddiegaedel
2 years 11 months ago

I don’t think it’s fair to use the stat that Beltran is 27/58 for hits on bunting in his career. Beltran clearly does not have the speed he use to and you cannot factor in his bunting hit % from his early season to project his chances now. Most of those successful bunts were probably 2008 and before when Beltran was much faster. He is an aging hitter who should be catering his approach at his plate to his strengths.

Adam M
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Adam M
2 years 11 months ago

The problem, though, is that Beltran hasn’t been bunting to get on base since 2006. Your point that DC cherry-picked the 2007 number is well taken – Beltran’s skills as a bunter look considerably better if we look at 2006 and earlier – but it still holds that Beltran is not the same player in 2013 that was in 2006. He doesn’t get on base anymore via the bunt, mostly because he is not as fast and nowhere near as good a baserunner as he once was.

All of which is to say: it’s pretty strongly overstating the probability to say his chance of reaching base is 40% or 50%.

bobabaloo
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bobabaloo
2 years 11 months ago

shoot beltran should bunt every at bat! he’d be a .400-.500 obp guy, great!

Mike Green
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Mike Green
2 years 11 months ago

It is true that he has not bunted more than twice in a year in many years. All of which makes it much more likely that the responsibility for the bunt decision is with the Manager (see my comment below)

Scraps
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Scraps
2 years 11 months ago

Beltran or Matheny: really, who cares? The point is: a very bad time to bunt.

Scraps
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Scraps
2 years 11 months ago

Oops, chuckb already made the same point two comments down.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 11 months ago

Chuck made the same point and then basically wanted to fire or fine everyone from the batboy to the team president. At least he doesn’t overreact to things.

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

Also, regression to the mean.

Mike Green
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Mike Green
2 years 11 months ago

And if it was a bunt called by the bench, that would change the dynamics. Beltran did square early and offered at a pitch he ought to have taken.

chuckb
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chuckb
2 years 11 months ago

Horrible, horrible, horrible play there, regardless of whether Beltran or Matheny is at fault. One of them should be fined heavily. Maybe Beltran should be benched.

TheBirds
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TheBirds
2 years 11 months ago

You can’t just go around fining and benching your best player every time he makes a tactical error. That’s only going to make the situation worse.

stan
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stan
2 years 11 months ago

I can’t believe that anyone out there thinks that Beltran did this on his own. How many times have you seen a guy sacrifice bunt on his own, much less a future HOF player? It was called, and the quoted language from Matheny doesn’t deny that it was.

williams .482
Member
Member
williams .482
2 years 11 months ago

Beltran has a history of doing this, as does Derek Jeter (one example off the top of my head).

tylersnotes
Member
2 years 11 months ago

the mlb is hungry to give someone a lifetime ban. if this bunt attempt wasn’t against the best interest of baseball i don’t know what is

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

It’s OK by me. Maybe Beltran should even be given a reward.
I sat thru that Sunday loss by the Reds to the Cards. I’m glad to see someting bad happen to them.

And the nominees for worst ideas of the year are...
Guest
And the nominees for worst ideas of the year are...
2 years 11 months ago

“One of them should be fined heavily”

steex
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steex
2 years 11 months ago

Only one nominee? That’s pretty anticlimactic.

And the nominees for worst ideas of the year are...
Guest
And the nominees for worst ideas of the year are...
2 years 11 months ago

It’s the only one that has surfaced on the FG message boards thus far this year. Although there are many, MANY other nominees sprinkled liberally across the far reaches of the interwebs.

gary meadows
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gary meadows
2 years 11 months ago

After reading the headline I just knew it was going to come from this game! I thought it was going to be Jon Jay’s bunt popout. To the pitcher I believe.

A lot of bad bunts from the Cards and good throws from the ManBearPuig. Totally gunned Craig at home.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
2 years 11 months ago

More of a line-drive bunt for Jay. I too was expecting that to be the subject of this article. If you’re going to bunt, at least do it with good technique.

John
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John
2 years 11 months ago

Some of the other running posts include the Worst of something. Wildest Swing, Worst Pitch. This seems more of a bad decision than being classified as a Worst result. Beltran could have bunted it more directly to Greinke thus starting a thrilling Triple Play. That would have been the Worst Bunt.

eddiegaedel
Member
eddiegaedel
2 years 11 months ago

Great article Dave. I have heard announcers talk about how Saber inclined people hate all bunts and I thought your explanation here was great. If Adam Wainwright were the one placing the bunt in this situation we wouldn’t have blinked an eye but to have a guy in the middle of your order do this is nonsense. Ironically, the same people that believe in sacrifice bunting, also believe RBI producing as a skill… So even they should be on board with Beltran hitting here because “he is a good RBI Man”

Bill
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Bill
2 years 11 months ago

Oh come now! If this had been the playoffs, Greinke would have thrown the ball into the stands and both runs would have scored with Beltran taking third. The announcers would have praised the Cardinals for nailing the fundamentals and, following the almost certain Craig homerun, the Cards would have won and Matheny would have been a genius of a level not seen since Doogie Houser.

SKob
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

On a side note, isn’t Matt Carpenter awesome? Almost perfect bunt, followed up by fighting off an 0-2 count, running up the count taking a few balls, then singling to put himself on as the tying run.

I’m a Red Sox fan and I want a Matt Carpenter jersey… is that so wrong?

gary meadows
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gary meadows
2 years 11 months ago

no. Everyone should have a carpenter jersey.

-Cards fan who’s *totally* over the ’04 series

rageon
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rageon
2 years 11 months ago

Was Matt Garza contacted for his reaction to the bunt?

Thufir
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Thufir
2 years 11 months ago

A great extension to this series would be, worst decision to leave a pitcher in too long (or let him hit late in the game).

Don Mattingly is the absolute king of bad pitcher decisions. He let Kershaw bat with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the sixth of a tied game on May 26th.

That has to rank up there amongst the worst decisions made all year in MLB.

The Dude Abides
Guest
The Dude Abides
2 years 11 months ago

The Dodgers have won 15 straight road games, eight or nine straight one-run games, and are 32-7 over their last 39. Donny must not be making too many unwise pitching choices if the team has the best or second best one-run record in the majors.

wally
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

Or Donny could just manage a team with a lot of talent and still suck… just sayin’

AK7007
Member
AK7007
2 years 11 months ago

Maybe they can emboss the run expectancy matrix on the inside of every player’s helmet or something, but I bet guys like Beltran would just cover it up with pine tar or something because, “team player.”

Merkle's Boner Pill
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Merkle's Boner Pill
2 years 11 months ago

I hated nearly as much Wainwright’s sac bunt with one out and men on 1st and 3rd.

Could the chance really be so effing remote of Wainwright merely putting the ball in play in a manner that could score a runner from 3rd, that it’s worth making an out on purpose, especially when you only have two outs left in the inning? I suspect GIDP paranoia.

The Jay bunt strategy in the 8th was horrific, as well — because of the particulars of the situation. Lefty Paco Rodriguez was brought in to face Jay with a man on first and St. Louis now trailing 3-2; the Cardinals had lefty-masher Brock Peterson on the bench. The only reason he’s on the MLB roster, the sole reason he was promoted from AAA a couple weeks back, is that Peterson was hitting .340 and slugging .600+ versus southpaws.

If Matheny goes for the win rather than the tie, and sends up his southpaw-killer instead of calling for yet another bunt, Mattingly is trapped. Paco has to face one batter… and he’d be facing a guy who’s eaten lefties for lunch all year. But Matheny is devout about the bunt, especially when trailing late.

(It’s one reason why St. Louis under Matheny has, despite one of baseball’s best offenses the last two years, a truly craptastic record when trailing after 7 or 8 innings. Of course, every team’s record is terrible in such dire circumstances, but I believe the Cardinals are in the bottom 3 or 4 for come-from-behind wins.)

The Dude Abides
Guest
The Dude Abides
2 years 11 months ago

Paco’s really good against righties, though. He’s not a typical LOOGY. Still, I probably would have PH for Jay like you said.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 11 months ago

Wainwright’s batting average is .197 career, hasn’t been over .200 in about 4 years, there are a lot of ways to make double plays, especially for a pitcher with no power. In general, the pitcher is a bad enough hitter it might be worth it in that spot.

Tim
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Tim
2 years 11 months ago

I wonder how often he has to be walked/HBP/WP/PB for sending him up there without a bat to be better than bunting. It should be a pretty small number.

Ctownboy
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Ctownboy
2 years 11 months ago

This fascination with sacrifice bunting by the Cardinals is mind boggling. Honestly, somebody should have their head examined.

The Cardinals have one of the best offenses in MLB. They have this because they don’t go up to the plate trying to swing from the heels and hit home runs every at bat, against every pitcher in every situation. Because of this approach, they don’t strike out as much as other teams and they put the ball into play more often.

So it blows my mind when their position players give away an out by attempting a sac bunt. Whether it is called from the bench or not, it is just plain dumb.

Friday night, the Cards win in a blow out and the only bunt attempted was by the pitcher. Saturday they lost and they attempted three bunts; one a sacu bunt by Westbrook in the second inning which resulted in an out and no resulting runs being scored. A sac bunt by Descalso in the fourth which resulted in an out and no runs being scored afterward and one by John jay leading off an inning (assuming he was trying to bunt for a hit). That bunt was fielded and Jay was thrown out. So, three bunt attempts, three outs made and no runs scored.

Sunday, the Cardinals scored a bunch of runs and the only one bunt attempt was by Lance Lynn (which Todd Frazier committed an error on).

Monday, the Cardianls lose and they give away two outs by trying to bunt.

If Matheny is using the “book” to manage by then he needs to rip the page out that says sacrifice bunting is a good idea (and give it to Dusty Baker so that Baker will double down on this bad idea).

Jeff
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Jeff
2 years 11 months ago

Guys that try to hit homerunes every at-bat have a tendency to strike out more. See Adam Dunn or Chris Davis.

Ctownboy
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Ctownboy
2 years 11 months ago

That was my point.

As a former Reds fan, I had the displeasure of having to watch Dunn try to hit from 2001 to 2008. Sure, I saw him hit massive home runs but, more often than not, I saw him FAIL at driving in runs that were there for the taking (if he could have just made contact more often or hit the ball to the opposite field). That is why I find it refreshing to see the Cardinal’ batters take what they are given and NOT try to swing from their heels.

Having watched the Cardinals, the only guy who seems to try and hit home runs on a regular basis is Carlos Beltran. Most of the other players just seem to try and hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field and then let the next guy come up and do the same.

That is why they lead the NL in runs scored (by 39 over Atlanta) but are only 13th in home runs (89 versus 137 for NL leading Atlanta).

This is why I find it staggeringly stupid when Matheny calls for a position player to lay down a sac bunt.

That Guy
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That Guy
2 years 11 months ago

The same Adam Dunn who was .380 wOBA and 128 wRC+ from 2001 to 2006? Yes, his appearances at the plate were a real problem for the team and it’s fans.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
2 years 11 months ago

‘That guy’ just totally nailed it. People tend to complain about “non-productive outs” and such, but I will take a .380 wOBA and 128 wRC+ all day long and twice on Sunday, even when it comes with 180 K’s.

If there’s something causing displeasure about a solidly above average hitter, you can always have Corey Patterson flailing away and trying to go about things “the right way” I guess?

Reuben
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Reuben
2 years 11 months ago

Everyone knows the only time to bunt is right after you’ve called your shot as evidenced in the immortal Bad News Bears

olethros
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olethros
2 years 11 months ago

Major League

Reuben
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Reuben
2 years 11 months ago

It happens in both, and well, The Bad News Bears came out 13 years earlier…

_David_
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_David_
2 years 11 months ago

Not that this in any way changes the argument, but I wonder if there is any shred of justification in the notion that: With tough relievers coming in to face the next batters, they were going to find it very hard to make solid contact, meaning if anything, a single takes a higher than usual portion of the expected outcomes, so maybe it they thought it more important to ensure a single could tie it? I’ve got nothing.

Merkle's Boner Pill
Guest
Merkle's Boner Pill
2 years 11 months ago

“A single could tie it.” Perhaps Mike Matheny needs a refresher course on baseball rules; unlike soccer, there are no ties in baseball.

When trailing late in games, there are two types of strategy. One (making outs on purpose) results in extra innings or losses. The other (no sac bunts) results in wins or losses. I’ll take the latter.

And speaking of extra innings, why would the Cardinal manager EVER want to tie a game and send it to extras? The man has perhaps the worst extra-inning record in modern MLB history, at 7-17.

Matheny is a sturdy, stoic, reasonable presence. But he may also be a bit of an idiot. As a multimillionaire businessman and husband & father, he bet everything on a real estate deal, because he thought he was the sharpest knife in the drawer. he didn’t bet some millions, or most of his millions. He basically bet everything, on black. And the marble landed red.

And from what I’ve read he’s learned little if anything about his own greed, foolishness, and generally irresponsible behavior. He may think far too highly of his own intellect, and he may be intractable, when it comes to the faux nobility of the sacrifice bunt.

_David_
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_David_
2 years 11 months ago

I think the article alludes to Matheny denying responsibility for the bunt.

Baltar
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Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

I think the commenter was referring to Matheny’s pro-bunting strategy in general.

Eric
Guest
Eric
2 years 11 months ago

Beltran needs to stop spending so much time wathcing other players watching tape and educate himself on the sac bunt

Munchkin
Guest
Munchkin
2 years 11 months ago

#blamebeltran

Joe Veno
Member
2 years 11 months ago

Was that the worst bunt by run expectancy?

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
2 years 11 months ago

Probably not, but Cameron gave lots of reason why RE alone doesn’t tell the story of how bad this bunt decision was.

Jeremy B.
Member
2 years 11 months ago

What interests me is how having multiple runners on base seems to change the bunting calculus for managers. I don’t have any data readily available (that’s what you guys are for), but my guess is that managers are far more likely to call for a sacrifice in a two-run game with runners on first and second than in a one-run game with a runner on first, even though the situations are essentially the same (i.e., the tying run is on first base). Obviously they’re not identical situations (except in the ninth inning), but I bet that if Beltran came to the plate with a runner on first and nobody out, neither he nor Matheny would have even considered bunting. There seems to be this illogical obsession with moving runners to second and third, even though it only advances the tying run to second.

Ctownboy
Guest
Ctownboy
2 years 11 months ago

My theory is that manager’s use the sac bunt as a CYA move.

Runner/s on base and their team is losing. If the manager lets the batter swing away and he makes an out (or hits into a double play), the fans will be upset and booing (if it is a home game). Later, after the game is over, the manager will have to answer multiple questions from the press as to why he didn’t have the batter lay down a sac bunt.

Now, in the same situation, if the manager calls for the sac bunt and the batter doesn’t get it down or does get it down but the team doesn’t score any runs afterwards, then the manager’s behind is covered. I mean, HE called for the bunt but HE isn’t the one who couldn’t get it down (or if ti was successful) HE wasn’t the one who couldn’t get a hit to drive in the runner/s who were advanced.

In short, sacrifice bunting with position players is a statistically dumb thing to do but managers might very well do it so as to not have to bring down the wrath of the fans and the media…..

Joe R
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Joe R
2 years 11 months ago

It’s the fourth down argument of NFL coaches. Marvin Lewis summarized it well, and I paraphrase:

“Yes, the numbers say we should go for it more, but these guys aren’t the ones whose jobs come under question.”

People remember the time when the Patriots went for it on 4th down against the Colts and didn’t get it, only to see the Colts drive down and win. What they don’t remember was that the Pats had been getting gashed on defense, and what a horrible play call the Patriots designed.

The norm is hard to drive out of people. People are naturally risk-averse, and the perception is that you take risks only when you need to. In this case, the risk of an “unproductive out” was considered too great by either Beltran or (probably) Matheny, so they went the “safe” route and bunted. Except it didn’t work. At least some media outlets have grilled the Cards for it.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 11 months ago

Technically, for tying, having someone on 3rd makes it more likely to score a single run, such as by groundouts, sac flies and blood singles that can’t bring in a guy from 2nd.

Odds are these are not enough to make up for it, but might be a psychological reason why?

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 11 months ago

Beltran has only hit into 5 DP’s, still has decent speed. Very poor decision.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 11 months ago

As a Dodger fan, all this article does is remind me how poorly Donnie has used bunts in the past. He repeatedly has had AJ Ellis bunt when A) Ellis is always a better hitter than whoever bats behind him and B) he has proven repeatedly he isn’t a good bunter, often bunting into forceouts.

Merkle's Boner Pill
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Merkle's Boner Pill
2 years 11 months ago

Mattingly is a fool for the bunt? Oh, you mean like tonight, when he called for the sac bunt with the tying run already in scoring position and nobody out while trailing by a run late in the game? The play that backfired terribly when the baserunner was gunned down at third? You mean like that?

Joe R
Guest
Joe R
2 years 11 months ago

And of course, the “Play the game the right way” dinosaurs who treat swinging away in these spots like unneeded risk, and bunts as automatic, had nothing to say here.

Or just ignored it, and will continue to insist that bunting is the play here.

Douglas Brouwer
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Douglas Brouwer
2 years 11 months ago

Not the worst bunt ever, since it was successful, worst decision to bunt would be better title. Similar situation in the Tigers Cleveland game in the 9th inning. The Tigers trail 2-1 with no outs and men on 1st and 2nd. Alex Avila is at the plate and he could have bunted to advance the runners. He did the opposite of Beltran and swung away, hitting a 3 run homer to drive the Tigers to a 4-2 victory. Great Decision ;)

Ctownboy
Guest
Ctownboy
2 years 11 months ago

I have said this before in arguing against the sac bunt; when you sac bunt, you are giving the other team time to set their defense thus pretty much assuring at least one out is going to be made.

If the goal of the sac bunt is to advance the runner/s, then what are the upside and downside of the sac bunt? The best positive outcome would be for the bunt to be laid down and the fielder throws the ball down the right field line and the batter somehow comes around to score on the play. The downside side would be a double (or triple play). The most likely thing to happen is an out is going to occur and the runner/s advance (with NO guarantee that the batters coming up will drive them in).

By swinging away, there are multiple ways to advance a runner (some without making an out).

They are:

Single, double, triple, home run, walk, error, ground out, sac fly, hit by pitch, catcher’s interference.

There are at least 10 different ways a runner can be advanced WITHOUT having to lay down a sac bunt while also NOT allowing the defense to know what is coming and thus being able to set themselves up to react to it.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
2 years 11 months ago

How about that recent Punto bunt to attempt to move Uribe over?
I’m inclined to give it to Beltran because of the vast difference in skill level, but Punto’s was bad too.

Luther's van dross
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Luther's van dross
2 years 11 months ago

Considering that Punto is batting around .500 versus St. Louis (they only retired him once tonight… when Mattingly ordered him to make an out) and the runner was *already* in scoring position, and the Dodgers were trailing, the bunt there was nearly as lunkheaded as Beltran’s, I’d say. (Moreover, the pitcher had of course just surrendered a leadoff double. So it was at least possible that maybe just maybe he didn’t have his good stuff. Maybe it was time to attack. Or not.)

MGL
Guest
MGL
2 years 11 months ago

Wow, there are so many things wrong with this “analysis,” I don’t think I can articulate or address all of them.

First of all, while Beltran has been slightly better this year batting from the left side of the plate, for the last 4 years, he has been much better with more power from the right side of the plate. So the notion that he is expected in that PA to be better batting lefty against Grienke is complete nonsense.

Second of all, as a lefty, he is much more likely to beat out a good bunt for a hit for obvious reasons. (He is also more likely to pull a ground ball or a fly ball and move the runner over from third or both runners on an out.)

The worst thing about this “analysis” is that you are clearly basing your arguments (and some of your numbers) on the result, which while not terrible (bunting into an out and no runner advancement or a double play would be terrible), is a poor one. A sac bunt which results in an out and base runner(s) advancement almost always reduces WE, especially with an above average batter at the plate.

However, the reason that sac bunts are often correct is two-fold. One, it sometimes results in a hit or an ROE, even if that was not the case here. That it resulted in an out does NOT make it an incorrect decision, just like if he swung away, hitting into a DP would not make THAT an incorrect decision.

Two, and most importantly, almost any batter that has decent speed and can bunt fairly well (and I think Beltran falls into both categories) MUST bunt at least occasionally in all sac situations. That is because if they did not, the defense could comfortably play back, thus taking away some base hits on hard hit balls hit to third and first base. The threat of the bunt brings the corners in which increases the batter’s chances of a hit when he does NOT bunt. So you cannot simply recommend that a team never sac bunt with certain batters at the plate in certain situations unless it is patently obvious that a bunt is a poor play because either the batter does not run well (so he has little chance of a hit or ROE) or does not bunt well.

Both Cameron and the readers who agree with him are drinking the same Kool-Aid – that a sac bunt is almost always a poor strategy. That is nonsense. I suggest reading the very long chapter in The Book about sac bunting to see why sac bunting is often correct and most importantly, that it MUST be attempted some percentage of the time, even if that percentage is small, by many batters in many situations, in order to keep the infield from playing so far back that they take away a few base hits that can be had when that same batters does NOT attempt a bunt…

TF12
Member
TF12
2 years 11 months ago

I would have to agree with MGL. I think the worst part is really Beltran’s decision go through with the attempt on that pitch. If he takes the pitch for a ball, on 1-0 the onus is now on the defense to decide how to set up, and from there you can choose to sac, drag, or swing away, in a good count.

And while I prefer to swing away over bunting in most situations, if you don’t ever SAC/Drag I feel like you are basically giving away information to the other team on how to align defensively, and how to sequence pitches knowing there are swings coming.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 11 months ago

You cannot make a game theory argument for bunting to keep the defense from playing a static strategy when the batter can see what strategy the defense is employing before he makes the decision, and only bunt when they’re playing back. Batter has absolute position and defense can’t do anything about it regardless of how often batter bunts when they’re playing up. You can’t treat it like they’re making their decisions at the same time.

Dave
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Dave
2 years 11 months ago

I think the point MGL is making is that if you have the skills to execute a bunt, you should try it once in a while to keep the defense honest next time. Of course you can see where the fielders are at the start of the play, the point is that the batter will have an easier time in future iterations if the defense has to consider the bunt.

But someone must have bunted into a DP this year, which would have to be a worse outcome.

MGL
Guest
MGL
2 years 11 months ago

What Dave said above.

Just because the defense has to play their hand before they see your strategy and you can play your hand after you see their strategy does NOT mean that game theory is not implicated. It still is. In fact, it is particularly important for the defense since it is easy for the offense to act appropriately once they see the offense. And of course, the manager may have to make his decision before he sees the defense.

The defense must play in a way that makes the WE of a bunt exactly equal to the WE of hitting way. Of course that is the optimal strategy only if the offense is planning on acting optimally, which is a big IF.

Now, it may seem like the offense does not have to act in the same way, i.e., bunt and hit away the proper percentage of time such that it would not matter where the defense was playing. It seems like they would always bunt if the defense plays too far back and always swing away if the defense plays too far in (and it doesn’t matter what the offense does if the defense is playing optimally – neither too far in or too far back).

But, that is still NOT the correct strategy and here is why:

Let’s say that the defense plays all the way in expecting a bunt in a certain situation. That is typical in the late innings of a close game with a non-power hitter at the plate. And let’s say that because the defense is playing so far in, that it is clearly correct for the batter not to bunt, but to swing away. Why may it still not be correct for the batter to swing away 100% of the time?

That is because if he does, he will quickly tip off the defense (in this PA, this game, future games, and to all other teams that are playing attention) that he is never bunting and they will stop playing so far in! Of course at that point, the defense WILL start bunting, but eventually the defense will realize that when they play back, you bunt and when they play in, you swing, so you are going to force them to play in an roughly optimal position, which is the worst thing you can do!

In other words, if you always bunt when defenses play too far back and always hit away when defenses play too far in, which seems like the correct thing to do, you will eventually, and probably quickly, force all defense to play optimally against you! That is why you cannot simply respond “appropriately” to the defense’s position. You must still bunt some of the time and hit away some of the time, assuming that there is a “crossover” for that particular batter/pitcher combo in that particular game situation.

What I mean by “crossover” is that in order for a batter to sometimes bunt and sometimes swing away, in some fixed proportion, but obviously executed in a random fashion (and that fixed proportion changes with the count), the WE from bunting and hitting away must cross over one another (for from one being better to the other being better) as the IF moves from all the way in to all the way back. If it does not cross over, e.g. the WE from hitting with the defense playing all the way back is still better than the WE from bunting with the defense playing all the way back, then the batter should always bunt or not. That is probably the case with good hitters and poor/slow bunters, and MAY be the case with poor hitters who are good and fast bunters.

MGL
Guest
MGL
2 years 11 months ago

A couple more things:

It would be correct to simply hit when the defense plays too far up (assuming that the WE from hitting is better than the WE from bunting, of course) and bunt when the defense plays too far back, IF your opponent was an idiot and never learned to adjust his strategy.

Now, the question is, assuming that your opponent is not an idiot, which, in this case, “he” will not be (if you never bunted, teams will NOT still keep playing up anticipating the bunt), of the defense is playing too far up (or too far back), how much should you hit away and how much should you bunt? That depends on 2 things: One, the WE from a bunt and from a hit away with the defense playing where they are, and two, how much they will reconsider and change their position when you don’t always bunt. Generally, you want to nudge the opponent a little towards an optimal strategy, in this case, playing back a little more), but not too much.

Now, to respond to the post below (Occam’s Razor), and I don’t want to respond directly because to me he is a troll, I don’t really know whether it is correct for Beltran to bunt some of the time and if so, how often. I suspect that he is not a “all or nothing” batter (always bunt or always hit away). Almost all batters who have some speed and some bunting ability should sometimes bunt in potential sac bunt situations.

It is just that Cameron’s assertion that it was the “worst bunt of the season” or simply that he should not have bunted is not supported by any evidence whatsoever.

Now whether and how much he should bunt or whether he should bunt at all depends on the WE from bunting and from hitting away versus various defensive positions. None of us knows what those WE’s are, but from my experience at actually looking at the results from various batters, again, I suspect that Beltran should be bunting some of the time, maybe 50%, maybe 10% (the 10% might just be to prevent the defense from playing 100% of the way back, as if he would never, ever bunt).

Now, of course his WE from hitting away depends on his platoon ratio, Greinke’s platoon ratio, the fact that this was the 3rd or 4th time through the order (Beltran’s expected result is going to be much better than the first or second time through the order), etc. I am not going to argue whether his platoon ratio favors his left or right side. That is pretty much a straw man argument.

For the record, the proper answer to a platoon ratio question like this one is a weighted average of his historical numbers regressed toward that of a typical switch hitter of the same natural side. For Beltran, that would be (using OPS platoon ratio):

2013 1.11 (L) 114 PA v. LHP
2012 1.04 (R) 145
2011 1.02 (R) 147
2010 1.44 (R) 172

So his left side is favored this year, his right side is favored a little bit in 2012 and 2011, and his right side is favored a lot in 2010. If we do a simply 2/3/4/5 weighted average (and weighted by PA of course), we get:

(1.44*172*2 + 1.02*3*147 + 1.04*4*145 + .90*5*114) /(172*2+147*3+145*4+114*5)

which is 1.065, which means that his projected platoon ratio very much favors his right side and not his left. So Occam’s Razor below has no idea what he is talking about, at least with respect to Beltran’s expected platoon ratio in that PA against an average RHP (as it turns out, I think that Greinke has a larger than average platoon ratio for a RHP, but I am not sure, which factors into the equation as well). But, as I said, arguing over whether Greinke is “tired” or not or whether Beltran is expected to hit better versus a RH or LH pitcher is a bit of a strawman. Those things (among others) factor into the equation, but are not dispositive as far as whether and how often Beltran should be bunting in that situation.

Occam's Razor Shines
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Occam's Razor Shines
2 years 11 months ago

Love you too, MGL. I appreciate the response, whatever your characterization of my presence.

I have only a finite amount of time to rebut, so I’m afraid I can’t address every point of yours. But two matters deserve mention. Specifically your “two reasons why sac bunts are often correct.”

Your second point first: I concur wholeheartedly with your assertion that a player who runs well and can drop down a good bunt should indeed bunt occasionally as a deterrent to the defense. Force the defense to not play unreasonably deep on the infield. Keep ’em honest, as it were. But.

But these bunts, in order to actually keep the defense from perpetually playing back, must be bunts intended to be hits. Mike Schmidt used to do it, and Steve Garvey too. I laud those types of bunts. A very good hitter, making an out on purpose by sac bunting, however, isn’t going to alter defensive positioning in the future. The infield will simply continue to play at “sac bunt position” in sac bunt situations, and play at normal positioning otherwise.

Your other point, that a sac bunt attempt sometimes results in an error or a hit is a quite valid one…but also disingenuous. Because you leave out the very real possibility that a sac bunt attempt may result in a strikeout. Or a popout, as with Jon Jay in the 8th inning above the LA/StL game. Or a force play. Or even a double play. Or, like last night’s Dodger game, it may result in a rallykilling tag play on Uribe at third base. That’s a lot of possible poor outcomes. And taken together, they occur much much more often than bunt hits/defensive miscues.

And speaking of poor outcomes, I would argue that (as an almost ironclad law) when *trailing* in the 7th inning or later, any out made (by sac bunting or otherwise) that does not in and of itself score a run is a destructive at-bat. If my tone was overly confrontational before, I apologize. But I am confident that actual play-by-play data would prove out the thesis that making outs on purpose when trailing late in games, in order merely to advance runner(s) is a fool’s errand.

Occam's Razor Shines
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Occam's Razor Shines
2 years 11 months ago

Cameron was correct. MGL is mistaken.

MGL is also actively misleading the reader when he argues that “…for the last four years, he (Beltran) has been much better with more power from the right side of the plate.” The difference L/R for Beltran was effectively nonexistent (20-40 points of OPS) both last year and in 2011. Taking the “last four years” as a whole permits MGL to maximally distort the data.

Beltran has not only hit righties well this year, but as Cameron points out Greinke was on his last legs. That HAS to factor in to whether you will give a pitcher an out, no? Christ Almighty, he is the leading power threat on the team, with 19 (now 20, since he homered [off a righty] last night) dingers and he was on a helluva hot streak as he strode to the plate. Hot, like 9 for his last 18, with 6 XBH’s. I do not want him to sac bunt EVER. And I don’t want him bunting for a hit when there’s a runner to be driven in. EVER.

And you want him to make an out. On purpose. Down by multiple runs. Late in the game. Deep sigh. Earl Weaver is weeping in Heaven.

Sac bunts are for pitchers. And for when you’re tied, or leading. Here’s a study for you, MGL: Check the play-by-play data, for this year, for a decade, or for as far as the records go back. Check and see how often the strategy of sac bunting works out, when *trailing* late in games. I’m guessing you’ll find it’s 15-20%, tops.

MGL
Guest
MGL
2 years 11 months ago

It has nothing to do with your tone. It is that you are making shit up and arguing things with someone who does this stuff for a living and wrote a very popular book which has a lengthy chapter about exactly what we are discussing with actual facts and data to support my argument (which merely is that neither you, Cameron, nor I knows how often if at all Beltran should or should not have been attempting a sac bunt in that situation, and that Cameron’s “non-analysis” was both ludicrously simplistic and in many cases, just plain wrong.)

You were clearly wrong about an estimate of Beltran’s likely “true” platoon ratio, which you conveniently failed to address. Just as when my 13 year old son lied about one thing it was extremely likely he was lying about something else, it is likely that you are wrong about many things related to this topic, and not just Beltran’s likely true platoon ratio. Nothing personal, but the way. You are just arguing with the wrong person here pal.

BTW, we don’t KNOW what Beltran’s true platoon ratio is at the current time, but we know the formula for the best estimate, and that formula produces a number which clearly suggests that he is better as a RHB than a LHB. You just pulled the, “He is better as a RHB” out of your ass, supporting your argument with dubious words, such as, “Well he has been better in 2013 from the left side,” which is true, but is accounted for in a weighted career average.

“Your other point, that a sac bunt attempt sometimes results in an error or a hit is a quite valid one…but also disingenuous. Because you leave out the very real possibility that a sac bunt attempt may result in a strikeout.”

Do you know what “disingenuous” means? It means not candid, not sincere, not truthful, or deceptive. I was/am being none of those things. I am a professional baseball researcher who has forgotten more about these things than you will ever know. I literally wrote The Book on sac bunting (along with my 2 equally esteemed colleagues and co-authors). I am a straight shooter. I will never try and mislead anyone with my words or arguments. Never. You apparently know nothing about me. I may be an insufferable ass, but I am never disingenuous. Never.

Here are some numbers:

Early in a game, when the defense typically is agnostic as far as where they play in potential sac bunt situations, batters who attempt a sac bunt reach base safely with no outs 24% of the time! I would hope that that number blows you away. Now, that includes when the count goes to 2 strikes and they swing away and get some hits.

How often do they make out while not advancing a runner(s), including the DP? Around 30% of the time! Also a high number, but as it turns out, that is a better overall result than hitting away.

Late in the game, when the defense typically plays in aggressively, the batter when attempting a sac bunt (and swinging at 2 strikes) only reaches base with no outs around 14% of the time, still a surprisingly high number. They make out and do not advance the runner also around 30% of the time.

Anyway, you don’t have to tell me that batters not only get hits and ROE when they attempt a sac, but they also make outs without advancing the runners! First of all, that is obvious, and second of all, I researched this thing for 2 years and wrote a damn book about it.

You seem to think that it is obvious in your mind that sac bunts are bad, almost regardless of who attempts them. It is much more complex than that. It depends on many factors, many of them quite nuanced. I suggest you read the 22 page chapter in The Book. It goes into painstaking detail about how to analyze the many factors that go into determining when it may or may not be correct to attempt a sac bunt with various type batters in various type situations. You may also want to read the chapter on game theory. That is an important consideration with respect to the decision, as I explained above.

As I already mentioned, simply making an out and advancing a runner or runners is rarely better than hitting away, unless the batter/pitcher matchup is likely to produce a very lean offensive result (such as with a pitcher at bat).

However, we both know that while most managers think that that is a good result, many other things can and do happen when a sac bunt is attempted during an at bat. If there are enough good things that are likely to happen (batter reaches safely with no outs) as compared to the bad things (an out or two and no runner advances), then a sac bunt attempt (not the “sac bunt” itself) is better than a swing away. Obviously the better the batter/pitcher matchup, the more good things we need for the bunt attempt to be correct. But there is simply no way of knowing that a sac bunt is correct or incorrect in a situation like this, unless it is obvious that the batter is a great hitter and a poor or slow bunter/runner, or the batter is a terrible hitter and a good and fast bunter/runner. And even then, the position of the IF, their defensive prowess and a few other things come into play.

From extensively analyzing the data, I have been able to come up with some good rules of thumb, which clearly apply to this situation. You seem like a reasonably intelligent person, so listen close to this. I am not making this shit up. If a batter is a decent bunter and not slow, he probably has to bunt occasionally in sac bunt situations, even if he is a very good hitter. I think that is the case with Beltran in this situation. Why is it so hard to comprehend that? You can’t refute it without extensive data and analysis, and since I am truly an expert in this field, and I have come to my conclusions with extensive data and analysis, if you are a halfway intelligent person, you would accept my assertions on faith, until and unless some other expert refutes them. No one has that I am aware of, to date. In fact, most people in the industry usually defers to me when it comes to sac bunt strategy and analysis! I get paid by major league teams to do this sort of stuff…

MGL
Guest
MGL
2 years 11 months ago

Interestingly, after reading this article:

http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/beltran-bunt-controversy-is-stupid/article_16d38cec-c3d4-5f04-ab9e-56736650aae7.html#.UgJUOqfuIVg.facebook

it appears, according to Beltran, who admitted that he bunted on his own, that he was trying to bunt for a hit and that the third baseman, Uribe, was playing back.

I don’t know 100%, but I am 98% sure that a bunt in that situation, with the third baseman playing back, not to mention the fact that he was trying for a hit and IS a good bunter and reasonably fast, is an excellent play. By that, I mean that it generates a win expectancy (WE) on the average which is higher than if he simply hit away, with Uribe playing back.

Jeremy Sexton
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Jeremy Sexton
2 years 11 months ago

You wrote,

“Down by two, Carlos Beltran played for one run. It worked, and his team still lost.”

He was playing for two runs, not one. If he had been playing for one run, he simply would have tried for a base hit. But he wanted the next base hit to score two runs. The odds of Beltran getting an extra base hit were lower than either Craig or Holliday getting a single base hit to score two runs. The odds of two out of three getting a base hit (which would have been required to score two runs) were lower than either Craig or Holliday getting a base hit to score two. The best chance they had at scoring two runs was by doing exactly what Beltran did. He was smart to put two runners in scoring position while down by two in the 7th with Craig and Holliday coming up.

Occam's Razor Shines
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Occam's Razor Shines
2 years 11 months ago

From the comments section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article you cited, MGL:

“Matheny’s suggestion that people want to do away with bunting is missing the point. The argument against his game strategy is that sac bunting should almost always be reserved for low-OBP players like pitchers. That’s not to say that laying down a bunt has no place in baseball – far from it. It’s appropriate to try to bunt in certain situations, and players who have a knack for bunting for a hit are wise to lay one down every now and then to keep the defense off balance. The sac bunt, however, is basically a free out, and deciding when to use it is an exercise in sports probability just like when a football coach has to decide whether to punt or go for it and whether to take an extra point vs. going for two.

Let me take you through the numbers. The key metrics here can be collected from Expected Run Tables. We know from many years of aggregate situational data that having 1 man on first and 0 out in NL games tends to yield an average of 0.82 runs. When there’s 1 man on second and 1 out, the situation yields an average of 0.65 runs. As long as your hitter has a reasonable chance of getting a hit or a productive out, you should let him swing instead of sacking the runner on 1st into scoring position. Here’s a link to those tables:

http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2006/07/empirical_analy_1.php

For bunts like Beltran’s, the expected runs for 0 out / runners on 1st and 2nd is 1.402. Expected runs with 1 out / runners on 2nd and 3rd is 1.320. So again, the sacrifice was the wrong move given Beltran’s ability as a hitter.

Let’s extrapolate this out and get some specific numbers. Sac bunts tend to work about 60% of the time (i.e., an out advancing the runners). Another 10% of the time will result in a bunt hit, and 30% of the time will end up in an unproductive out. So we can use the expected run tables to calculate the probable runs scored if Beltran lays down a bunt.

10%*2.188 [bunt hit, bases loaded/no out].
+ 60%*1.320 [successful sac bunt, 2nd & 3rd/1 out].
+ 30%*0.863 [unproductive out, 1st & 2nd/1 out].
= 1.27 runs.

On the other hand, let’s say Beltran swings. His OBP is.339, and the probabilities break out as follows:
Single – 18.4%.
2B – 4.6%.
3B – 0.7%.
HR – 4.8%.
BB – 5.1%.
K – 16.9%.
GIDP – 6% (situational batting stat from baseball-reference.com).
For purposes of simplicity, we’ll assume the other 43% are unproductive outs that don’t move the runners – fielders choice, pop-up, etc. We’ll also assume that his singles merely load the bases while his doubles clear them, making our estimate a fair but slightly conservative one.

Our expected run production now becomes:

18.4%*2.188 [bases loaded on single, 0 out].
+ 4.6%*(3+1.054) [3 runs plated on double, 1 on, 0 out].
+ 0.7%*(3+1.285) [3 runs plated on triple, 1 on, 0 out].
+ 4.8%*(4+.455) [grand slam clears bases, 0 out].
+ 5.1%*(3+1.054) [walk, same as single].
+ 16.9%*0.863 [strikes out / 2 on, 0 out].
+ 6%*.358 [double play / runner on 3rd, 2 outs].
+ 43%*0.863 [other outs / 2 on, 0 out].

= 1.45 expected runs.

Therefore, Beltran should not bunt in that situation.”

And then this from another commenter:

“Thanks for the copious information, Jay. Clearly, as you point out, the bunt was — as a general rule, with Beltran up and no one out — poor strategy. But I’d offer two additional reasons why the bunt in this particular instance was *especially* stupid. Yes, stupid. (1)Carlos came to the plate on a terrific hot steak of 9-18 with 6 extra base hits, and (2)Greinke was seemingly laboring too much to retire any batter, much less one of baseball’s best. Zack had walked minor leaguer Adron Chambers to start the inning. Very bad sign for any pitcher, the leadoff walk. Then Greinke got ahead of Matt Carpenter 0-2 before giving up a line single to *him* on his 104th pitch. This was clearly a pitcher on the ropes, facing an excellent hitter near the top of his form.

Let us hope — no, let us pray — that the manager, the nominal boss on the field and in the dugout, has made it crystal clear to his best hitters that this was a VERY counterproductive decision by Beltran, and why.”

Reply if you like, of course. But I’ll be moving along, since the content of the two entries pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter. You’re a fine rhetorician, but I’ll still go with Earl Weaver, also a noted expert in his field. ;)

TF12
Member
TF12
2 years 11 months ago

I’m not sure if I’m reading them correctly but it looks like you have the bases as loaded in a few of those outcomes (2B,3B,HR,BB). I don’t know what effect that would have, if anything significant.

Jeremy Sexton
Guest
Jeremy Sexton
2 years 11 months ago

Occam’s Razor Shines,

Does any of this take into account Craig’s or Holliday’s stats, particularly with runners in scoring position?

Jeremy

MGL
Guest
MGL
2 years 11 months ago

The following batter has some effect on the decision to attempt the bunt or not. In general, if the next batter is a low walk, high average, but non-power guy, then it supports the bunt. Their numbers with runners in scoring position have no bearing since those numbers have no predictive value whatsoever.

MGL
Guest
MGL
2 years 11 months ago

“10%*2.188 [bunt hit, bases loaded/no out].
+ 60%*1.320 [successful sac bunt, 2nd & 3rd/1 out].
+ 30%*0.863 [unproductive out, 1st & 2nd/1 out].”

That would be similar to a poor bunter or a pitcher (pitchers are actually poor bunters only because they don’t reach base very often because they are slow or they don’t run hard and they K a lot when they bunt with 2 strikes).

So, you would expect that result distribution to be worse than swinging away for a good hitter (and probably for an average or even worse hitter).

Again, you are making shit up with those numbers in order to make a point.

On page 249 of The Book, there is actually real data for all non-pitcher bunts combined.

“19.2% (not 10%)*2.188 [bunt hit, bases loaded/no out].
+ 48.4% (not 60%)*1.320 [successful sac bunt, 2nd & 3rd/1 out].
+ 32.4% (not 30%)*0.863 [unproductive out, 1st & 2nd/1 out].”

There are also some DP (4.5%), and a few D (1.2%),T (.1%), and HR (.4%) when the batter swings with 2 strikes (you have to include these in a bunt attempt).

The total with those actual numbers is 1.338, which is still less, perhaps, than Beltran when swinging away in that situation. However, it is close enough for him to sac bunt SOME of the time.

Now, when the IF does not play in expecting a bunt, the numbers are dramatically different.

In The Book, as a proxy for the IF playing somewhat but not all the way in, as well as sac bunt attempts by mostly good and fast bunters, I looked at results of bunt attempts early in a game.

It is this:

“24.7%*2.188 [bunt hit, bases loaded/no out].
+ 41.2%*1.320 [successful sac bunt, 2nd & 3rd/1 out].
+ 34.1% (not 30%)*0.863 [unproductive out, 1st & 2nd/1 out].”

That comes out to 1.378.

With the IF (mostly 3B) playing back, as Beltran indicates it was, that RE would be higher. It would also be higher with an above average bunter and batter with speed.

As well, RE (run expectancy) in close games, when bunts are typically attempted, will understate the value of the bunt since scoring exactly 1 or, in this case, 2 runs, is more important than in a random situation.

Again, the sac bunt attempt by Beltran, especially with 3B playing back, is clearly a play which likely needs to be made some percentage of the time.

Calling it “the worst bunt of the year”, while I realize it is intentional hyperbole, is something I would expect from the worst mainstream sports news sites and not from FG, since it is not even close to being true…

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