Mercurial Outfielder hates the bunt. He absolutley hates it. He’s not alone. There are a lot of people who think it’s a dumb strategy and there are a lot of people that think that one run is so important that it’s always a good strategy. The answer is somewhere in between and that’s what The Book focused on for 50 pages. I can’t possibly go over everything included in The Book so those who have it should turn to page 237 to get started.
The chapter on bunts starts with pointing out that statements like I first menetioned are nothing but rhetoric. The important question is whether or not it is ever advantageous to bunt. Does bunting ever increase the win expectancy and if so, when. At what point in the lineup and in what situations is a good idea? They then spend the next 50 pages analyzing almost every single situation that players often bunt in and provide analysis to show whether or not bunting is correct in those circumstances.
One thing that is important to note is that not all sac bunts are successful. Sometimes fans think they are when they are not. Sometimes they result in double plays. Sometimes the runner doesn’t advance at all. Sometimes there’s an error and both men are safe. In a sac bunt situation we have to remember the fielders are positioned so they can best make the play, which only makes the successful sac bunt that much harder. Furthermore, in those situations, pitchers may elevate the ball trying to get the popup. It’s not simply a matter of the batter executing as the pitcher and defense are also trying to execute in a way that results in the opposite of what the batting team is trying to accomplish.
Poor hitters sacrifice much more often than good hitters do. The Book found that the poor hitter attempts a sacrifice at least 5 times as often as the good hitter does.
As I mentioned, I can’t go into too much detail, but I can gloss over the important parts.
The first rule we come to in the chapter is that with a non-pitcher at the plate and a runner on 1st with no outs that you’ll gladly give the batting team the runner on 2nd for the out.
As for bunting early in a close game, low scoring environment, it is “often correct” to sacrifice a runner from first with no outs. You should also do the same thing in an average run environment to “keep the defense honest.” The same is true for late in a close game.
One of the things we usually can’t tell as fans is what either team is anticipating. If the batting team is intending to bunt and they catch the defense off guard it’s usually a good strategy. On the other hand, if the defense is shaded in to protect agains the bunt, it often is not. In order to keep that defense in while you’re batting, you do have to bunt on occasion. Otherwise they just play back and that makes it harder to get base hits.
As for a bad hitter, someone whose wOBA is expected to be well below league average (35 to 45 points below), he can attempt to sac bunt even if the defense is expecting it. This ignores the speed of the runner on 1st and how good a bunter the person at the plate is, which is also of importance when considering the bunt.
Even a hitter whose projected wOBA is higher than .300, he should sometimes bunt too. Especially if you are catching the defense out of position for the bunt. Good hitters should even bunt on occasion to keep the defense honest. The higher the projected wOBA, the more the defense needs to be playing back. If you catch them napping, it’s a good idea (see Carlos Pena). Whether the defense is anticipating the bunt or playing back is crucial in determining whether or not it was a good idea to bunt. We often don’t know where the defense is playing. About the only time we do hear about it is in obvious bunt situations or when a shift is on.
Another factor is who is on deck. Since you’re bunting the guy over for the next batter, this is quite important. You now have a runner on 2nd base and there’s an out if the sac bunt was successful. Which type of batter do you want to move the runner over for? Common sense tells us that the following batter taking a walk would be less valuable than it is in other circumstances. A walk with a runner already on 2nd base is less valuable than your average walk. If you have two equal players, but one derives more value from SLG than OBP, you’d prefer to bunt in front of the low OBP, low walk player because the walk in that situation has less value. In other words, you’d prefer to bunt in front of someone like Starlin Castro than you would Carlos Pena. That’s not actually true, because the two players aren’t equal (Pena is projected to be the better hitter by quite a lot), but imagine those two being equal, you’d rather sac bunt in front of Castro because he doesn’t take many walks. Pena does.
There are several exceptions to these and they only focused on no out situations. For example, a good bunter, especially one who is also fast, cant bunt much more frequently than a poor bunter.
As for pitchers, the rule is that with no outs a bad hitting pitcher should bunt most of the time, an average one some of the time and a good one should only occasionally do it. Carlos Zambrano has not bunted that often in his career so the Cubs managers seem to have this part figured out.
With regards to what happened the other night (Z bunting, runner on 1st, 1 out), only a bad hitting pitcher should bunt in such situations and only about half the time. Zambrano shoul dnot have been bunting in that situation. However, this is based on an average run scoring environment and assuming the defense was playing in for the bunt. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t. I’m guessing they were playing half way because Zambrano does not bunt very often. Wrigley Field also was not an average run scoring environment that night. The weather and the wind made it a pitcher’s paradise meaning that one run was even more important. If Zambrano bunted in that situation every time, I’d be upset. Since it’s only happened once, I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to the manager who knew where the defense was playing, and had a much better idea of what the actual run scoring environment was than I do. I’ll be as angry as MO is if this situation happens frequently.
There are many additional rules and many different circumstances, but I hope this gives us a better idea of some of the more typical situations and some of what must go into deciding whether or not the bunt is the right play.
If you remember only one thing about bunting, remember that it’s often not as simple as we fans make it sound. That works in both ways. Some fans say it helps score runs. Some fans say it’s dumb. Sometimes it does help score runs. Sometimes it is dumb. Many times it’s somewhere in between.