If you watch much Cardinal baseball and read much Pitchers Hit Eighth, you know that Tony La Russa loves to sacrifice bunt and we hate giving away the out when it’s not necessary.
On Saturday against the Cubs, the Cards’ half of the ninth provided such an occasion and a prime opportunity to present why it is a bad idea.
When I tweeted that it was an awful decision to have Brendan Ryan sacrifice bunt with Aaron Miles on second an no one out, the typical response back was that it was Ryan’s fault for not executing. Okay, you’re right to a point – Ryan’s effort was awful – but bunting in that situation at all actually reduced the Cardinals’ probability to score a run.
It would take me forever to do all the math on why by myself, so thankfully I have 2nd Guesser to do the heavy lifting for me.
So to read the results of our “test sac bunt” there, 2nd Guesser takes into account the probability of each play succeeding or failing, then averages all of the run expectancy results to get a net expectancy result that decides if the optimal decision was made.
It also takes into account Ryan’s OBP and the possibility that the sac bunt could result in an error or other play that successfully puts Ryan on base.
You’ll note that a failed sac bunt results in the largest reduction in run expectancy, and even if the sac bunt is successful in moving the runner over, they have one less available out, so run expectancy goes down.
At least by swinging away, the chance exists to score Miles. Assuming they avoid the double play (which is a possibility with the sac bunt as well anyway) there is actually increased value in letting Ryan bat there, versus bunting and, inevitably, getting out AND not advancing the runner.
(UPDATE – 08/18) In addition, something I meant to include with the original post, the Cubs’ pitcher at the time Carlos Marmol throws really nasty, rising fastballs. They are horribly difficult to bunt. In fact, Marmol has only allowed thirteen successful sacrifice bunts in his career – a span of 1,564 plate appearances. No hitter has successfully completed a sac bunt against Marmol so far in 2010.
Coupled with the fact that the matchup against Marmol was merely Ryan’s third plate appearance against the pitcher, I feel confident that he had a difficult time just tracking the pitches, much less trying to get a bunt to go downward toward the field when it is rising toward your eye level in the mid-nineties.
2nd Guesser cannot account for the pitcher on the mound or his stuff, but seems plausible to say that Ryan’s odds of success and the team’s run expectancy would go down even further.