I wrote about the most effective bunts of 2010 (according to Win Probability Added [WPA]) in a previous post. I had planned on leaving it at that, but one commenter asked about the worst bunts of the season. Despite my goal of trying to be “more positive” this year, I can’t say no to my millions of adoring fans. So, along with a couple responses to comments, here are the five worst bunts of the 2010 regular season.
The bunts are ranked by WPA because, although bunts are generally a bad way to score runs, in select situations they are a good way to increase win expectancy (if not run expectancy), i.e., in the last innings of a one-run or tie game. As I noted yesterday, of the 2988 bunts executed in 2010 (this number is a bit deceptive because it doesn’t include things like bunts that were fouled off, but it generally gets at the point), only 823 (about 28%) resulted in a positive WPA. Tom Tango understandably wondered what the “success rate” was if pitchers were excluded. So, mustering my limited SQL skills, I finally figured out what had gone wrong in earlier attempt to exclude pitchers. Without pitchers, 756 of 2161 bunts (about 35%) resulted in a positive WPA.
Over at Beyond the Box Score, J-Doug took note of my closing remark from the post that “five plays doesn’t tell us anything of general significance about bunting as a strategy” and responded by saying that The Book shows that there are occasions when bunts work out well. I agree, and, in fact, that was one of the premises of my post, both as evidenced by my use of WPA rather than, say, RE24, as well as the examples given themselves. What I meant in that sentence was simply that five plays by themselves don’t tell us anything of significance — as demonstrations of the larger point made in more extensive studies about when bunts might be a good idea and why this is so, of course, they do.
Preliminaries aside, here are the five worst bunts of 2010 (including those by pitchers) according to WPA. Note that they all occur in extra innings with runners on:
5. Jeff Mathis, September 8, -.175 WPA. Ah, Jeff Mathis, the homeless man’s Jason Kendall. I knew you’d figure into this somehow. At least he didn’t start the game, but came into the game in extra innings. It was the eleventh inning with one out, the Angels were tied was tied at three with Cleveland and, well, Jeff Mathis was at the plate, so maybe a bunt would at least avoid the double play, right? And it actually did. WPA doesn’t take into account batter talent, so while this play was a big negative in that regard (although Mathis was lucky to avoid someone else getting thrown out when he bunted into the air). In a moment of serendipity (or something), Mathis won the game for the Angels with a walk-off sacrifice in the sixteenth inning.
4. Jon Garland, June 2, -.175 WPA. This is the only appearance by a pitcher on this list, but Garland didn’t pitch in this game. He was brought in as a pinch-hitter in the eleventh inning with the Padres and Mets tied at one apiece, no outs, and a runner on third. Garland actually reached base on his bunt, but only because the pitcher decided to throw out Tony Gwynn, Jr. at third. The Padres actually won the game later in the inning when Adrian Gonzalez hit a grand slam.
3. Orlando Hudson, May 1, -.181 WPA. It was the tenth inning and the Twins were locked up 4-4 with Cleveland. Hudson came to the plate with Denard Span on first and not outs, and proceed to bunt into the air, which was caught by the pitcher, who threw Span out at second.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, July 4, -.224 WPA. The Jays were playing the Yankees on Independence Day when Encarnacion came up to the plate in the tenth with runners on first and second, no one out, and the score tied at six. He bunted into the air to the third baseman and Adam Lind got thrown out at second. The Jays went on to lose in the bottom of the inning.
1. Lastings Milledge, April 28, -.275 WPA. Remember when Milledge was an exciting Mets prospect? Me neither. But seriously, he’s a free agent now and some rebuilding team should take a chance on him, although he has managed to wear out his welcome with three different organizations. This certainly wasn’t among his finer moments. With the Pirates and Brewers tied at five in the twelfth inning, on outs, and runners on first and second, Milledge managed to foul bunt into the air. The foul was was caught by the catcher, and Andrew McCutchen got thrown out at third. Despite this fiasco, Pirates did go on to win the game Garrett Jones‘ double in the fourteenth. Milledge also had the eighth-worst bunt of the season (-.160 WPA) on September 12.