Dropping One Down Before Hitting a Homer

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of hanging out with most of the rest of the FanGraphs crew in Arizona. As part of our annual festivities, we make sure to check out a couple spring training games, in part for fun and in part out of sensed obligation. This year we hauled ourselves to the new Cubs Park and also to Salt River Fields. During an inning break at the former, the scoreboard showed a video segment with Len Kasper who explained the concept of replacement level. But I want to talk a bit about the latter: At Salt River Fields, on Saturday, we watched some of the Angels take on some of the Rockies.

Mike Trout hit a super-long home run to dead-center. That’s the thing that stood out the most. The thing that stood out the second-most, though, was an at bat that featured Matt Long. I’d never heard of Matt Long before, and at the time of the at bat, I didn’t know his first name. He wasn’t even supposed to be playing — he was inserted in place of Brennan Boesch, who had earlier been ejected for what looked like nothing. Long would hit three times, but it was his first plate appearance that was by far the most intriguing. And not simply because it wasn’t supposed to happen.

For one thing, Long actually batted in the top of the fourth, kind of. But with two down, Chris Iannetta was caught stealing, so Long had a chance to bat again in the fifth. In the top of the fifth, Long tried to bunt his way on:

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That didn’t work. With two strikes, Long was almost punched out looking:

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Then Long swung and very nearly doubled:

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Instead, it was just a longer strike. In a sense, Long was so unlucky! But actually it turns out he was lucky, because:

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Matt Long wasn’t supposed to play. In his first at bat, he almost bunted, then he almost struck out, then he almost doubled, then he homered against a decent major-league pitcher. I’m looking at Long’s numbers. Career minor-league OBP of .370. More than 100 steals. Exactly 50 triples and exactly 50 homers. Interesting profile. I know who Matt Long is now.

I didn’t think a lot about the at bat the rest of the game, but it managed to creep its way back into my consciousness. In the days that followed, I cared less about the called ball, and less about the long foul. Long hit a home run a short while after he tried to drop down a bunt. It seemed to me that was pretty unusual. It seemed to me that was something I could research using PITCHf/x data.

See, PITCHf/x keeps track of foul bunts and missed bunts, going back to 2008. So I was confronted by a basic question: What’s the recent history of guys homering in at bats in which they also tried to bunt? This is probably the first FanGraphs post inspired by Matt Long. This might be the first post inspired by Matt Long anywhere, ever. But the whole point of spring training for guys like Long is to make people notice, and here we are.

Note that this misses home runs in at bats in which the hitter showed bunt and pulled back. This is about home runs in at bats in which the hitter committed to trying to drop one down. This is about home runs in at bats in which the hitter did a bunt wrong. We have six years of data, stretching back to 2008. Counting only the regular season and the playoffs, I was able to find 159 instances, or about 27 a year. Because I’m only counting meaningful baseball, Matt Long’s homer doesn’t qualify, but it’s not like Long can complain about going unmentioned.

I found 23 players who have done this exactly twice. Here are the players to have done it three times:

Here are the players to have done it four times:

Here’s the player to have done it five times:

And the guy to have done it six times:

Tulo pulled it off twice in 2009. He’s done it once a year since. By this measure, in the past six seasons, Troy Tulowitzki is the king of something he’s probably not thought about. I’ll note the following inside-the-park home runs, which I didn’t exclude:

Now, there’s another level to this. There have been 159 instances in which a batter homered after failing at a bunt. And out of those, there have been seven instances in which a batter homered after trying and failing to bunt twice. Ryan Langerhans did it in 2008. Ben Zobrist did it 13 days later. Colby Rasmus did it in 2009. Michael Martinez did it in 2011. Allen Craig did it later in 2011. Two guys did it last year.

On July 6, the Astros played a strange game against the Rangers — in that the Astros beat the Rangers, despite playing on the road and despite facing Yu Darvish. In the top of the eighth, with the score 7-5 Houston, Jake Elmore batted against Tanner Scheppers with a man on first and no one out. The first pitch was a fastball, which Elmore bunted:

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The second pitch was a fastball, which Elmore bunted:

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The third pitch was a curveball that Elmore watched. The fourth pitch was a curveball that Elmore didn’t watch:

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It was the first major-league home run of Elmore’s career. He returned to a dugout that was all full of smiles, even from the manager, because you’re forgiven for blowing the fundamentals if you hit a home run. Elmore probably can’t make a habit of this, but at least he started off on this foot.

Now fast-forward to October. On Oct. 7, the Dodgers hosted an National League Division Series game against the Braves, and it was in this game that the Braves were eliminated. It didn’t have to be that way — the Braves took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth, having survived a short-rest start from Clayton Kershaw and a full-rest start from Freddy Garcia. In the bottom of the eighth, Juan Uribe batted against David Carpenter with a man on second and no one out. The first pitch was a slider, which Uribe bunted:

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The second pitch was a fastball, which Uribe bunted:

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The third pitch was a fastball that Uribe watched. The fourth pitch was a slider that Uribe watched. The fifth pitch was a slider that Uribe didn’t watch:

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In a flash, the Dodgers went ahead. And in a flash, the TV feed cut to the Atlanta bullpen.

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Kenley Jansen slammed the door and the Braves were done. Uribe was the game’s biggest hero, after failing — twice — to do what many would consider to be incredibly simple. Of course, it’s not that simple, and I think that’ll be the subject of another post. But on the first two pitches of an important plate appearance, Juan Uribe screwed up the fundamentals. A few pitches later, he delivered one of the biggest hits of the Dodgers’ 2013 season. It isn’t hard to earn forgiveness for unwelcome mistakes. All you have to do is literally the very best thing.

Oftentimes, bunting is the wrong idea. But sometimes bunting is the right idea. In some of these instances, bunting might have been the right idea. Hitting a homer was even better. Usually it’s a good idea to hit a homer. I hope you were sitting down for that.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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tz
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tz
2 years 3 months ago

Would it be too much oversimplifying to say that pitches today have way more movement, on average, than pitches many years ago?

I mean, not that Uribe’s technique was impeccable, but those two pitches from Carpenter had late movement in opposite directions. This has to make it much more difficult to place a bunt.

ljc
Guest
ljc
2 years 3 months ago

I had a coach in college who encouraged me to try to bunt for base hits (a) because I wasn’t very good at hitting but also (b) because he said at the least it would help me see the ball better, even if I failed to get the bunt down. Not sure this is true, but I at least find it an interesting concept, that somehow squaring up and watching the ball all the way to the bat helps a hitter see the ball in subsequent pitches. Perhaps someone smarter than me could do research into this and see how hitters do on pitches in at-bats after failing to get a bunt down.

JJK
Member
JJK
2 years 3 months ago

I was thinking about this concept while reading “The Book” by Tom Tango. The Book essentially justifies bunting–well, more so than you would think a sabermetrics baseball book would–not based on the outcome of the bunt itself, but based on the outcome of at bats in which the player attempted to bunt. In some of these instances, the player failed to bunt and sunsequently hit a home run (or singled, ROE, etc).

The run expectancy of those at-bats is significantly higher than the run expectancy of the bunt itself. However, the authors implied from this fact that bunting wasn’t that bad. I couldn’t help but think they got this completely wrong; these players homered despite the fact they (likely) wasted a strike bunting, not because of it.

(I’m also surprised how often it’s happened since 2008. I recall the HR% of ABs with bunt attempts to be slightly less than 1%. Now that I’m writing this, and realizing how many bunt attempts there must have been over the last 6 years, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.)

Padraic
Guest
Padraic
2 years 3 months ago

That slider to Uribe is one of the great hangers of all-time. I think he was putting his hands in the air as soon as it came out of Carpenter’s hand.

Evan
Guest
Evan
2 years 3 months ago

Jeff,

How many of the 159 HRs occurred with 1 strike rather than 2?

I’m thinking in terms of pitch selection for situations where the defensive team might think the batter is bunting vs. situations where it likely assumes the batter is swinging away.

AdamJ
Guest
AdamJ
2 years 3 months ago

Vin Scully’s call of Uribe’s home run is pretty awesome. Aaron Gleeman posted it back in October after it happened.

http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/10/08/wanna-hear-vin-scully-call-juan-uribes-homer/

eelz
Guest
eelz
2 years 3 months ago

i thought this was going to be about pooping

Manny Ramirez
Guest
Manny Ramirez
2 years 3 months ago

I dropped one down behind the Green Monster before leading off an inning.

Does that count?

Jim Kelley
Member
Jim Kelley
2 years 3 months ago

Highly entertaining piece, I’m amazed that it happens this often. Why would you ever ask Tulo, Carlos Gonzalez or Corey Hart to bunt? Speedsters like Jones and Gomez make more sense.

Catoblepas
Guest
Catoblepas
2 years 3 months ago

This whole piece reads like an argument against bunting. These guys tried, and failed, to give away an out in order to move up a runner. Denied of the opportunity to do so, they instead hit a home run.

MDL
Member
MDL
2 years 3 months ago

…the Braves took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth, having survived a short-rest start from Clayton Kershaw and a full-rest start from Freddy Garcia.

Awesome.

Peter Jensen
Guest
Peter Jensen
2 years 3 months ago

Jeff – The data on missed and foul bunts is not from Pitch Fx, but has been collected by Gameday and included in Retrosheet at least as far back as 2000. From 2000 to 2007 there were another 194 instances of bad bunt good homer at bats. I would not have guessed that the number was as high as it is.

Evan – The number with 1 strike in the data that I have from 2000 through 2011 is 121 of 299 or just over 60%.

AC
Guest
AC
2 years 3 months ago

Surely I couldn’t have been the only one reminded of this FJM piece while reading this post?

http://www.firejoemorgan.com/2008/05/this-has-to-be-joke-part-deux.html

Aaron Trammell
Guest
Aaron Trammell
2 years 3 months ago

Should’ve put a trigger warning on that Juan Uribe gifs for the Braves fans.

The Dude Abides
Guest
The Dude Abides
2 years 3 months ago

Bunting with a guy on 2B and nobody out is so stupid, much worse than with runners at 1B and 2B. There’s significant risk of getting the lead runner either thrown out at 3B or getting picked off 2B, and then you don’t have a runner in scoring position anymore. I also have a feeling, despite what Fredi said at the time, that if Uribe had bunted successfully, then Fredi would have brought in Kimbrel with one out and a runner on 3B. Donny really lucked out there, after already having given away Game 2 with his managerial blunders.

Matt Long
Guest
Matt Long
2 years 3 months ago

I’m not even supposed to be here today!

Jonah Pemstein
Member
Member
2 years 3 months ago

Uribe’s batflip…

Ja4ed
Member
Ja4ed
2 years 3 months ago

I’ll never forget Matt Long.

In May 2010, I planned a trip to Peoria, IL to watch the Chiefs host the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The reason I planned to go when the Kernels were in town was to see the future best player in baseball, Mike Trout.

Trout was an 18 year old destroying the Midwest League. I wanted to see him kick ass all over the field. I arrived at the park and got my seat behind home plate. I bought a beer and sat down, ready for the first pitch.

During warmups, before the first inning, I noticed the leadoff batter was swinging left-handed. I thought to myself, “I didn’t know Mike Trout was left-handed.”

The Peoria pitcher was ready and the leadoff batter was announced. “Leading off and playing CF for the Kernels, Matt Long.”

Matt EFFING Long. What a letdown.

sausagemcbiscuit
Guest
sausagemcbiscuit
2 years 3 months ago

The one that will always stand out for me(as an Angels fan) was when Adam Kennedy tried laying down a bunt in the ALCS vs Minnesota. They were trailing 5-3 in the 7th and had runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs. Kennedy tried laying down a sacrifice bunt to move them over…this after he had already homered TWICE earlier in the game. Failed to get the bunt down, ends up hitting his 3rd HR of the game(off Johan Santana) for a game changing 3 run HR that gave the Halos a 6-5 lead that would turn into a 13-5 drubbing that would send them to the WS

Roy J
Guest
Roy J
2 years 3 months ago

I felt like I just read a post that made the most important discovery in human history. Kudos to Jeff Sullivan.

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