Earlier this week, I posted about the best bunts of the 2013 regular season according to Win Probability Added. You can read about the basic idea (and its limits) there. Now that we have looked at the best, why not a few of the worst?
Dave Cameron has his own pick for worst bunt of the year, but this is a different way to look at bunt results (again, see the earlier post for more details) to see how they turned out. I used similar categories to last year, but some placed in multiple categories. With these qualifications in mind, here are the worst bunts of 2013.
Worst Bunt that Resulted in a Fielder’s Choice
When one sees a Felix Hernandez versus Justin Grimm pitching matchup posted, one might feel like the Mariners should have beat the Rangers. Maybe they should have, but it did not happen on April 11. The Mariners actually struck first, as Franklin Gutierrez hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the first. The Rangers managed to put together four runs (three earned) off of King Felix, though, and by the bottom of the eighth, Texas was in the lead, 4-2.
Seattle started off the inning well against Robbie Ross, as Justin Smoak hit a leadoff single and Jesus Montero (hey, they got them both!) followed Smoak with a double. Robert Andino grounded out to score Smoak and advance Endy Chavez (who ran for Montero) to third. With one out and runners on second and third, Brendan Ryan came to the plate. Ryan may have a fantastic glove, and back in 2009 he was close to being a league-average hitter, but his bat is lackluster on his best day. Thus, although a squeeze attempt made decent sense. The Rangers were probably not totally shocked by it, either. Ross fielded it and threw out Chavez at home. It turned out to be pretty much the Mariners’ last chance of the game, and was worth -.220 WPA.
Worst Successful Sacrifice Bunt
WPA is a nice story stat, but it has its acknowledged limitations. One of these is not taking into account the quality of players, which would involve estimating true talent at the moment of all the players directly involved (not just the current pitcher and batter, but also, for example, the true talent of other batters who could potentially come to the plate). That is not to say it is useless, just to recognize its limits as currently implemented, especially when using it to look at strategic decisions.
This seems particularly pressing when looking at the worst of a successful event — a sacrifice bunt. In the bottom of the ninth at Coors field on September 18 and the Rockies losing to the Cardinals 4-3, Dexter Fowler led off the ninth with a single off of Edward Mujica. Corey Dickerson then came to the plate and successfully bunted Fowler to second. Given that the Rockies were down by just one with no outs, it might have seemed like a sound move in the ninth, even if it did not work out — the Rockies did not score and went on to lose. So is the .-059 WPA given to the play unfair?
There are arguments on both sides, but I think it was a bad decision. In some situations, it might have been better, but the run-scoring environment of Coors Field — even with a good pitcher on the mound — is such that bunts are generally less advisable there. Moreover, although Dickerson may not be a world beater at the plate, he is not a total slouch, and he had the platoon advantage versus Mujica. Perhaps the Cardinals were playing back far enough that the Rockies thought Dickerson might be able to get on base, but that seems unlikely. Bunting every once in a while to keep teams honest is a good idea, too, but in this crucial situation it might have been better just to let Dickerson swing away.
Worst Overall Bunt of 2013
It somehow seems appropriate that the worst bunt (according to WPA) of the 2013 regular season involved the Marlins. It occurred during their April 9 matchup with Atlanta.
Miami’s Wade LeBlanc actually held his own versus Kris Medlen, as he allowed just two runs over six innings (Medlen gave up just one earned run over seven). The Marlins’ bullpen gave up a run in the eighth, but Placido Polanco singled in Austin Kearns (!) in the bottom of the inning to bring the Marlins within one. Jon Rauch pitched a clean top of the ninth for the Marlins, which brought Craig Kimbrel in to try and finish the game.
Donovan Solano managed to work a walk against Kimbrel to put the tying run on first with no outs, and that brought catcher Rob Brantly to the plate. Brantly has been rated decently by some as an offense-first catching prospect, but his 243 plate appearances in the majors in 2013 did not show it, as he finished with a .211/.263/.265 (44 wRC+) line. Having him bunt in this situation made strategic sense. The results could hardly have been worse, though, as Brantly could not get the bunt down. Instead, he popped it up to the third baseman, who then threw Solano out at second for -.261 WPA and the worst bunt of the year.
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