Baseball is a game of mysteries: Who invented the game? Why do scouts use a scale ranging from 20 to 80? And what were the Marlins thinking when they chose their new team logo?
Yet these mysteries are but mere blips on the proverbial radar when compared to what happened tonight. It was the first game of the ALDS — and following an Elvis Andrus walk — Josh Hamilton dug in with no outs, down by eight runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. And then did the unthinkable.
Josh Hamilton bunted.
This makes no sense at all. The bunt resulted in a WPA of -.006. This is a very small change in win expectancy, but the move itself is by no means trivial. It’s extremely rare for a manager to call a play that — if executed perfectly — would actually hurt his team’s probability of winning. It’s even more noteworthy given the fact that this wasn’t simply one game of 162; no, this was game one of the ALDS — Texas’s first game on its road to redemption. To make matters worse, WPA assumes that the bunt was performed by an average player, not a superstar. Not only did the bunt hurt the Rangers from a base-state standpoint, but it also took the bat out of its best hitter’s hands.
I could argue that Hamilton, when healthy, is in a league of his own. We’re talking about a player with a career .387 wOBA. Hamilton was also the second most “clutch” player in the game this year. Whether you believe in clutch being predictive or not, having this particular player bunt while staring at an eight-run deficit is still quite the head-scratcher.
Take advanced metrics out of the argument and the bunt is still baffling. At the most elementary level, when a team is down big late in a game, players don’t want to make outs — much less give them away. The only reasonable explanation is that Hamilton intended to bunt for a base hit — something he’s never successfully done in his major-league career. But then the ball went right to the pitcher.
If that was what Hamilton could muster, then he should never be asked to bunt again.
In the end, the bunt didn’t change the outcome of the game. But I’m curious to know what really happened. Did Hamilton put that down on his own? Was he sacrificing? Did the dugout send him a signal? Or did everyone just go momentarily crazy?