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Sabermetrics 101: Bunting


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The problem is that those statistics represent an average over dozens of years and don't tell us too much on their own. These are the average runs during those situations... on average, with average hitters on average teams in average situations. We don't even know the standard devations. Are 0.78 and0.70 actually even different staistically speaking? 

Furthermore, bunting happens in a situational context when you know that in your particular case the odds are different than average. If I have a hypotehtical situation with Buxton on first with Matt Tolbert at bat... I'm going to bunt every time knowing that there is a chance Buxton ends up on third with one out, and at best Tolboert will avoid grounding into a double play.  

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A couple things that bear thinking about though.

 

First, if you look at the fact that this is the average over dozens of seasons, as you acknowledge, that difference between .7 and .78 would almost have to be statistically significant given the large sample size. 

 

Second, if you also think about bunting as trying to come about in statistically advantageous situations, that still feeds the average. Every team is trying to do it in situations where they feel they can do better than the outcome matrix would suggest. The results still come out that way roughly because (with few exceptions) it doesn't matter what your motivation is. You will still adhere to the expected outcomes

 

The problem is that those statistics represent an average over dozens of years and don't tell us too much on their own. These are the averaantage they think they do.  ge runs during those situations... on average, with average hitters on average teams in average situations. We don't even know the standard devations. Are 0.78 and0.70 actually even different staistically speaking? 

 


Furthermore, bunting happens in a situational context when you know that in your particular case the odds are different than average. If I have a hypotehtical situation with Buxton on first with Matt Tolbert at bat... I'm going to bunt every time knowing that there is a chance Buxton ends up on third with one out, and at best Tolboert will avoid grounding into a double play.  

 

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The problem is analyzing bunts in their own bubble. Bunts are almost never designed to produce a run on their own; bunts are a supplementary tool to get more leverage on the bases so that future hitting events have a higher probability of scoring a run.

 

A bunt on its own is useless for increasing the score. But what about a bunt and a single? What about a bunt and a double? Well, you'd have to look at the "Single with a player on 2nd" or "a double with a player on second" charts to know the answer. However, how the baserunner got on second in the first place matters.

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A more practical consideration in modern baseball is that not that many guys bunt well enough to make it pay. When I guy is trying to bunt but can’t get it down you’ve really screwed yourself.

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A more practical consideration in modern baseball is that not that many guys bunt well enough to make it pay. When I guy is trying to bunt but can’t get it down you’ve really screwed yourself.

Your comment is absolutely correct. But one also has to consider that sabermetrics has driven the ability to bunt, and the desire to bunt into submission. If you can hit a major league pitch, you can bunt. The fact a player  doesn’t  want to is more likely the problem. Sabermetrics cuts both ways. If you have a hitter up who statistically is likely to hit into a DP or strike out, bunting someone into scoring position makes sense. Relying on extra base hits is wonderful if you have the talents to do it. It’s like the 3 in basketball has become. Everyone knows you can score more points that way. But few seem to acknowledge that first the ball has to go into that little metal ring. For a,local example see Pitino, Richard! 

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The people that are upset about his statement are not fully listening to it.  As stated, he said it bunting has its place at times. He did not say never bunt, he was pointing out the use of bunting more often than not is the issue.  

 

Of course, if a pitcher that hits sub .100 will be asked to bunt almost always when runners are on.  Having a productive out is always better than a double play or strikeout.  Also in late game situations where 1 run is needed there are times bunting to get a guy in scoring position and getting rid of double play can be helpful.  However, with the lack of bunting ability of many players, you need to decide if asking them to bunt is worth it either.  If they cannot bunt well, then you are just taking bat out of hand.  

 

As baseball has always been, everything is about situation.  Bunting and base stealing, and hit and run plays have fallen way off lately because teams have decided giving away an out or risking the out is not worth the likely reward.  If you knew every time you would get a run out of it, they would do it every time, but if the odds of getting the run is not increased, why do it? 

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The impact of Expected Runs on modern bunting is over-stated, or at least over-simplified.

 

It's about who's playing the game. People didn't need Sabermetrics to know you didn't ask Killebrew to bunt (or hit behind the runner; or take an outside pitch the other way). And I'm pretty sure Killebrew was bad at all those things, simply because I never saw him do any of them. But asking Frank Quilici to bunt...or even Matty Alou? Completely different. Believe me, every manager in 1969 would gladly have given up Alou's 231 hits, bunting ability, and 35 strikeouts, to take on the hardship of Killebrew's 85 K's and inability to lay down a good bunt..

 

The difference is the Frank Quilici's are dead, and the Matty Alou's are dying. In their place? Players trying and failing to be Killebrew or Reggie Jackson. Producing half the levels of goodness with twice (or more) of the badness. Of course, Sabermetrics has a lot to do with that. And the numbers feed on themselves. First, they confirm pitching specialization has made it even harder to be Matty Alou (contact, stringing hits), which in turn, further reinforces the need for everyone in the development and scouting cycles to try even harder to produce Killebrew's (yank and launch, in case you hit it). That, of course, drives the contact/hit numbers down even further. And so it goes...where will it end?

 

The bunt remains the correct play under the same circumstances it always was the correct play. Over-utilized in the past? Yes, but probably not as much as is the current perception given the conditions, players, and ballparks of the past. And under-utilized in the modern game...due in no small part to circumstances where neither the bunter nor the batter in the on-deck circle have the bat skills to execute the strategy.

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