The Sacrifice Bunt: The Real Rally Killer

Last night, the Dodgers trailed the Giants 2-1 in the seventh inning. Juan Rivera and James Loney led off the inning with back-to-back singles, putting the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run on base with nobody out. Juan Uribe, the #7 hitter in the line-up, was due up to hit.

Don Mattingly asked him to bunt, which, if successful, would have put runners at second and third with one out, bringing A.J. Ellis to the plate with first base open. With the pitcher’s spot coming up behind Ellis, an intentional walk would have been an obvious call, and the Dodgers would then have had the bases loaded with one out and Bobby Abreu pinch-hitting. A few years ago, that might have been a really nice situation. Now, though, Abreu is about a league average hitter, and hitters perform worse in pinch-hitting situations than in other situations. Abreu is also a guy who hits the ball on the ground more than most hitters, and he’s a good candidate to hit into a double play in that situation. Had Abreu only made one out and not ended the inning, the Dodgers would then have had Dee Gordon and his .266 wOBA at the plate. Essentially, Don Mattingly was willing to give up an out for the chance to have a pinch-hitting Bobby Abreu and a bad-hitting Dee Gordon try to put runs on the board.

However, Uribe laid down a lousy bunt, and Buster Posey turned it into a 2-5-3 double play. Ellis then flew out to end the inning, and the rally ended up without even turning the line-up over, much less getting any runs across.

The next inning, Abreu would indeed pinch-hit for the pitcher and draw a leadoff walk. The aforementioned weak-hitting Gordon laid a bunt down the first base line, and with his speed and the location of the ball between the mound and first base, he was able to reach safely as Vogelsong couldn’t transfer the ball to make a throw to first.

Again, Mattingly faced a situation with men on first and second and nobody out. Again, Mattingly ordered the batter at the plate to lay down a sacrifice bunt, and this time, Mark Ellis was able to get the job done. That moved runners to second and third with one out, but it also opened up first base with Matt Kemp coming to the plate. Mattingly essentially guaranteed that Matt Kemp would be intentionally walked rather than get a chance to swing the bat with the go-ahead run already on base. This is exactly what happened, as the Giants decided to avoid Kemp entirely, set up the double play and the force at the plate, and bring in their lefty specialist to face Andre Ethier.

Ethier is a career .245/.305/.364 hitter against left-handed pitchers. Left-handed batters have a career line of .221/.313/.312 against Javier Lopez, and 58.2 percent of their balls in play against him have been hit on the ground. For his part, Ethier has a 49.4 percent GB% on balls in play against LHPs, so if he did make contact, the likely outcome was that the ball was going to be hit on the ground. If he didn’t make contact – he has struck out in 20 percent of his plate appearances against lefties in his career – then the Dodgers would send Tony Gwynn Jr to the plate. Son of Gwynn is basically the outfield version of Dee Gordon and is also a left-handed hitter.

Gwynn wouldn’t get to bat, however. Ethier did hit the ball on the ground, and the Giants turned a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Once again, no runs were scored. The Dodgers lost the game 2-1.

In Seattle, the Tigers led the Mariners 6-4 headed into the bottom of the ninth inning. Adventurous closer Jose Valverde issued a four pitch walk to leadoff hitter Mike Carp, and then after getting #9 hitter Michael Saunders into a 1-2 count, he lost him as well and walked the tying run on base. This brought left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley to the plate representing the go-ahead run.

While functioning as a closer, Valverde is really more of a right-handed specialist. Last year, right-handed hitters hit just .158/.213/.219 against him, while lefties managed a much more respectable .227/.356/.331 line. For his career, the gap is 19 points of batting average, 51 points of on base percentage, and 59 points of slugging percentage, and in 2012, he’s been nothing short of a disaster against lefties, walking seven of the 31 left-handed batters he’d faced to that point. LHBs have hit .400/.545/.833 against him this year, accounting for the entirety of his early season struggles. He’s still dominated right-handes the same as always, holding them to a .167/.250/.207 line.

Eric Wedge asked the left-handed Ackley to bunt the runners over, which would put the tying run in scoring position and bring the right-handed hitting Brendan Ryan to the plate. Brendan Ryan, he of the career .255/.312/.335 line. Brendan Ryan, the guy hitting .165/.289/.293 on the season, who just finished an 0 for 26 stretch that saw him get a few days off to clear his head. Wedge was willing to give up an out to bring one of the very worst right-handed hitters in baseball to the plate to face a pitcher who is one of the very best pitchers in baseball against right-handed hitters.

However, Ackley was unable to get the bunt down and struck out after getting behind 0-2 while trying to move the runners over. After issuing back to back walks to left-handed batters, Ackley essentially forfeited his at-bat, and the Mariners got their first out of the inning with the runners still standing on first and second. This brought up Ryan, and even with the switch-hitting Chone Figgins and the left-handed hitting Munenori Kawasaki on the bench, Wedge stuck with his shortstop. Ryan hit an easy ground ball to short for a game-ending double play, only Prince Fielder dropped the throw at first base and allowed the inning to continue. This brought up Ichiro Suzuki – another left-handed batter – to the plate with the tying run on first base.

On the 1-1 pitch, Ryan stole second base. The pitch was a ball, so the count was now 2-1. With a right-handed hitter on deck and Ichiro in a good hitter’s count against a guy struggling to get left-handed hitters out, the Tigers used the open base to put him on, and Valverde then got Jesus Montero to foul out down the right field line to end the game.

In the span of three innings, the Dodgers and Mariners attempted four bunts. The results – one infield single, two double plays, and a strikeout. Four plate appearances, five outs, one runner advanced from first base to second base, and no runs scored. The Mariners and Dodgers both lost.

Mattingly:

“Neither one of those decisions I would look back and change. They have to pick between Matt and Andre, and if I can get Andre up there with the bases loaded, I’ll take it every day. He’s leading the league in RBI. I wouldn’t really change anything. We just have to execute, that’s all. First and second nobody out we have to try to get runners over and get them in scoring position. With Mark, I do it all the time. I’m still giving two guys a chance, but I don’t even need a hit. I just need to get a ball in the air. I have two guys that are basically leading the league in RBI and they have to take their pick.”

Wedge:

“It’s not automatic, but it depends on how the hitter’s swinging. In that situation, we’re looking to get Ichiro and potentially Montero at the plate. Eventually, they both got up there. Ryan had a couple of hits, he had seen Valverde eight times, had a couple knocks off him in the past. We just weren’t able to finish it off. But we did everything to give us every opportunity to win that game. We were just one hit short, and even Jesus put up a heck of an at-bat there.”

Leading the league in RBI. Had a couple knocks off him in the past. Just have to execute. You hear phrases like this uttered after games that are lost that didn’t need to be lost, as managers have learned that ordering a sacrifice bunt essentially shifts all the responsibility for success onto the player’s shoulders. Whether it’s a good match-up or not, they’re supposed to get the job done. They don’t even have to get a hit! Just get the ball in the air. It’s super easy, even against a ball released from here:

Mattingly and Wedge put on their teflon shields, pointed to the fact that managers have been doing this for hundreds of years, and laid the blame for these losses at the feet of their players. The problem is that they repeatedly took steps that made it less likely that their team would actually win the game, and had they just sat on their hands and done nothing, they would have had a better chance of congratulating their boys on a victorious come-from-behind win. Instead, they sat there and just waxed on about a lack of execution.

The only thing that needs to be executed is the sacrifice bunt from the playbook of Major League managers. It is not always the wrong move, but it is used far too often and in too many situations where swinging away is more likely to produce a positive result. At the front office level, every organization in the game is getting smarter. In some cities, the on-field personnel are utilizing facts and logic to better inform their tactical decisions. But, by and large, most Major League managers are still like Mattingly and Wedge, and they’re going to bunt regardless of whether or not it actually helps their team’s chances of winning.

We don’t live in 1953 anymore. We have access to more and better information than ever before. Teams are spending large amounts of resources to make better decisions to get improvements on the margins that may end up winning them one or two games over the course of the season. And yet, at the end of the day, most of these teams are still entrusting their in-game strategy to people who simply don’t understand the basic probabilities of the sport.

Maybe it’s going to take five more years. Maybe even 10 or 15. But at some point in our lifetime, teams are going to start hiring managers who understand that giving away an out should be a rare occurrence.

Bunting for a base hit, putting on a well-timed squeeze, beating an overshifted defense, having a pitcher move a runner into scoring position… there’s room for bunting in baseball. The frequency of sacrificing bunting that is prevalent now, though, is simply incorrect strategy, and the sooner it is removed from the sport, the better off Major League teams will be.

For more on when bunting is the correct call, I highly suggest MGL’s 6,000 word treatise on the issue from 2009.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


119 Responses to “The Sacrifice Bunt: The Real Rally Killer”

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  1. Ben Duronio says:

    The Braves tried to bunt in the top of the eighth inning yesterday but Prado got walked, too. If not for Wood’s inability to throw strikes, could also have been a similar situation.

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    • Curtis says:

      It’s nearly impossible for me to think rationally about the sacrifice bunt as a Braves fan. At least I loved Bobby. . .

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  2. Brian says:

    Well-written, Dave – and whole-heartedly agree with you. I like that Mattingly is insinuating leading the league in RBI automatically makes you good at driving in runs.

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    • adohaj says:

      But if you lead the league in RBI you are good at driving in runs. If you do something more often than anyone else you are good at it.

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      • Shaun Catron says:

        Or you were given more opportunities with runners in scoring position than other players

        James Loney pushed 90 RBI a few seasons ago and he wasn’t near as good as others in driving in runs, he simply got more opportunities.

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      • Jacob says:

        Or you have two of the top 5 guys at getting on base ahead of you

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  3. Judy says:

    The Royals last night in the 7th, down by 1, runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs, sac bunt makes the 1st out, squeeze attempt the 2nd at home, K gets the 3rd. They won in spite of that when they got the lead the next inning on 2 BBs and a HR.

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    • chuckb says:

      It’s awful when this happens b/c then the terrible decision to order the sac bunt is forgotten and/or forgiven. Managers who do this sort of thing deserve to lose the game. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

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      • ODawg says:

        Even if they could draw a direct line from a sac bunt to a loss, they won’t learn because they don’t want to. Mattingly’s and Wedge’s reactions are the proof.

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      • y says:

        They won’t learn. They’ll blame it on lack of execution by the players. They do it because they know they’ll get second-guessed by the idiot media if they lose and didn’t try a sac bunt or a hit and run.

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    • a seattle fan says:

      I don’t know who the manager is in Kansas City, but he really should’ve had Billy Butler bunting there.

      Luckily it worked out, but that’s just not how you manage a ballgame.

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  4. Wasted At Bats says:

    When a runner scores after a sac bunt, it seems like 95% of the time he would have scored even without the bunt being laid down. Ex. player A hits a single followed by a sac bunt then a home run.

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  5. Mike P says:

    As Earl Weaver said, ” You can take the sacrifice bunt and stuff it up your ass!”

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    • chuckb says:

      I hope he really did say this.

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      • Justin Bailey says:

        Don’t know if he said it or not, but he was famously quoted as saying “On offense, your most precious possessions are your 27 outs,” which is basically the same thing if you think about it.

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  6. payroll says:

    Daming.

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  7. JimNYC says:

    I tend to be an old-school baseball traditionalist — there’s still a part of me that cringes at batters who try to draw walks, because real men are supposed to swing the bat, dammit! — but even I can’t stand sacrifice bunts. They almost never work to score runs, they give up free outs, and there are few things more disheartening in baseball than seeing your guy try to sac bunt, only to have it turn in to a fielder’s choice gunning down the lead runner. It’s a practice that really needs to stop.

    That said, I also believe that bunts for hits need to increase radically in this era of constant overshifts. Alex Rodriguez, of all people, laid down a bunt last week against an overshifted infield and basically walked to first base. If guys like Mark Texiera and Ryan Howard who get killed by shifts started doing this more often, it might make teams a bit more hesitant to completely block up one side of the infield.

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    • Kazinski says:

      Lou Gehrig: 15.6% Career BB%, 1508 total walks. Is he man enough for you? Is he old school enough for you? There is nothing newfangled, or unmanly about a walk. Its all about making the pitcher man up and give you something to hit.

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    • Anon21 says:

      I dunno… if big power bats actually start bunting to beat the shift, in a way the shift is doing its job. Not many extra base hits recorded on bunts.

      I’m actually a bit worried that Brian McCann is gonna get his career wrecked by extreme shifts. Probably just overextrapolating from some early season struggles, though.

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      • Kevin S says:

        No extra-base hits, but a competent bunt against a shifted infield has to get you on, what, 75% of the time? 80% of the time? The shift isn’t designed to take away XBH anyway – it’s turning singles into groundouts. Is it worth handing a guy first base to take away the chance he gets himself to second? I truly doubt that.

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      • Jacob says:

        Well I imagine you wouldn’t bunt against an outfield shift

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      • Snowblind says:

        Have you seen the Tigers’ defense lately? If they insist on running Cabrera at 3rd and the ironically named “Fielder” at 1st every night, you might see an extra-base bunt hit before the season’s done…

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  8. sk says:

    Dave – Great post.

    You could’ve also referenced last night’s As vs Jays game. Where, with runners on 1st and 3rd and one out, and the game tied 2-2, John Farrell decided to pinchhit for J.P. Arencibia with Omar Vizquel – presumably as a reactive measure to avoid the double play.

    Vizquel worked the count to 3-1and then for some reason or another (whether Farrell called for it, is unclear to me) – Vizquel decided to bunt and popped it up to Brandon Inge (who later won the game with a grandslam).

    Kelly Johnson ended up lining a single to RF to cash in the runner on 3rd but the decision to pinch hit with Vizquel and then have him bunt with a 3-1 count is flummoxing and killed the possibility of a bigger inning.

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    • grant says:

      That may have been an acceptable one. Speedster (Davis) on third, capable bunter at the plate had a good chance of scoring the run, in the 9th inning of a tie game. It wasn’t giving up an out on the chance that someone else would come through, it was to plate the go ahead run in the 9th.

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  9. Snowblind says:

    I’m getting a mixed message from Wedge on how much he trusts Ackley. Ackley can be trusted to lead off, but not to swing away when the tying run is in scoring position in the bottom of the 9th at home? If he was told to bunt because he believed Ryan would get the job done – i.e. Wedge had Ackley’s Mendoza-line average for the season in mind – why bother having Ackley leading off at all, let alone pinch hitting someone else for him in that situation? And then not pinch-hitting for Ryan, regardless…

    Just a weird, weird string of choices.

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    • david h says:

      The tying run was on first when Ackley was up. I imagine Wedge hoped they would walk Ryan and have the bases loaded with one our for Ichiro and Montero. But they probably would pitch to Ryan even with first open, considering a sac fly or groundout would not tie the game.

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  10. Matt Hunter says:

    Hey Dave, why don’t you tell us how you really feel?

    Haha just kidding, I was screaming at my computer last night, and I don’t even care about the Dodgers. I really don’t understand how some managers can be so bad at their job sometimes (Yes, I realize there is a lot more to being a manager then deciding when to bunt, but I’d say managing the game is a pretty big part of being a manager, yeah?).

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  11. chuckb says:

    If I see Mike Matheny bunt in the freaking first inning again, I can’t be held responsible for what might happen. It’s maddening!

    Hey, Mike, right now your offense is playing like the best in baseball…let your hitters hit!

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    • Stefan says:

      I just wanted to mention Matheny, too. He had his players bunted in the first (!) inning already (at least) twice …

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    • Kenos says:

      “Like.” My six-year old twins, who don’t really understand the impact on expected runs but just hate outs, jump off the couch yelling at the TV whenever the Cardinals bunt. If I’m not in the room, they track me down – “Dad, Dad! The Cardinals are bunting AGAIN!”

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  12. Clint Hurdle says:

    The problem is these guys only bunted once per inning.

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    • Steve the Pirate says:

      What this article has failed to mention are the health risks associated with bunting. Just ask AJ Burnett.

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  13. SteveMcAnderson says:

    The run expectancy of 1st and 2nd with 0 outs is lower than bases loaded with 1 out. Both bunts by the Dodgers would be gaining runs for their team.

    Am I wrong then to think that you can easily argue this was the right move, sabrmetrically?

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    • Mark says:

      You’re assuming the bunt would be successful.

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      • SteveMcAnderson says:

        From The Book “A sacrifice bunt attempt… results in enough singles and RBOE’s and other successes (even after accounting for the failures” that the RE and WE from a bunt attempt is significantly higher than the RE and WE from an out and runner advance only).”

        In other words, that assumptions hurts my position, it makes more sense to bunt if we look at all possible outcomes, not just advancing the runner(s) and taking the out.

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      • chuckb says:

        It also assumes that Andre Ethier, against lefties, is equal to Matt Kemp against a lefty. It also assumes that the opposing manager is stupid enough to love intentional walks as much as Mattingly loves giving away outs.

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      • LTG says:

        Steve,

        Isn’t the relevant comparison not to the possibility of an out and runner advance only but the slew of possible outcomes when a batter swings away?

        I take it this is why it is still a good idea to bunt with pitchers and Freddy Galvis.

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      • a seattle fan says:

        So this raises the question, should the Dodgers instead had Ellis intentionally strikeout, leaving runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out for Kemp, knowing it was very unlikely he would have been intentionally walked?

        Or maybe instead of the strikeout, he lays down a terrible bunt that gets Abreu thrown out at 3rd, allowing the faster Gordon to be on at 2nd.

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      • williams .482 says:

        I am no expert, but asking AJ Ellis to try to, oh, not get out might, just might, be the best plan.

        Seriously, what? I assume my sarcasm detector broke. What do you mean?

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    • Joe Maddon says:

      A few problems here, Steve. One, you assume that without bunting, they couldn’t have gotten themselves into a better situation than bases loaded one out, for example, bases loaded no outs, etc. Two, you aren’t considering the actual situation, i.e. taking the bat out of kemp’s hands/having a lefty specialist ready to face ethier, etc.

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      • SteveMcAnderson says:

        For the record, I am trying to play devil’s advocate here to better understand why bunting here is wrong so I appreciate your comment. However, I am not “assum(ing) that without bunting, they couldn’t have gotten themselves into a better situation”, RE is assuming that, it is built into the statistic itself.

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    • mcbrown says:

      I think this is a valid critique. I would counter it by saying that RE is context-neutral, and that we can do better than appealing to RE when we consider the specific situation, including R/L matchups, the specific skills of upcoming batters, likely substitutions on both sides, etc. E.g., Ethier vs. LHP != Kemp vs. Anyone.

      Also, “higher RE” does not necessarily imply “higher probability of scoring one run”, the latter of which is in some contexts (e.g. tie game in bottom of 9th inning) what the manager should be trying to maximize. That doesn’t necessarily apply here, nor does it weaken your specific critique, but I just thought I’d mention it.

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  14. mdecav says:

    Question because I don’t have The Book handy… Are the expected runs in an inning higher if you have runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs or the bases loaded with one out?

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    • SteveMcAnderson says:

      1st_2nd 0 outs: 1.573

      Loaded 1 outs: 1.65

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      • mdecav says:

        So I guess the next question – not that anyone has numbers on this – is how often are bunt attempts successful at moving runners over. Probably not enough to justify taking the bat out of Kemp’s hands to pitch to Ethier with the bases loaded.

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      • payroll says:

        But this doesn’t account for failure rate of bunting with runners on 1st and 2nd and no one out.

        What is the expected rate for 1st and 2nd with 1 out? I suspect the dropoff offsets the marginal gain of successfully putting down a bunt.

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      • SteveMcAnderson says:

        As I posted above:

        From The Book “A sacrifice bunt attempt… results in enough singles and RBOE’s and other successes (even after accounting for the failures) that the RE and WE from a bunt attempt is significantly higher than the RE and WE from an out and runner advance only).”

        In other words, that assumptions hurts my position, it makes more sense to bunt if we look at all possible outcomes, not just advancing the runner(s) and taking the out.

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    • Tom says:

      I think you should be looking at 1 out men on 2nd and 3rd (not 1 out bases loaded).

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  15. Hunter fan says:

    Do you ever read TMQ on ESPN? He’s pointed out, repeatedly over the years, that head coaches often avoid the higher percentage play because if it doesn’t work out, the blame is on their shoulders. If they go with traditional group think, the blame is on the players.

    Ergo, the head coache’s first priority is not to win the game, but preserve their job.

    Nice to see this tradition crosses into baseball too.

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    • DJG says:

      Yes, TMQ constantly makes this contention, but I’ve never felt it’s accurate. I think coaches/managers ARE trying to win the game. They just don’t properly understand the percentages.

      For instance, in football especially I think they often mistakenly believe the move most likely to prolong the game is the same as the move most likely to win (e.g., kicking to tie and go to OT, instead of trying to score a TD or 2-point conversion and win in regulation).

      Mattingly hints at this type of thinking as well when he makes the comment about not even needing a hit. He’s content to play for one run in a situation where going for the bigger inning is likely the better move.

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      • BIP says:

        Brian Burke of advancednflstats.com describes it as coaches playing to delay the loss or minimize the margin of defeat, rather than win. Ouch.

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  16. Franchise says:

    Totally agree Dave. It’s sad and pathetic that much of the game remains so archaic as in “that’s the way it’s been done for the last hundred years!.”

    That quote from Mattingly is totally indefensible. It’s like he doesn’t understand the concept of the game he’s been playing his whole life, and yet here he is, benefitting from his own ignorance.

    Just terrible. I can’t wait until the Dodgers are in last place.

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  17. Kenos says:

    Phillies did same think on Monday in the 8th inning (with Freddy Galvis on deck) and didn’t score. Phillies tried this Sunday, too – Pierre was actually safe on bunt, loading the bases with no outs, and Phillies still didn’t score! Can’t blame that one on the sacrifice attempt but both times I remember the announcer calling the bunt an automatic or obvious decision.

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  18. Sluggerrr! says:

    Amen! My girlfriend and I were mirroring your comments for the entire drive home from the Dodgers game last night. To top off his stupidity, Mattingly followed the failed bunt attempt by replacing Juan Rivera with Tony Gwynn in left, taking one of his *ahem* best bats out of the game while /Gwynn run of lefties that probably had Bochy laughing maniacally! And if he really had a reason, however poor, for putting Gwynn in the game, why didn’t he pinch run Gwynn for Rivera in the previous half-inning, which probably would have avoided the double play on the bunt. Mattingly told us “I’m going to make mistakes. Lots of them.” at his introductory press conference, and he’s proving himself right. It would be better if he could recognize his mistakes when he does make them.

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  19. Sluggerrr! says:

    “while giving the Dodgers an Ethier/Gwynn run of lefties, etc.”

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  20. short says:

    In Monday night’s M’s-Tigers game the Mariners bunted the winning run from second to third with no outs in the ninth inning. Is this a situation where a bunt can actually increase the chance of scoring, since the outfield defense has to come in? I didn’t hate that decision at the time.

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    • bpdelia says:

      Imo that is THE ONE instance the bunt is totally acceptable. Really otherwise its almost always an assinine play.

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    • chuckb says:

      Check The Book. I’m not sure, though. Maybe that situation gives you a better chance at 1 run (were the M’s the home team?) but a lower run expectancy. It’s possible that WE is still higher w/ runner on 2nd and no outs than runner on 3rd w/ 1 out. Plus, this assumes the bunt is successful which is not true 100% of the time.

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  21. Cardsfan says:

    Great post Dave – I’m afraid Mike Matheny is yet another bunt-happy manager, though I had hoped for better. I think he had Jon Jay bunt in the first inning three times in four games.

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  22. DD says:

    Dave, can you do a similar write up on using your closer in a tie game on the road?
    You know, how you want your best reliever pitching in a tie game (with no room for error) than a 1-3 run game?

    These two issues seem to have already cost the Phillies approx 5-6 games this year already.

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  23. Baltar says:

    Don Mattingly is my favorite manager.
    (I am a Giants fan.)

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      youre talking trash about a rival teams manager when bruce bochy manages the team you root for?

      talk about glass houses….

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      • Deelron says:

        Nah just different levels of bad.

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      • Kevin S says:

        I would imagine Bruce Bochy is among his least-favorite managers.

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      • williams .482 says:

        There are not really many managers to like right now. After Gibson and Maddon, (who are also prone to potentially foolish decisions, just less of them), who is left? Tito is out of the league.

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  24. Chike says:

    Going back to the second Dodgers scenario where Mattingly elected to let Ethier hit with runners on second and third against a tough lefty, aren’t there other factors to consider in evaluating the situation? Namely:

    1) How Ethier performs in high-leverage situations vs LHP
    2) How Ethier performs against pitchers like Javy Lopez
    3) The psychological opportunity cost of making a change

    The first two points can be evaluated with advanced metrics. In 2012, Ethier is slashing .313/.429/.500 in all high-leverage situations. I couldn’t find how that line breaks down by handedness nor could I find anything on Ethier vs. similar to Lopez, but that information is available and should be taken into consideration when evaluating the situation.

    The third point is less tangible, but not without merit. As Mattingly pointed out, Andre Ethier is close to or holds a share of the league lead in RBI. Though RBI are circumstantial, they still hold a sacred place in baseball culture. Suppose a better option existed on the bench. Do you expect Mattingly to go to his bench there and take RISP PAs away from Ethier? How would that affect Ethier and whomever was called upon to replace him? What kind of message would that send to the players in the clubhouse? There are factors other than run expectancy that must be considered when evaluating a decision.

    This situation, pretty much summarizes the counter-argument against the sacrifice bunt. Yes I agree, sacrificing is generally overused in baseball. Even so, there are situations where the “wrong” move may produce a favorable long-term outcome. Showing faith in a struggling player…giving more PAs to less talented/optimal players…baseball is filled with managers who make the “wrong” moves. Is this 1953 stubbornness or is there really something there?

    There’s a reason we have managers instead of coaches in baseball. A manager has 25 egos to keep in check over the course of a 162 game season. They use arbitrary titles like “cleanup hitter” and “closer.” We see these moves to be suboptimal or inefficient, but there may be hidden value to keeping egos in check or adhering to outdated baseball tradition.

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    • jack says:

      did you not read the article?

      “Ethier is a career .245/.305/.364 hitter against left-handed pitchers. Left-handed batters have a career line of .221/.313/.312 against Javier Lopez, and 58.2 percent of their balls in play against him have been hit on the ground. For his part, Ethier has a 49.4 percent GB% on balls in play against LHPs, so if he did make contact, the likely outcome was that the ball was going to be hit on the ground. If he didn’t make contact – he has struck out in 20 percent of his plate appearances against lefties in his career – then the Dodgers would send Tony Gwynn Jr to the plate. Son of Gwynn is basically the outfield version of Dee Gordon and is also a left-handed hitter.”

      the point is Ethier is bad against lefties and it would stand to reason he would be even worse against Javier Lopez. He is already a prime GIDP candidate (hits the ball hard, not a lot of speed, ground balls 50% of the time vs LHP) and Lopez induces groundballs at a near 60% rate.

      So your first two points have been addressed. in terms of the 3rd- no one wanted Mattingly to PH for Ethier.. who would they send up? No one on their bench can hit anyway. Abreu was already used (and is a lefty anyway). That is the whole point of this gripe. Mattingly managed the dodgers into the worst possible situation. The point isn’t to look for a solution once Ethier steps to the dish with the bases loaded, 1 out, and one of the best LOOGYs in the game on the mound (hint: there is none). The point is to not get to that point in the first place by letting your hitters hit and by not taking the bat away from Kemp, who regardless of who is on the mound, be it a tired Vogelsong(yes please), a lefty (yes please) or one of SF’s inferior relievers (yes please) you have a chance to score runs.

      Mattingly was managing to score ONE RUN with the bases (potentially) loaded with his team down one in the 8th inning. He had already squandered one opportunity for runs in the previous inning and now he completely hamstrung his lineup by putting them in the only real position where SF had the advantage.

      All because of the sac bunt and his lack of understanding of where runs come from.

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      • Chike says:

        Dave covered my second point well, but no where did he mention anything about the leverage of the situation. There’s evidence to suggest players perform differently under pressure. Using the small sample we have from this season, it seems Ethier actually performs better in high leverage situations. My point is that this split should be considered when determining who should be tasked with driving in the go-ahead or winning runs.

        But that’s all beside the point.

        “The point isn’t to look for a solution once Ethier steps to the dish with the bases loaded, 1 out, and one of the best LOOGYs in the game on the mound (hint: there is none). The point is to not get to that point in the first place by letting your hitters hit and by not taking the bat away from Kemp”

        Mattingly had a choice: either let Mark Ellis swing away with runners on first and second with no outs or let Ethier swing away with one out and the bases loaded. If you can sacrifice into a bases loaded situation down 2-1 late, I think you take it. Players perform significantly better with the bases loaded and though I don’t have the run expectancy table in front of me, I’d imagine there’s a high chance you at least tie the game with a runner on third with less than two outs.

        A sacrifice bunt gives a manager control over the game. It allows him to dictate match ups, which if used properly, can present a huge strategic advantage.

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      • Hason Jeyward says:

        @Chike

        I’d like to know what evidence you’re referring to…

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      • The Dude Abides says:

        I have a better idea. Why not make the Giants face BOTH Kemp and Ethier?

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    • Zac says:

      “In 2012, Ethier is slashing .313/.429/.500 in all high-leverage situations.”
      B-R says he’s .364/.500/.591 in high leverage. But that’s all of 30 PA. Do you really think 30 PA is enough to base a decision on?

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  25. ezb230 says:

    I’ll bet Dusty Baker is feeling lonely right now. An entire article about bad managerial decisions and nary a mention. For God’s sake, the man pinch runs for his catcher with his other catcher. Give him a footnote or something (And if it’s bad bunts you want, Dusty can do that too. Usually at least once a night.)

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  26. Zeezil says:

    This is a very clear and inarguable case against the decisions made by Mattingly and Wedge. However, I have to quibble with this:

    Remember, this is all zero-sum stuff. The damage done to the win expectancies of the Dodgers and Mariners is exactly offset by increases to the Giants and Tigers. Collectively, Major League teams will be no better off in the absence of sacrifice bunts.

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    • Zeezil says:

      Apparently, I don’t know how to use html tags. What I meant to write was:

      This is a very clear and inarguable case against the decisions made by Mattingly and Wedge. However, I have to quibble with this:

      “The frequency of sacrificing bunting that is prevalent now, though, is simply incorrect strategy, and the sooner it is removed from the sport, the better off Major League teams will be. “

      Remember, this is all zero-sum stuff. The damage done to the win expectancies of the Dodgers and Mariners is exactly offset by increases to the Giants and Tigers. Collectively, Major League teams will be no better off in the absence of sacrifice bunts.

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      • Ian R. says:

        Fair enough, if all you’re concerned about is win expectancy. There’s an argument to be made, though, that less bunting would mean more hits, more home runs, more scoring and more come-from-behind victories, which would make games more exciting, and get more fans interested in the sport. Likewise, having managers order terrible strategies can’t be good for the health of the game.

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      • BIP says:

        It’s zero-sum, yes, but it shifts more of the responsibility for winning onto the team making the decision, which allows teams to more efficiently leverage talent into wins. The Tigers can’t take credit for their opponent’s moronic decision, nor can they plan for it.

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  27. Dan says:

    Dave,

    Your use of anecdotal evidence to advance your argument is frightening. The other night, leading up to the Chris Davis relief appearance, the Orioles grounded into four double plays in the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th. Results oriented anecdotal evidence is exactly what you put down in your article. Saying that bunting was a bad idea because it ended in a double play is no different than Mattingly thinking it was a good idea to get Ethier up because he has driven in a lot of runs.

    Further more(and this is directed more towards the wannabe Jamesian statisticians), using hard and fast rules about bunting goes against the most basic principles of sabermetrics. I hear so many stock arguments coming from the anti-bunting crowd; “Bunters ignore the % chance of failed attempts!” “RE of 12-0 is higher than 23-1!”. The irony of claiming one side ignores outcomes, while ignoring even more outcomes themselves.

    The fact of the matter is, baseball is a game of endless scenarios. In the span of 3 days, the Orioles witnessed:
    A. Chris Davis going 0-8 and 2ip 2k W.
    B. Dylan Bundy giving up his first career run when his catcher airmails the catcher-pitcher exchange into the outfield, leading to the lone base runner of the day taking 3rd, and then home, after the CF overthrew the 3B.
    C. 18 TB by Hamilton.

    Considering the potential payoffs of 2 or 3 potential outcomes is silly. There is a reason why professional baseball statisticians are some of the most gifted minds trained with the highest level of education. There are tons of situations where bunting is -WPA. There are also tons of situations where bunting is +WPA. You are correct that “old school” thinking like Mattingly employs is a losing mindset. However, nothing makes me discount a person’s baseball intelligence more than claiming a blanket ban on sacrificing(or really anything) is a good thing. Managers are paid a lot of money to make these decisions on the fly. Unfortunately, they are often times lacking the necessary knowledge to make these decisions correctly. I would love to see the “Grand Old Man of Baseball” type managers replace their “Grander Old Man of Baseball” bench coach with an MIT statistician.

    /rant

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    • Mark says:

      You would be right, if he had called for a blanket ban on bunting. Instead, what he actually said was:

      “Bunting for a base hit, putting on a well-timed squeeze, beating an overshifted defense, having a pitcher move a runner into scoring position… there’s room for bunting in baseball. The frequency of sacrificing bunting that is prevalent now, though, is simply incorrect strategy, and the sooner it is removed from the sport, the better off Major League teams will be.”

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      • Dan says:

        I noted that it wasn’t addressed to Dave. I read these arguments not only in this comment thread, but on every forum you can find. Generally you will see a RE matrix as evidence.

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      • KDL says:

        This article may not have advocated a “sac bunting ban”…but a look at the body of Dave’s work comes damned close.
        Alternatively, I think this is a fair point to raise regardless of its applicability in this case. Statistics/sabermetrics should not become a tool to justify the conclusions we want to prove…we should come to our conclusions based on what the numbers say. As advanced metrics become more popular and available their misuse is inevitable. So any call to remain vigilant seems worthwhile to me.

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    • Tim says:

      Excellent post. I’d point out that even the results-oriented small-sample-size theater of this article features two strategic errors that are bigger than sacrifice bunting: batting terrible hitters in the first two spots in the lineup, and only being willing to walk excellent hitters when first base is open.

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  28. Keystone Heavy says:

    In Seattle, the Tigers led the Mariners 6-4 headed into the bottom of the ninth inning. Adventurous closer Jose Valverde issued a four pitch walk to leadoff hitter Mike Carp, and then after getting #9 hitter Michael Saunders into a 1-2 count, he lost him as well and walked the tying run on base. This brought left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley to the plate representing the go-ahead run.

    And I bet that piece of crap Valverde, when he got the save, still acted like he just won the lotto and a was about to move in with 10 playboy bunnies. I hate Valverde.

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    • Choo says:

      Valverde looked more like a man who sharted and was relieved to discover it didn’t leave a mark on the back of his pants.

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  29. Johnhavok says:

    Hey at least Vlaverde got the useless statistic on his record. Jays fans have had to watch Cordero blow another one.

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  30. Terence says:

    Want to make Dave really mad? Brad Mills asked Jose Altuve to sac bunt. Twice. In the same game.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/plays.aspx?date=2012-04-30&team=Astros&dh=0&season=2012

    Coming into that game he had a line of .373/.418/.566. Good thing noone watches the Astros.

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  31. Truthbtold says:

    Bad post Dave. All you’re doing is 2nd guessing. Actually you don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. The only thing I would remotely agree on is first – situation, and then execution. Also comparing two different leagues is also innapropriate. You gave bad examples where the batters did not execute. The purpose of a bunt is to advance the runner into scoring position, even if that forces an intentional walk. Also to put pressure on the defense. Remember “BIllyBall”? How many times did Martin get that runner to third with <2 outs? Then, a sac fly.

    Situations. WIth a runner on 1st only, <2 outs a basehit can score a run. 1st & 2nd 1 out, hit away. 1st and 2nd no outs? A bunt is mandatory. Wedge playing for a run when he's 2 down in the 9th? dumb. Mattingly was correct.

    My point is don't toss out the baby with the bath water

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    • jack says:

      you have to look at the context though. i already replied to someone who made similar remarks but the fact that the giants ALREADY HAD LOPEZ WARMING UP and mattingly still bunted, leaving first base open. everyone knew SF was walking kemp. why wouldnt they. they got the situation they wanted. 1 out, Lopez v. Ethier, double play situation at every base.

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  32. Hub says:

    ‘The Book’ needs to update its math from 2000-2003 offense to today’s offense. Teams are scoring half a run less a game these days.

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  33. Matt says:

    In Wedge’s defense, the Mariners won the game the previous night, in part, due to a successful Sac Bunt by Kyle Seager. That bunt moved a runner from 2nd to 3rd and the next batter (Jaso) hit a Sac Fly to win the game in the bottom of the 9th.

    It is tempting to only count times where it did not pay off, but there are certainly times where it does.

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    • BIP says:

      That was a completely different situation where the bunt was more than justified, as the home team only needs one run to win the game.

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  34. Perfect explanation. Thanks DC.

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  35. rossthevenot says:

    Good article, and I agree with most of it. I do see the managers point in many of these decisions though. A field player should execute a sacrifice bunt 100% of the time. I dont think the manager can be blamed for lack of execution. They can be blamed for not playing the percentages, but not for execution. Sacrifice bunting is not always a sin… it is a sin whenever you take the bat out of your 3 holes hands, with a runner in scoring position (which is what mattingly did). Either way, nice article.

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  36. jctGamer says:

    I just wanted to leave this here

    http://i50.tinypic.com/a57qqv.jpg

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  37. Ryan says:

    It’s time for the President to come out in opposition of sac bunts.

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  38. reillocity says:

    The smart manager of the future won’t be the one that refuses to bunt in those types of situations, but rather the one that tells the hitter to show bunt on the first pitch (or perhaps first and second pitch, if the first is a ball) and then takes the play off and allows the hitter to swing away with the infield guarding against the bunt.

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  39. Truthbtold says:

    Baseball is a lot different these days. Huge egos and I swear some of these guys get the bunt sign and intentionall foul off two so they can swing away. If you get a sac bunt sign and can’t lay it down 85% of the time, you don’t deserve to be in the majors period.

    Also, how many times have we seen some knucklehead making 4 mil/year look at a called third strike? Or making the 1st or third out at 3rd?

    Games are rarely won, but often lost due to mental errors and poor execution, and flat out bad managing. One thing is for sure, you have to score runs. Unless you have a 200 million dollar payroll, you have to manufacture runs. This means bunting, sac flies, hitting the other way, putting the ball in play etc. It does not mean each guy coming up and swinging for the fences. Ichiro is the 1st bonafide slap hitter in the majors, getting infield singles. we’re going to see a lot more of these guys in the future. OBA is as important as BA

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    • Zac says:

      Does anyone have bunt attempt numbers? I’d like to know what percentage of MLBers are idiots according to truthbtold …

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      • Zac says:

        I was rereading the chapter of “The Book” that talks about sacrifices, and I should have known the things I was wondering were right there. So I’ve answered my own question. For your information, on plate appearances in the last pitch thrown was bunted, with a runner on first and no outs, by non-pitchers between 2000 and 2004, the following bad things can happen:
        the batter is out and the runner does not advance
        there is a force out at second base
        a double play
        a strikeout (foul bunt with two strikes)
        Those four events happened a total of 27.1% of the time. So a sacrifice bunt attempt is successful at most 72.9% of the time. In reality it’s probably worse than that because some batters will switch to swinging away once they have two strikes, and the success rate of swinging away after showing a bunt attempt in a sacrifice situation is only 38.3%.

        In other words, the average sacrifice bunter doesn’t deserve to be in the majors by your reckoning.

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  40. DC says:

    I can’t believe anyone could endorse a move that takes the bat away from Matt freaking Kemp.

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  41. Maz1960 says:

    There are a plethora of situations where a sacrifice bunt is not attempted and no runs are scored yet . . . inexplicably . . . I don’t read anyone criticizing those moves as being “rally killers.” This simply strikes me as Monday morning Quarterbacking. If no sac bunt was attempted and Ellis grounds into a double play and Kemp struck out . . . would that strategy have been a “rally killer?”

    See? The analysis can go both ways.

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  42. Jacob says:

    I see the real stupid play in these situations as the cursed intentional walk. Bunting becomes a decent strategy because the opponent hands the out right back to you. Of course, as a Ranger fan I love seeing teams putting base runners on for Adrian Beltre

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  43. Spunky says:

    Dave Cameron beautifully states:

    giving away an out should be a rare occurrence.

    I feel the exact same way about forcing pitchers to bat in the National League.

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  44. Eric says:

    Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe the people who are trying to justify bunts because of RE are completely wrong.

    According to The Book (per Steve McAnderson) the RE’s for the following two situations justify bunts, regardless of outcome:
    1st_2nd 0 outs: 1.573
    Loaded 1 outs: 1.65

    BUT: maybe RE’s are lower for the first situation because MANAGERS FREAKIN BUNT in that situation, whereas with bases loaded and one out, most managers let their players swing away.

    Thoughts?

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