I have nothing against a sacrifice bunt in the right situation. I do have something against a sacrifice bunt in every situation that could call for a sacrifice bunt.
Sacrifice bunts may move runners over in to a better scoring position, but that comes at the cost of a free out. In some situations the bunt makes sense. If Rod Barajas leads off with a double, I’d bunt him over to third base. He’s no guarantee to score from second, especially after legging out a double. However, if Alex Presley leads off the inning with a double, which he did twice tonight, I’m not bunting him over.
The Pirates did exactly that, on two occasions tonight. Presley led off the game with a double, and was immediately bunted over by Jose Tabata. Andrew McCutchen came up and brought Presley in with a ground out.
Later in the game, Presley led off with another double. Tabata went for another bunt, but the plans fell through, and he ended up coming away with a single in to right field, with Presley only advancing to third, waiting to see if the ball would drop. Andrew McCutchen came up big with a two RBI double in the next at-bat, putting the Pirates up 3-2.
With Presley’s speed, there’s little reason to bunt him over to third with one out. The only advantage is that you bring him in on a sacrifice fly. That strategy is focusing on aiming for one run. It works if you get leadoff doubles often. The Pirates don’t.
You also limit Andrew McCutchen’s impact with a bunt. If Tabata gets the bunt down in the seventh, Presley still scores on the McCutchen double, but the game is now tied at 2-2, instead of the Pirates leading 3-2. An inning later, Tabata tried to bunt with runners at first and second and no outs. He ended up popping out to the catcher. Had he laid a bunt down, Colorado would have probably intentionally walked McCutchen, thus taking the bat away from your best hitter.
Tabata had two hits on the night. It was his third multi-hit game in the last four games. He’s a very streaky hitter, and this could be the start of a hot streak. There’s no reason to take the bat out of his hands to play small ball. The Pirates need to shoot for big innings. Sacrifice bunts are fine in some situations, but the Pirates seem to attempt them in every situation. That’s a problem because it makes it impossible to have that big inning, and the Pirates haven’t been getting enough runners on base to make constant small ball work.
Bunting is fine in certain situations, but the more you bunt, the more you hurt your chances of scoring runs. Take a look at this 2011 Run Expectancy Matrix by Tangotiger. The matrix is made up of plays from 1969-1992, looking at how many runs are to be expected in every base running situation.
The Pirates twice opened the inning with a leadoff double from Alex Presley. According to the matrix above, that leads to 1.102 runs per inning. Bunting the runner over to third, and putting one out on the board, lowers the run expectancy to 0.943.
A leadoff walk or a leadoff single has a run expectancy of 0.853. You may think that bunting a runner over increases the chances of scoring a run. It doesn’t. The expectancy for a runner at second and one out is 0.671.
Tonight the Pirates had the following sacrifice bunt situations, with the loss in run expectancy included.
**Jose Tabata bunts Alex Presley from 2nd to 3rd. -0.129
**Neil Walker bunts Casey McGehee from first to second. -0.182
**Alex Presley attempts a bunt with a runner on first, but reaches on an error. +0.623
**Jose Tabata attempts a bunt with runners at first and second, but bunts foul. -0.574
TOTAL: -0.262 expected runs.
The Pirates were very lucky tonight. Take out the error for Presley (and Tabata’s bunt foul, since he wouldn’t be bunting in that situation), and assume Tabata gets a bunt down in the seventh inning, and you’ve got a -0.589 change in run expectancy.
Even the pace tonight means one fewer run every four games. Over the course of a season that’s 40.5 runs lost. That’s four wins on the season, going by the 10 runs equals 1 win scale.
There are situations where a bunt is appropriate. If Clint Barmes hits a leadoff double, and the pitcher comes up, bunt. Odds are the pitcher will record an out, which would put the run expectancy at 0.678 with a runner at second and one out, instead of 0.943 with a runner at third and one out.
The problem is that the Pirates aren’t picking their situations. They are bunting in almost every situation. When you do that, you run in to a problem like I outlined above, where you’re literally throwing away wins over the course of the season. That’s not something a team like the Pirates can afford to do. If anything, with their offense they definitely can’t afford to be constantly lowering their run expectancy and giving away outs at the same time.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates won 5-4 against the Rockies. Game story here.
**Prospect Watch: Another great start for Jameson Taillon.
**Josh Bell left tonight’s game with an injury. Details here.
**Aaron Pribanic and Jarek Cunningham were placed on the disabled list today.
**Tony Watson has looked good this season, outside of his homer against Carlos Gonzalez tonight. Kristy Robinson wrote about how he’s an asset out of the bullpen.
**Speaking of Watson, I’ve talked a lot about closer usage in the last week. I tweeted this as Watson was coming in the game tonight: One run lead, runner on second, two outs, best hitter up, 8th inning. If closers were used properly, this is a situation where you’d use one.
Fortunately, the Rockies left their closer in the bullpen with a one run lead in the eighth inning.
**Pirates Notebook: The Pirates and Rockies will make history by being the first teams to use the 26-man roster for tomorrow’s double header.
**Minor League Schedule for 4/25: Gerrit Cole is on the mound.