It’s no secret that there are some differences between the numbers posted on FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Even though, in theory, they’re measuring the same things, not everything is black and white, so differences are unavoidable so long as the two sites draw data from different sources. The most well-known case is probably how FanGraphs’ WAR has been different from Baseball-Reference’s WAR. But there are other, less visible cases where the numbers don’t quite match up.
One such case was brought to my attention Monday morning by colleague Carson Cistulli, whose last name I apparently still haven’t added to my Firefox browser dictionary. The idea wasn’t to suggest something had to be written; the idea was to suggest, if something were to be written, it would be written by me. Below, please find the rest of this post.
The case to be examined:
Baseball-reference says Andy Dirks had 8 bunts last year.FanGraphs says he had 7 bunts.
— Jeff Roberts (@EyeOnTigers) March 11, 2013
We have, according to one source, eight bunt attempts by Andy Dirks in 2012. We have, according to another source, seven bunt attempts by Andy Dirks in 2012. Eight is not the same number as seven (math reference), so this does indeed seem like a thing worthy of an investigation. You are not obligated to follow along so if this does not interest you in the least, please leave. It isn’t about to get any better.
Our first step is to confirm the numbers tweeted. Here, we do indeed see Baseball-Reference crediting Dirks with eight bunt attempts. Here, we do indeed see FanGraphs crediting Dirks with seven bunt attempts. So far, so good.
It’s curious, then, to see a difference, because bunt attempts shouldn’t be ambiguous. When a hitter attempts a bunt, everybody tends to know it was a bunt, and there isn’t question as to what just took place. A bunt looks very different from a swing. Were I capable of raising one eyebrow, one eyebrow would be raised.
Our next step is to cross-check our bunts. We can do this using FanGraphs’ game logs and Baseball-Reference’s Play Index. Baseball-Reference includes all seven Dirks bunts that show up on FanGraphs. Now we know we’re looking for just one missing bunt. These seven bunts in common took place on:
- April 14
- May 27
- August 22
- August 26
- September 11
- September 19
- September 20
We’re left with just one bunt that shows up on Baseball-Reference that doesn’t show up on FanGraphs. This bunt took place on May 15, when FanGraphs credited Dirks with three grounders and two flies, including one infield fly. This is our game to examine. Here’s the Baseball-Reference box score, and if you scroll down to the sixth inning, you find:
A. Dirks W. Ohman Foul Bunt Popfly: C (Behind Home)
Baseball-Reference thinks Dirks popped up a bunt. FanGraphs thinks Dirks just popped up. Gameday thinks Dirks popped up a bunt. Our final, hopefully conclusive step is to go to the video. For the Tigers, this was a wacky inning, with eight runs, three dingers, and two hit batters. Dirks led off the inning with a single. He batted again after the third dinger and went after the first pitch from Will Ohman. Would we see Dirks bunt, as Baseball-Reference claims, or would we see Dirks pop out, as FanGraphs claims?
Our answer is “yes”. Yes, Andy Dirks bunted or didn’t. Andy Dirks did many of the things associated with a bunt, and he also did many of the things associated with a swing. Here, we see Dirks looking like he’s trying for a bunt:
Here, we see Dirks with a follow-through, which is an unusual bunting characteristic:
Andy Dirks attempted a butcher boy, or a slash bunt, or whatever you want to call it. “Slash bunt” has bunt right in the name, but “butcher boy” doesn’t, and the fact of the matter is that this is a matter most ambiguous indeed. It was a half-bunt and a half-swing, and two different sources took two different sides. Neither of them is absolutely right, and so neither of them is absolutely wrong.
However, of note: some weeks ago, I wrote about 2012’s bunt doubles. Juan Pierre was given credit, on FanGraphs, for a bunt double on a butcher boy much like Dirks’ above. So given two butcher boy examples, FanGraphs thinks one was a bunt and one was not a bunt. It isn’t fair to say that, based on the Pierre example, Dirks must be given a bunt, because you could just as easily say based on the Dirks example, Pierre must not be given a bunt. It shouldn’t come as a shock that FanGraphs disagrees with itself, because we’re mired in the gray area. If you can’t classify something for sure, then, without a set policy, sometimes it will be classified as X, and sometimes it will be classified as Y.
We’ve identified, for Andy Dirks in 2012, the questionable bunt. It turns out to be a questionable bunt, which is why this mystery remains only partially solved. Me, I’d personally lean toward considering these to be bunt attempts, but I understand the opposite argument. This is not an open-and-shut case, and even if a scorer policy were to be enacted, it would forever be a policy with which some people disagreed. And about which the overwhelming majority of people wouldn’t give a hoot.
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