Best Bunts of 2010

Most readers of FanGraphs probably understand that as a strategy for scoring runs, bunting is usually a bad idea. There are times when bunting is appropriate: whether for purposes of “game theory” (getting the infield to play further in) or, in certain game situations, to play for the win rather than for overall run expectancy. In other words, while bunts are mostly a bad idea for increasing run expectancy, they can sometimes be a good idea for increasing Win Probability (WPA).

Even with that in mind, it doesn’t seem that teams are exactly getting the message (case in point). In 2010, our data shows that there were 2988 bunts executed, but only 823 of them (just under 28%) resulted in a positive WPA. That number is probably a bit skewed because it doesn’t include bunt attempts that fail (fouled off, etc.), but it does give the general idea. All that being said, bunts do sometimes “work,” so let’s take a look at the 2010’s five most successful bunts as measured by WPA.

5. A.J. Ellis‘ sacrifice bunt that resulted in an error and two runs scored for .268 WPA, putting the Dodgers ahead in the ninth inning on route to their 6-3 win over the hapless Astros on September 12. With runners on first and second and no outs, it doesn’t sound like Ellis was trying to do more than get the runners over (the Dodgers going to pinch-hit for the upcoming pitcher’s spot, and did). But this is why (on rare occasions) bunts work out much better than one would expect, as we’ll see…

4. Craig Counsell‘s walk-off sacrifice bunt for .282 WPA to win it for the Brewers against the Cubs on June 10. It is sad that the best player of our time is going to have to share playing time with Yuniesky Betancourt next season. In the meantime, Counsell’s millions of fans everywhere will always be able to treasure this special moment. Well, mostly it was special because Carlos Gomez is so fast that he was able to go first to third on the bunt, then went home when Xavier Nady‘s throw to third was off-target. But still, Craig Counsell!

3. Howie Kendrick‘s wacky, game-winning ‘bunt fly’ single for .371 WPA to give the Angels a 4-3 walk-off win again Cleveland on April 28. With the game tied, two outs, and runners at the corners, Kendrick said he noticed the infield was playing back. Still, to me this ‘bunt fly’ (in the words of the play log) doesn’t look exactly like what one would want to do. Hey, whatever works.

2. Adam Jones‘ game-winning bunt single for .373 WPA to end the Orioles’ 5-4 extra-innings victory over the Mariners on August 16. What is especially stunning here is that the Orioles had two outs at the time in a tie game. After Nick Markakis‘ leadoff double, Ty Wigginton advanced him to third on a grounder, but Corey Patterson couldn’t do anything with one out. Jones had an up-and-down season in 2010 and hasn’t yet met expectations for stardom, but on this day he noticed that Mariners third baseman Jose Lopez was playing him back, and Jones managed to execute the squeeze for the win.

1. Adam Wainwright‘s bunt for .403 WPA on Aaron Heilman‘s error in the Cardinals’ June 28 6-5 win over the Diamondbacks on June 28. With no outs in the top of the ninth, the Cardinals were down 4-5. After Yadier Molina (!) and Brendan Ryan (!!) singles to put them on first and second, Wainwright came to the plate and bunted. Heilman fielded the ball but threw poorly to third, scoring the pinch-running Jaime Garcia (ah, Tony La Russa) to tie the game and moving Ryan and Heilman to second and third. A big play on an error, but actually not the biggest WPA play of the game. That play would be Skip Schumaker‘s (!!!) game-winning single to win the game later than inning.

Keep in mind that these were the most successful bunts of the season, and that five plays doesn’t tell us anything of general significance about bunting as a strategy. Still, it is interesting to note that four of the plays involved errors, and two of them involved the bunter noticing the infields playing back.

Print This Post

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

25 Responses to “Best Bunts of 2010”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. tangotiger says:

    Good stuff.

    If you remove bunts from pitchers, what percentage had positive WPA?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      That would be the right thing to do, of course… let’s see if I can actually figure out how to do that SQL with the database prior to giving up and going to a three-state fast food eating spree.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Okay… I figured it out without undue anguish. I’m a bit of a drama queen when it comes to confronting my severe limitations when it comes to this stuff.

      Excluding pitchers (assuming my query did it right) the number is 756 for 2161, or about 35%.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Jon E says:

    Could you do a partner piece to this article describing the 5 or 10 worst bunts of the year? That might be interesting as well.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. MikeS says:

    The negative aspects of bunting are usually expressed in terms of WPA or how giving up the out to move the base runner decreases the average number of runs scored in an inning based on well researched data. However, as pointed out, there are game situations where bunting actually makes sense – usually late in a close or tied game where one run may be just as good as 2 or three. I would be curious to know if anybody has looked at whether or not bunting can increase the odds of scoring just one run? Maybe a runner on second with one out is more likely to score than a man on first with no outs even though the average runs in that inning will be less. In the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, additional runs are useless so if a team can increase the frequency of scoring one even if they decrease the frequency of scoring two, three or more than it is a good idea. My statistics classes are old, but I think this would mean one would be the “mode” which would be more useful than the arithmetic mean or median. I realize this is a small subset of bunts but has anybody looked at that?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I don’t have it at hand right now, but I would recommend checking out the chapter on bunting in “The Book.”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • theflash141 says:

      I believe this is exactly what you’re looking for…

      When Is One Run Worth More Than Two?

      Sorry, Google books is the only place I could find the article.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • MikeS says:

        EXACTLY what I was interested in. Thanks!

        So in a tie game, in the ninth, runners on 2nd or 1st and 2nd a bunt is a good play unless a pretty good hitter is up. If down a run, it is almost a wash. Cool.

        The article also does a good job of pointing out that sometimes managers make the right call but get bad results – the opposite of this article.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • tangotiger says:

      WPA is wins, not runs, and it is the correct currency to use. The “one run” thing is captured perfectly and accurately with WPA.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Choo says:

    I believe 1884 was the last time fans were treated to such artful use of the sacrifice-bunt-in-anticipation-of-a-game-ending-error managerial strategy.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • You’re probably joking, but Ned Hanlon’s 1890’s Orioles are generally credited as having been the team that developed the bunt as an offensive weapon. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Baltimore chop”? Those guys.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Choo says:

        I was totally joking, but the Baltimore Chop . . . holy smokes. You gotta love the garbage that passed for excitement during the Deadball Era. Much like the Eskimos and snow, the sheer volume of choppers led to a myriad of terms – Alabaster Blaster, Butcher Ball, Pittsburgh Chopper, Mad Injun, Johnny Appleseed, Juan Pierre, etc. – to categorize subtle differences of the same event.. According to baseball lore (Wikipedia), Wee Willie Keeler once chopped a double off the rock-hard clay in front of home plate. One can only assume bacchanalia ensued.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. delv says:

    thanks, Klaassen. bunts are fun.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. dave O's fan says:

    lol – the baltimore chop, yes siiirrr…..I wish Cesar Izturis would’ve bunted more with runners on, I think he would’ve had better luck instead of actually swinging the bat. He needs to learn this art, hun

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. CircleChange11 says:

    I couldn;t figure out why Wainwright would be batting in the 9th with 2 on …. he was a PH brought in just to bunt.

    That TLR … a damn genius.

    Here’s how to lose a game (for the defense).

    “Adam Wainwright reached on fielder’s choice and error to pitcher (Bunt Grounder). Jaime Garcia scored on error. Brendan Ryan advanced to 3B on error. Adam Wainwright advanced to 2B. Error by Aaron Heilman.”

    “Skip Schumaker reached on fielder’s choice and error to first (Grounder). Brendan Ryan scored on error. Adam Wainwright scored on error. Error by Adam LaRoche.”

    9th inning,3 unearned runs.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • gnomez says:

      Aah, LaRussa…

      I thought this might have something to do with direct results, as I recall Cliff Pennington had a bunt double.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Evan says:

    It didn’t end up doing anything, but Aubrey Huff’s first sacrifice bunt of his entire career in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series was pretty awesome.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. AC_Butcha_AC says:

    I honestly don’t understand how bunts are considered to be a negative thing to do. I found something really interesting… First of all there is a huge discrepancy between the AL and the NL because of pitcher bunts obviously.
    But using the nifty new feature here on the FG leaderboard splits… from 2005-2010 bunting in the AL produced 82.9 wRAA or about +8.3 WAR. just from bunting (!) it gets even more impressive as we take a look at the wRC+ for bunts… well bunts in the AL are fairly rare so the wRAA are excellent. the worst team in that time-frame were the white sox with a wRC+ of 80. the second worst were the twins with 123 (!!!) 12 out of 13 teams had a wOBA above .350 on bunts while 8 teams managed to get over .400!

    In the NL the cummulated amount of wRAA was -37.8 or -3.8 WAR. Only 3 teams managed a wOBA over .350 just one above .400…. 8 teams were bunting for a wOBA under .300…

    wouldn’t it make sense to bunt far more often? or don’t let pitchers bunt at all since the only real difference from the AL are pitchers bunting almost always when at bat what i think is the reason for the negative results of NL bunting.


    Vote -1 Vote +1