The Worst Bunts of 2011

Earlier this week I posted about the best bunts of 2011. Taking some of the comments to that post into consideration, the obvious follow-up is the worst bunts of the 2011 season according to Win Probability Added (WPA).

As I noted in the prior post, while WPA is not a good metric to use for valuing players, it can be useful for evaluating certain strategies, especially one-run strategies like bunting, since one-run strategies only make sense at certain points in the game.

In the previous posts of things like this, I have done a simple query and ranking, which was fun in its own right. However, the “best bunts” by WPA, when done “straight up,” just gives a bunch of errors the fielders made in addition to the bunts. While I think the difficulty of fielding bunts is part of why bunting is not quite as bad a strategy as it is made out to be, the point is taken. So going forward, I am going to take the best/worst bunts in certain (somewhat arbitrary — hey, it’s my post!) categories based on types of events. That means that the worst bunts list here will not be just a list of bunts that resulted in double plays at crucial points, which obviously would be just about the worst thing that could happen from a win probability standpoint.

I will also make some use of The Hardball Times’ Win Probability Inquirer here. It uses the same model for WPA created by TangoTiger, but all the situational stuff involved in a particular calculation (e.g., park factors) means that I had to approximate certain things. I do not think it made that much of a difference, but I’m just letting you know. Onward!

Worst Failed Attempt to Bunt for a Hit:

On August 8, the Dodgers were down 4-3 to the Phillies at home. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, they had runners on second and third. Tony Gwynn, Jr. decided to try and bunt for a hit. Gwynn is fast, and maybe the Phillies were playing back, but… yeah, it failed to the tune of -.167 WPA. The Dodgers would go on to lose 5-3.

Worst Bunt Resulting in a Fielder’s Choice:

Cleveland and Kansas City were caught up in a tight struggle on August 27. Cleveland had managed to gain the upper hand, 8-7, going into bottom of the ninth at Kauffman Stadium. After rookie catcher Salvador Perez managed to get to second base on a single and an error with none out, noodle-batted glove man Alcides Escobar came to the plate. He bunted, but the Indians managed to get Perez out at third anyway for -.189 WPA. Sometimes bunts go awry, but what is particularly galling in this case is that even if Escobar had succeeded in sacrificing Perez over to third, it still would have been a negative play (about -0.025) in terms of win probability. Escobar is a pretty bad hitter, but with the runner on second there was little or no chance of a double play if Escobar (who is fast) had just swung away. Whether Royals manager Ned Yost called the bunt or Escobar did it himself, it displayed a questionable sense of game awareness. In terms of game strategy (not just outcome), this is arguably the worst bunt on this list.

Worst Successful Sacrifice:

Now here is something interesting… The worst successful sacrifice bunt from the perspective of WPA occurred on
September 28 in the American League. The Blue Jays were down 2-1 to the White Sox in Chicago with runners on the corners in the top of the ninth and none out. Colby Rasmus came to the plate and sacrificed David Cooper, the runner on first, to second base for -.107 WPA. The Blue Jays would go on to take the lead later in the inning after an intentional walk followed by two more walks by Chris Sale put them up 3-2, the score that would win the game for them. However, having Rasmus sacrifice still really did not make sense to me, even in context. Yes, Rasmus had not been swinging the bat well all year, especially since coming over to Toronto. However, he is also a left-handed hitter who had never had problems with grounding into double plays. Maybe the Jays saw something else going on with the fielders or Rasmus that day that I am missing. They did go on to win, but having Rasmus sacrifice did not make much sense even at the time. But hey, I have been wrong plenty of times before. What did I miss?

Worst Overall Bunt:

As you might expect, the worst overall bunt of 2011 resulted in a double play. On July 17, the Padres and Giants were in a hard-fought, extra-innings affair. The game had been tied at three since the seventh inning. In the top of the eleventh, the Giants managed to go ahead on a suicide squeeze by catcher Chris Stewart that scored Manny Burriss from third. The Padres were far from done. In the bottom of the eleventh, both Ryan Ludwick and Orlando Hudson managed walks against America’s House Guest Who Refuses to Leave, Brian Wilson. With two on and no one out, Padres catcher Kyle Phillips, who had already allowed six stolen basess in the game, came to the plate. Phillips is not much of a hitter, but if he would have succeeded in bunting the runners over, he would have increased the Padres’ WPA by about .03. In other words, the decision to have Phillips bunt made sense. However, unlike his counterpart in the top half of the inning, Phillips could not get the job done, and grounded into a double play for -.353 WPA. It did not end the game, but it was their worst play (according to WPA) of the game, and the worst bunt of the season.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

25 Responses to “The Worst Bunts of 2011”

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  1. chuckb says:

    These lines,

    “Padres catcher Kyle Phillips, who had already allowed six stolen basess in the game, came to the plate. Phillips is not much of a hitter, ”

    make me wonder what the hell he was doing in the game, much less hitting in a tied game late. I guess the Padres were out of players.

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  2. Ron Gardenhire says:

    I didn’t read this. Didn’t need to. There is no such thing as a bad bunt.

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    • says:

      Bart Simpson on paper, rock, scissors….

      “Good ol’ rock. Nothing beats rock.”

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  3. jake says:

    For “Bunt that gave me a concussion because I slapped my head so hard” I nominate every time the lead-off hitter got on to start the game and the 2-hole hitter sacrificed him over. I seem to remember Jimmy Leyland doing this multiple times this season.

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    • steex says:

      Hey, everybody knows you need to play for one run in the first inning.

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    • Bip says:

      Everyone knows that ability to bunt and execute hit and runs are the skills that a number two hitter requires.

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    • SpokaneMsFan says:

      Leyland has been doing that forever. I remember Jay Bell used to lead the league in sacrifices for the Pirates every year for a while there.

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      • matt w says:

        Absolutely. There was an ad campaign for a local grocery store featuring Jay Bell telling you how to make a bunt. (It involved a bundt pan.)

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      • jake says:

        Just checked the game logs for Jay Bell’s 1990 season. In that season alone, Jimmy had him sacrifice bunt after the lead-off hitter got on to start the game 16 times total! 4 of those were times when the lead-off hitter had gotten to second base before Jimmy had Bell bunt!

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      • jake says:

        Just checked 1991 as well. Jimmy had Bell do this 15 times, 4 of which occurred with the lead-off man on second.

        So, if you were a Pirates fan in 1990 and 1991, you had a roughly ten percent chance that the Pirates’ half of the 1st inning of any game you watched would begin with the lead-off man getting on and Jay Bell making the first out through sacrifice.


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      • jake says:

        And in 1997, Jimmy had Edgar Renteria bunt in the 1st after the lead-off man got on to start the game 10 times, 5 of which came with the lead-off hitter on second base.

        As a Tigers’ fan, I am weeping at the thought of yet another year of his game managing.

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  4. steex says:

    “He bunted, but the Indians managed to get Perez out at third anyway for -.189 WPA. Sometimes bunts go awry, but what is particularly galling in this case is that even if Escobar had succeeded in sacrificing Perez over to third, it still would have been a negative play (about -0.25) in terms of win probability.”

    Should this read -0.025 if the bunt had been successful? Successfully moving a man to third with one out seems like it should have a higher (read: less negative) WPA than ending up with a man on first and one out.

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  5. Greg says:

    I’m surprised none of those first-inning bunts won “Worst Successful.” I guess nobody tried bunting with runners at the corners in the first inning?

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  6. WSO says:

    It’s a shame this list is strictly by WPA, Alexei Ramirez bunting into a triple play deserves some recognition
    (Top of the 4th)

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  7. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    How does Colby Lewis vs. Cardinals in the World Series not make it? Was it regular season only? That’s the worst bunt I’ve ever seen.

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  8. eric says:

    type: ‘this is arguably be’

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  9. Umm says:

    For the Gwynn bunt, I’m hovering my mouse through the play-by-play/WPA graph… and I’m not seeing it at all. Something is wrong. Either the date of the game or the particulars involved.

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  10. Greg W says:

    I was watching the Rasmus bunt against Chicago. Made no sense at the time. It led to a righty/righty matchup and nothing favoured the Jays, but Sale made it all work out great in the end. So Farrell will probably try it again when the opportunity presents itself.

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  11. halejon says:

    The Rasmus bunt was a missed sign — they were safety squeezing on the first two pitches but he got ahead in the count so they tried to take it off.

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  12. David says:

    I don’t know if this qualifies, but this bunt attempt has to be mentioned. Runner on 2nd, no out, and Allen Craig is supposed to bunt. He bunts the first two pitches foul, and on the next pitch hits a home run.

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  13. qudjy1 says:

    Ryan Roberts had a bad one too for the dbacks – I think it was in the playoffs, and AZ was down 3, with man on base, one out, something like that…

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