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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.