Hamilton Bunts, World Gasps

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?




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69 Responses to “Hamilton Bunts, World Gasps”

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  1. josh says:

    He did it in solidarity for Jose Reyes

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  2. TFINY says:

    Also, the third baseman was completely off the base, with the huge shift. Had he gotten it towards third, and not straight at the pitcher, he would have had an easy base hit. That was good game theory, and the current clip visible on mlb.com simply doesn’t show it that way. The move was certainly defensible via the positioning of the Rays.

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    • jklender says:

      Yes, in his own words (and those of every other player whenever questioned about a bunt attempt), he was trying to “get something going.”

      …With a bunt. Down eight runs. Hence, the article above.

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      • TFINY says:

        I’m not saying that it was wise, but the WPA was not actually -.06, because he was far more likely to get on base than was assumed. It is far more likely that the move (while ill-advised) was actually a positive WPA.

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      • JDanger says:

        The WPA of the event measures the effect of the result, not the likelihood of it’s success beforehand.

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      • jklender says:

        I’m not saying that it was wise, but the WPA was not actually -.06, because he was far more likely to get on base than was assumed. It is far more likely that the move (while ill-advised) was actually a positive WPA.

        Had he successfully bunted for the hit, it would have been positive. But I think Noah was pretty clear that this is more about a slugger voluntarily minimizing his potential WPA from the plate appearance.

        Hamilton, while avoiding a double play, created an out while negating any possibility for advancing the runner further, scoring the runner, or even scoring himself as well. He deserves credit for trying to take advantage of an opportunity the defense presented him, however he failed to recognize that doing so actually played into the Rays’ hands.

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      • TFINY says:

        Then I am confused. I thought WPA was context independent? How could (no matter what the score) getting someone on base lower the WPA? Unless the process of bunting had a negative WPA (which makes sense, as it is often a bad idea) how could successfully getting a hit equal a negative WPA?

        The only thing I can think of is if a sacrifice bunt would have been negative. That makes sense, but Hamilton was not trying to sac, he was trying to reach safely due to the misaligned defense.

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      • UmYeah says:

        WPA is completely context dependent. All it does is take into account the result of the play, not the intentions behind it, relative to the current score. Whether Hamilton was trying to bunt for a hit or not is irrelevant. The fact is that he got out, lowered his team’s run expectancy for the inning, and thereby lowered their chances of winning.

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      • JDanger says:

        [quote]How could (no matter what the score) getting someone on base lower the WPA?[/quote]

        You are confused. If Hamilton had reached first, the WPA would have been positive, yes. But WPA is a measurement of the outcome. And in the context which he did it, moving a runner to second and making an out cost the Rangers -.006 of a Win.

        Bunting has nothing to do with it. If he had grounded out or flied out and the runner similarly advanced to second the WPA is still -.006. WPA doesn’t care how you did it, it just cares what the base/out/run state is afterward.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        The article states:

        a play that — if executed perfectly — would actually hurt his team’s probability of winning.

        If he was trying to bunt for a base hit, that’s simply not true. The WPA would be the same as if he hit a single or got a walk. If the third baseman was really a non-factor, the only question should be how likely he was to get on base via bunt vs. how likely he was to get on base via swinging. The score of the game was such that we shouldn’t bother to worry about the fact that swinging could lead to extra bases. When you’re down by 8 runs, it’s really just a matter of not-making-outs.

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    • Jeffrey says:

      “ad he gotten it towards third, and not straight at the pitcher, he would have had an easy base hit.”

      You assume too much.

      The guy never bunts and bunting — even for those who do it often — isn’t easy.

      That’s like saying, “oh, why doesn’t he just ground it to that side to get an easy base hit?” Again, easier said than done.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      I agree. We so often conflate bunting with sacrificing, I think the sabermetric crowd way underrates bunting for a base hit. If there’s no 3Bman and the batter is capable, a bunt should be the first thing on his mind. Having said that, I wouldn’t assume Hamilton is a capable bunter. He’s got 1 other bunt attempt in his career, and it was also an out/sacrifice.

      http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y142/jduncliffe/800px-Pronkshift.jpg
      How can you ever not bunt against a shift like that?

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  3. Ron W. says:

    Cocaine is a helluva drug.

    +23 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. J. says:

    I think the Rangers were playing to win the series, not the game. If they can cause the Rays to adjust their defensive alignments for the rest of the series when Hamilton is at the plate, they may be able to derive an advantage. Obviously, down 8 isn’t the end of the world, but here I think Texas was playing more for tomorrow than for today.

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    • jklender says:

      I can only imagine Joe Maddon’s reaction to such a ploy being to steadfastly maintain his defensive strategy in the hopes that Hamilton repeats nullifying himself as often as possible.

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    • Ty says:

      They weren’t playing to win the game? Then apparently the Rangers were watching Spongebob a few nights ago while the Rays came back from down 7 runs in the 8th inning to win it.

      YOU PLAY. TO WIN. THE GAME.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        Oh come on, you know exactly what he means. Given the circumstances, it’s LIKE they aren’t playing to win. Obviously, everyone is out there trying very hard, but when people make stupid decisions like that, they might as well be barely trying.

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      • Tizzelino says:

        HELLO!

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        You’re thinking of the Yankees starters, they did have spongebob on in the clubhouse.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      If your explanation were correct, the strategy would be even more bizarre than it seems to be on the surface–perhaps the most bizarre strategic move in the history of baseball.

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  5. midgley's folly says:

    “It is extremely rare for a manager to call a play that, if executed to perfection, would actually hurt his team’s probability of winning.”

    braves’ fans beg to differ.

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    • ObsidianXIII says:

      White Sox fans too. It was one of the most frustrating parts of Ozzie’s managing.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      But, even with the bases loaded and one out, if it’s not the 8th inning Venters shouldn’t come in. It’s not his inning. No no, if it’s the 6th, that’s more of a Scott Proctor inning. Let him come in and serve up some meat-wagon garbage. That’s the right call. Who cares if we go from being up by 1 to down by 3, the 8th is the only time Venters is allowe to pitch.

      -Freddi Gonzalez in his new book “How I Took a Playoff Team and F!!!ed Everything Up”

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    • BlackOps says:

      “Bunting is gangsta!”

      -Jerry Manuel

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    • Adam says:

      This was the first thing I thought when I read the statement too: anyone who watched the Braves this year knows that a manager can and often does hurt his team by calling for a bunt. Actually, I’d be willing to bet managers lower their team’s win expectancy all the time in such ways.

      I yearn for a statistic that actually estimates/measures a managers’ impact upon his team–something combining the win expectancy of his aggregate decisions–so we can at least put to rest this notion that managers make little difference. I watched well over a hundred Braves games this season, and I can tell you first hand that certain managers call plays all the time that “actually hurt [their] team’s probability of winning.”

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    • jim says:

      every single thing jim tracy does actually hurts the rockies’ chances of winning a game.

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  6. Black_Rose says:

    ” why do scouts use a scale ranging from 20-80″

    SAT/and the scoring of the old LSAT, I guess. I was “plus-plus” on the SAT verbal.

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  7. Mike B. says:

    Just saw the new Marlins logo. Looks like the 998th best submission (out of 1000 entries) for the World of Big Game Fishing Olympics from 1986.

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  8. Kampfer says:

    Moore is having no-hit stuff today, which I think is why Hamilton decided to bunt. If you watched the game, both pitchers were being squeezed, especially Moore(because he pitches around the zone) but he still managed to go 6SO 2BB……he really is some pitcher.

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  9. RobMer says:

    I think it’s likely he was bunting for a base hit. He figured it’s the last thing anyone would be expecting and it might increase his team’s chances of getting another runner on base and get a big inning going.

    Or, he lost his mind!

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  10. joe says:

    Is there even a question he was bunting for a hit (and on his own)?

    He was trying to get on base, down 8 runs with a shift on with the 3rd baseman over at SS. It was a bad decision to do it because he obviously doesn’t appear to have much skill at it, but I can’t believe there is an article looking at WPA of a sac bunt and asking whether his manager ordered it and trying to determine the wisdom of a sac bunt.

    Also keep in mind this is a gifted hitter,but not necessarily the highest baseball IQ.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • utb says:

      Exactly. Writing an article discussing the WPA of a sac bunt when a player was obviously trying to get on base is misguided.

      If he popped out, the WPA would be the same. If he grounded out, the WPA would be the same.

      It was not a bad move, just poor execution. He knew that he had to bunt immediately if he showed (element of surprise is gone after showing). Unfortunately, the pitch bunted was 6 inches inside. Had the pitch been anywhere over the middle of the plate or outside, I have no doubt that Hamilton has the skill to get a bunt down.

      Either way, analyzing a bunt as a sacrifice when it was obviously an attempted hit seems like a rather pointless exercise.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      If Washington called the move, Hamilton would have thrown him under the bus.

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    • RetroRob says:

      Agreed.

      The author was trying to look at every possible reason for the bunt than the most obvious: He was trying to get on base!

      I mean, really, the more I think about it, the article is actually pretty insulting to readers.

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  11. Josh Hamilton says:

    I was trying to be a trickster; I just forgot that I suck at bunting….

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  12. Ben says:

    It really was stupid. I don’t care where the 3b was positioned, it was indefensible.

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  13. jimmy1138 says:

    One should be rather worried about Hamilton committing an inexcuseable baserunning error…

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  14. Jason says:

    Hamilton was obviously bunting for a hit. Down big late in games, the most important thing a hitter can do is not make an out. Hamilton obviously thought that his best chance of getting on base was bunting against the shift instead of swinging away against an apparently tough pitcher.

    There is absolutely no evidence Josh Hamilton was wrong. Just because it didn’t work out, doesn’t mean it wasn’t the correct thing to do. What if Hamilton had an 80% chance of getting on base that way and he just happened to come up 20%?! We have no idea what Hamilton’s real chance of getting on base was because we have no sample and no history to reference.

    This article reeks of “I’m smarter than you”, and the irony is that Josh Hamilton may very well be the smart one here. Outsmarted by Josh Hamilton? Ouch!!!

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    • Matt says:

      Thank you.

      Can someone make MGL’s articles on the Yankees’ postseason bunts from a couple of years back mandatory reading?

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  15. Richie says:

    This is an awful premise. Unless you’ve got a large sample size of players trying to bunt for a hit against a shift, WPA has no business being within a light-year of this discussion.

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    • Jason says:

      Even with such a sample, WPA is irrelevant because it measures outcome and not likelihood of success.

      This is just a misguided exercise in smugness.

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      • Jason says:

        Actually,

        I am wrong. WPA is pertinent, but only when devalued by the likelihood of success.

        What the player should do in any given situation is a function of the value of the various possible outcomes and of the likelihood of success of each of those outcomes. The player should choose the option that maximizes the product of these two things.

        In the case of Hamilton:

        Bunting for a hit = (chance of success X WPA if successful) + (chance of walk when attempting to bunt X WPA of walk) – chance of double play while bunting X WPA of double play)

        Swinging away = (Chance of HR X WPA of HR) + (Chance of 3B X WPA of 3B) + (Chance of 1B X WPA of 1B) + (Chance of BB + WPA of BB) – (chance of double play X WPA of double play)

        This assumes that the player takes the same approach towards a HR, single, double, triple, walk. This is an oversimplification because players often change their approach during at bats dependent on the count, the number of outs, and the number and position of base runners.

        In Hamilton’s situation, assuming he had a much higher likelihood of getting on base by bunting against the shift (surely Hamilton believed this), bunting may very well have been the thing to do.

        If anyone is interested, it is probably possible to plug in an estimate of the values for many of these things. We could then figure out what the necessary likelihood of success for bunting Hamilton would need in order to justify his decision.

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  16. 1boy says:

    300 words and not one mention of matt moore?

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  17. CircleChange11 says:

    I wouldn’t bunt with Hammy, but there are a few comments at FG about how Howard, Ortiz, etc should bunt in shift situations to increase their teams expected runs. This is all contigent on the player actually being able to bunt it where he wants to.

    As for the comment of Moore being squeezed. I saw him get a 3-pitch K on an 0-2 pitch in off the plate where the likely purpose of the pitch was to back the hitter off. Later on Napoli swung at what resembled a 1-2 pitchout.

    Texas and Ron Washington are not reputed to be all that smart. Think back to last year and their non usage of Feliz.

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  18. Matt says:

    Yes, we all know by now that a successful sacrifice lowers your run expectancy in most cases.

    Either Hamilton and/or Washington are complete morons, or he was bunting for a hit. And you know what? It’s hard to believe that even the dumbest of the dumb would be playing for one run when down 8-0 late.

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  19. cpebbles says:

    If he was bunting for a hit, why did he square around so early? If that’s how he bunts for a hit, he should stop trying.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      It’s possible that he was bunting for a hit while squaring around early. If you think about it a little more, you’ll get it.

      He would get a hit on a bunt due to the position of the fielders, not due to the element of surprise + speed.

      All he has to do to reach 1B is get it down and have it be on the 3B side of the mound.

      In a regular “bunt for hit” moment, you’re using surprise (late square around) + speed (also given the initial motion).

      Two completely different scenarios.

      Josh Hamilton could reasonably get a bunt for a hit in that situation by squaring around early.

      Is the 3B, playing near SS really going to charge the plate on that situation?

      Secondly, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Josh Hamilton doesnot know how to bunt for a hitting using the same mechanics as Juan Pierre. I’m also going to guess that the last time Hamilton was asked to bunt he was 11yo.

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  20. cpebbles says:

    Seriously, the video is up on mlb.com. Go look at it and tell me that it was not a sacrifice bunt. He squared around at the start of Moore’s delivery and didn’t even attempt to put it on the third base side of the infield.

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    • KDL says:

      What other thoughts did you read from Josh Hamilton’s head during the game? Unless you have some other explanation as to how you KNOW he didn’t attempt to put it on the 3rd base side. Judging what someone intends on the result is idioitic. It’s like saying Miguel Cabrera isn’t attempting to get a hit 66% of the time, because he gets out.

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  21. Phantom Stranger says:

    I watch a lot of Rangers games, Washington does these crazy, aggressive moves all the time when the offense is scuffling. Usually it comes on the bases, bunting is typically reserved for the weaker hitters like Gentry as a tactic. Though Hamilton is very fast down the line, and if he had just pushed the ball a little more towards third would have had a good chance for a hit.

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  22. Justin says:

    @cpebbles,

    This should be obvious, but there’s no reason not to square around early when the third baseman is at short.

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  23. KDL says:

    I’m gonna be intentionally hyperbolic, so bear with me…

    If anyone should understand an attempt to merely get on base, it’s the sabermetric basement dwellers whose calculators tell them a walk is better than a home run!

    It’s pretty obvious he was trying to get on base. More baserunners = greater likelihood to score. It’s really that simple.

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  24. sheath1976 says:

    I think bunting was a decent idea, particurally with a lefty on the mound. I don’t know why more lefthanded sluggers (especially those with the speed of Josh Hamilton) don’t perfect pushing bunts down the third base line. As a Red Sox fan I have been watching David Ortiz for years and the shifts teams employ on him cut his batting average down (lots of loud outs to the 2B/short right fielder). Pushing some bunts down the third base line would force other teams to play a more honest defense and help his on base potential overall. Given where Longoria was positioned and the prowess of the hitters behind Hamilton it was defensible move. If he reaches you have two men on with less then 2 outs and four righthanded power bats coming up behind him in Beltre, Cruz, Young, Napoli. I’m gonna assume he was bunting to get on and not sacrafice.

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  25. stratobill says:

    This article is a perfect example of why so many people don’t care for sabrematics. The author applies a tool (WPA) and concludes that the player (Hamilton) hurt his team’s chances to win. The author fails to recognize that the WPA for a sacrifice bunt doesn’t apply to this situation, because the WPA for a sacrifice bunt does not take into consideration 1) the surprise element, 2) the positioning of the fielders, and 3) Hamilton’s speed.

    Anyone with a little common baseball sense would realize that Hamilton was bunting for a hit in this situation. To assume otherwise is to assume that a man who has played baseball since he was 7 years old doesn’t understand the importance of not making an out when your team is 8 runs down. Does the author REALLY believe that he knows more about baseball tactics than Josh Hamilton??

    And to those who point out that Hamilton hasn’t bunted much in the majors I say, so what? I’ll bet he’s taken thousands of practice bunts in his lifetime and is perfectly capable of bunting well.

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  26. Bill says:

    He was bunting for a hit, and it was an awful attempt. No problem with the strategy, just the execution.

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