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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.