Ron Washington Loves to [Bleeping] Bunt

The non-appendix portion of The Book is 367 pages long. Chapter 9, “To Sacrifice or Not” is 50 pages long and represents nearly 14% of the entire book.  The math within may not be for everyone to read, but the information is simplified with the addition of several “The Book Says” callouts that would be easy for any reader, say a manager, to find.

Ron Washington tells us to take those “analytics on that and shove it up our [bleep][bleep]”

Washington does not like to be told how to “[bleep] manage” and wonders why people do not criticize Mike Scioscia because the Angels had a higher bunt total last season. He went on to lament to the media pool in Surprise that his team has not been a good situational hitting team and that he uses the bunt to make up for those shortcomings.

Washington deserves praise as well as criticism for his observations. He is correct about his team’s struggles in situational hitting as the Texas Rangers were in the bottom third in the league in terms of batting average and weighted on base average with runners in scoring position. He was slightly off on his recall of raw totals as Retrosheet shows the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sacrifice bunting 37 times while the Rangers did so 45 times.

Team Sac Bunts
HOU 46
TEX 45
ANA 37
KCA 37
NYA 36
DET 35
CLE 31
MIN 29
TOR 29
BAL 27
BOS 26
SEA 26
TBA 24
OAK 22
CHA 19

In terms of execution, how did Washington perform against the [bleep] analytics of bunting?

If the opposing manager is thinking about sacrificing (with a runner on first and no outs and a non-pitcher at the pate), tell him you will gladly give the runner second base in exchange for the out.

19 times in 2013, Washington called for a bunt with a runner on first and no outs.  One time, in early April, did this involve the use of a pitcher.

Late in a close game, in a low-scoring run environment, it is correct to often sacrifice bunt a runner on first with no outs.

8 of the 19 sacrifice bunts listed above came before the seventh inning, five of which came in the first three innings of the game. One sacrifice bunt came in the third inning of a game in which the Rangers were already ahead 5-2.

Early in the game in a low run-scoring environment, it is correct to often sacrifice bunt with a runner on first and no outs. In an average run-scoring environment, you should occasionally sacrifice to keep the defense honest.

The eight early-game bunts came against the following pitcher: Roberto Hernandez, Andy Pettitte, Jarrod Parker, Anibal Sanchez, Jason Vargas, Brad Peacock, Jason Vargas and A.J. Griffin. Sanchez, arguably the best pitcher of the bunch, was the pitcher who was on the mound when the Rangers used a sacrifice bunt up three runs in the third inning.

All other things being equal, sacrifice more often with a low-walk, low-OBP hitter on deck

28 times, Washington called for a sacrifice bunt with batters hitting 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the lineup with Elvis Andrus doing so 14 times. Andrus hit in the second spot of the lineup 116 times in 2013, with Lance Berkman and Ian Kinsler doing a majority of the work in the third spot of the lineup. Berkman had a .340 OBP and a 12.9% walk rate while Kinsler had a .344 OBP and a 8.3% walk rate.

With a runner on second and no outs, give the opposing manager the standing offer of taking an out in exchange for the runner advancing to third, unless you are tied or down by a run in the ninth inning or later.

Ten times last season, Washington called for a sacrifice bunt with a runner on second and no outs. One of them came in a tie game in the 14th inning. None of the others occurred after the 7th inning. One of them came in the first inning, and none of the bunts were by a pitcher.

With a runner on first or first and second, and no outs, the batters GIDP rate (adjusted for the pitcher) should be considered in deciding whether to bunt or not.

Let’s call this the Jose Molina rule. Molina has 62 sacrifice bunt attempts in his career, and it is not due to his deft bunting abilities. Managers call for Molina  to bunt to avoid double plays in the early innings. Joe Maddon has had Molina attempt a sacrifice bunt six times before the later innings of a game over the past two seasons; five times were with no outs. Washington called for bunts in these situations 29 times, 18 of which involved batters in the first three spots in the lineup – Ian Kinsler, Leonys Martin, or Jurickson Profar. That trio grounded into 25 double plays last season, led by Andrus with 19. Andrus fits the profiles for GIDP rate, and bunts against Joe Saunders and Jerome Williams are justified while bunts against Ernesto Frieri and A.J. Griffin are not.

The return on investment that Washington is getting for his excessive utilization of the sacrifice bunt is barely above the American League Average.

Team Times Scored Sac Buts Score%
BOS 19 26 73.1%
CLE 21 31 67.7%
OAK 13 22 59.1%
MIN 17 29 58.6%
TOR 17 29 58.6%
NYA 21 36 58.3%
BAL 15 27 55.6%
TEX 25 45 55.6%
AL Average 257 469 54.8%
ANA 20 37 54.1%
HOU 24 46 52.2%
SEA 13 26 50.0%
CHA 9 19 47.4%
TBA 11 24 45.8%
DET 16 35 45.7%
KCA 16 37 43.2%

The same can be said about the return on investment for bunting as often as the Rangers do overall.

Team Times Scored Overall Bunts Score%
BOS 29 54 53.7%
CLE 33 68 48.5%
TBA 28 60 46.7%
BAL 25 57 43.9%
HOU 41 95 43.2%
MIN 28 66 42.4%
NYA 34 83 41.0%
TEX 39 96 40.6%
AL Average 433 1087 39.8%
OAK 21 53 39.6%
TOR 26 70 37.1%
KCA 35 99 35.4%
DET 28 82 34.1%
SEA 24 71 33.8%
ANA 29 91 31.9%
CHA 13 42 31.0%

Ron Washington may like to [bleep] bunt whenever he [bleep] wants to, because he does it “when Ron Washington feels like it’s necessary. Bottom line.” The original column cited the Greek chorus of bunt-loathing fans and media, which is fitting because the Greeks were known for their comedies as well as their tragedies. A wonderful comedy came in the second inning of a mid-August game against Felix Hernandez, when five of the first six batters of the inning reach safely and Washington calls for a suicide squeeze with runners at second and third.

It worked, because Profar made a phenomenal slide to avoid the tag by Henry Blanco. The ultimate tragedy in the strategy game in the play-in game against the Tampa Bay Rays when Washington had Andrus sacrifice Kinsler over to third base with one out in the eighth inning down 4-2.

The bottom line is that Washington’s belief that his excessive use of the sacrifice bunt is allowing his team to create more runs to compensate for their lack of situational hitting is mostly [bleep].

Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman for his heavy-lifting with the data mining for this article. 

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50 Responses to “Ron Washington Loves to [Bleeping] Bunt”

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  1. brett says:

    With a runner on second and no outs, give the opposing manager the standing offer of taking an out in exchange for the runner advancing to third, unless you are tied or down by a run in the ninth inning or later.</

    I don’t understand this one. Why?

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    • Jason Collette says:

      Because it doesn’t increase your odds of that run scoring. According to the work in the chapter, all a manager is doing is giving away an out as the runner has the same chance to score if the batter swings away

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      • brett says:

        Thanks, but by this logic wouldn’t the game situation be irrelevant? If the odds of scoring that single run go down by bunting him to third, you would never bunt him to third, by the book.

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        • Jason Collette says:

          You can play for a run like that in the 9th when a wild pitch or a sac fly could score the runner.

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        • Seth says:

          Bunting generally INCREASES your chances of scoring A SINGLE run, but DECREASES the TOTAL runs you’re expected to score that inning. If you’re late in the game, especially 9th inning or later, and either down by one or tied, you NEED that one run that bunting helps you get.

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      • brett says:

        Also, good article. I’m not trying to be a dick. Just trying to understand the nuances.

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        • Dag Gummit says:

          People admitting they don’t understand something aren’t dicks. Dicks are people who assert that something is stupid or nonsensical because they don’t understand it.

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    • asdf says:

      (Read from the perspective of the team playing defense)

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      • larry says:

        not sure of the maths per se, but just thinking about it, trading an out to advance the runner to 3rd decreases your chances of scoring multiple runs in the inning without greatly increasing your ability to score 1 run.

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        • asdf says:

          Exactly.. go here and look at the run expectancy tables for 2013.

          Runner on 2nd, 0 outs: team expects to score 1.05 run.
          Runner on 3rd, 1 out: team expected to score 0.89 runs.

          If you’re the defending team, you get a free out AND the other team has actually reduced their expected run output for the inning. They’re still going to score, most of the time. But, now you only need 2 outs to get out of the jam.

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        • Catoblepas says:

          mmm yeah basic idea, but you don’t “get a free out AND the other team has actually reduced their expected run output for the inning.” Run expectancy takes into account both the bases occupied and the number of outs.

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      • brett says:

        (Read from the perspective of the team playing defense)

        Thanks. This makes all the difference.

        So here’s where I’m at: the chance of one run scoring goes up, very slightly, by bunting a guy to third and giving up an out. In most cases it’s better to save the out and play for multiple runs. The exception is in the 9th (or extras) when one run will obviously be the difference in the game. Something like that?

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  2. WormFace says:

    That was very entertaining!

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  3. Eric Lutz says:

    Uh did I miss something? What book? What is the name of the book and how many total chapters is it? If you are going to start an article off with that opening at least tell us to what book you are referring…

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  4. Pale Hose says:

    So, Washington says that the Rangers are not a good situational hitting team (I.e not clutch). Then he creates clutch-ier situations to make up for it. Logic!

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  5. Mr Punch says:

    Jeez, maybe Farrell should have been Manager of the Year.

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    • Catoblepas says:

      waaaay more to managing than not bunting in obvious situations. not that he’s bad, but he hopefully did more than that.

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  6. The Stranger says:

    Wait… isn’t situational hitting or the lack thereof mostly [bleep] anyway? To the point that thinking you know something about your team’s situational hitting ability (as distinct from their ordinary hitting ability) probably makes you a bit of a [bleep] to start with?

    That said, the best comparison probably isn’t the success rate of Texas’s bunts vs. league average, but rather the success rate of those bunts vs. the number of runs Texas would have been expected to score in those situations, taking into account the hitters bunting and due up later in the inning. Otherwise, you might think Houston, which sacrificed more and scored less than Texas, was strategically even worse. But that doesn’t take into account how awful Houston was; their offense operates in a low-scoring environment by default.

    That’s not a defense of Texas’s bunting, just a quibble with methodology. Obviously, Ron Washington is a [bleep], but that’s no reason not to get the most out of the data.

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  7. Grant Balfour says:

    Ron Washington can @#@$#%ing bunt against me any time he bloody @#%#@%ing wants to.

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  8. Oh Beepy says:

    19 times in 2013, Washington called for a bunt with a runner on first and no outs. One time, in early April, did this involve the use of a non-pitcher.

    Is there an error in here? Aren’t all the listed attempts below involving the use of a non-pitcher or am I missing something?

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  9. Mark says:

    Jason, great piece. I was astounded that Wash had Andrus sacrifice Kinsler to third in the 8th down by two, so I went back to watch it – Andrus was clearly bunting for a hit. It wasn’t a sacrifice. It might’ve been a bad idea, and it didn’t work (barely), but to lump it in with dumb sacrifice bunts isn’t really fair. To my eyes anyway.

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  10. Belloc says:

    I presume the table and analysis doesn’t even account for the times when batters attempted a sacrifice bunt but failed. That is another consideration in the debate of whether to bunt. It’s not like MLB hitters are 100% successful when they attempt to sacrifice a bunt. Granted, one occasionally sees fielders fumble badly while defending the bunt (see Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series; see practically the entire Detroit Tigers pitching staff in the 2006 World Series). But bunters fail at a far greater rate than fielders.

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    • Bip says:

      I remember this every time Don Mattingly has AJ Ellis bunt. He can take a walk well enough, but he’s a terrible bunter. So basically he has a guy who’s got as good a chance as anyone of getting on base and has him give it away, and without much assurance that anything good will come out of it.

      Sometimes it works out though. Just look at Game 4 of the NLDS, Dodgers are down 3-2 in the 8th innings with a runner on base, Juan Uribe tries twice to sacrifice him over and fouls both times, works a 2-2 count and hits a homer, for a WPA of .443.

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  11. Joe R says:

    The funny thing is, fans still love the bunt.

    I cite marginal utility as justification. Fans like seeing runs be scored, and hate seeing a leadoff single go for moot. The amount of happiness they get from 1 run in an inning is greater than the difference between 1 and 2, which is greater than the difference between 2 and 3, and so on.

    Hence while you can bash them over the head w/ run expectancy and win probability charts, and they will not waver. Ron Washington is the same way. He likes doing what he can to push across one run, because that one run in an inning is immensely more valuable to him than any run after.

    But the most successful people, in the long run, in any situation involving randomness and white noise, are people who base their decisions off the expected value. You’d never hear of the high frequency trading firm (assuming enough liquidity to absorb beatings) declining to buy up the huge arbitrage position because they’ve “made enough” this month, or the professional poker player folding Aces preflop because he wants to “lock up” a $300 win in a 10/20 NL game.

    So yes, sometimes you compromise your chance of scoring a run to play to the max EV. But on the flip side, playing for one run compromises your ability to create a big inning, and at the end of the day, they don’t keep score by counting how many innings you managed to score a runner.

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    • Bip says:

      I know that sometimes when watching the Dodgers, I feel like they will never score another run ever again. I imagine many fans feel that same way when their team’s offenses are doing poorly. Even in those situations I am against bunting, but I see how a less statistically-inclined fan would feel differently.

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  12. DodgersKings323 says:

    You can talk smack after you’ve won a ring, not before.

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  13. chuckb says:

    It should be noted here that these are all “successful” bunt attempts, not actual bunt attempts. So when the article says something like “Washington called for 19 bunts…” it actually means “the Rangers were successful 19 times.” The reason I bring up this point is because there’s nothing here — and I don’t know where to find it or if it’s even possible to find it — about the number of unsuccessful bunts that Washington, Scioscia, or any other manager might have called for. How many times did Washington call for a bunt only to have the bunter bunt into a force or a DP? Foul a 3rd strike? The squeeze you referred to was only evident as a “bunt” because it was successful.

    Some teams are undoubtedly better at bunting and advancing runners through bunting than others are. In order to evaluate managers’ bunting strategy, we need to know how often their bunters are successful. Bad managers will call for a lot of bunts when their players aren’t good at advancing runners via the bunt.

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  14. Johnny Ringo says:

    I love the bunt depending on the situation and the player. If you have guys at 2nd and 3rd, no outs, and a fast guy at the plate, with a guy who can put the ball in play behind him, I would take that chance a lot. “If” he can bunt, and depending on his bat control.

    I also love the suicide squeeze as well with the pitcher at the plate. I still think there may be unmeasured value in how guys like Tony Campana can totally disrupt a defense. Guys like him should bunt full time, though the metric heads would hate it.

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  15. Imtheo says:

    So it seems that Ron Washington’s propensity for bunting led to a better than league average return on investment for both sacrifice bunts and total bunts. What’s the problem?

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    • Dave says:

      Just because they were (barely) better than league average at bunting doesn’t mean that they should be doing it, or doing it as much as they do..

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    • Matt Murton says:

      Just because a guy survives jumping off a cliff more than the average fellow… that does not mean jumping off a cliff is a good idea.

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