Bobby V and the overuse of the Sacrifice Bunt

Okay, so... we'll start up here, and warn everyone that I have a tendency to ramble on endlessly, and this is going to be a long piece of analysis, and I have a bias at the front end, as I hate the sacrifice bunt as a tactic, and think that Bobby V is overusing it, despite earlier stating that he would only use it in critical, game winning run type situations.

So... let's quote Bobby V, shall we? Marc Normandin cited an article back on March 12th from Brian MacPhearson about the sacrifice bunt: "I'm not real big on that," Valentine said. "As I told the guys, if we're going to have a bunting situation, I hope they can perfect the bunt for a base hit. That's why we have bunting stations today."

13 sacrifice bunts through 49 games, and 5 in the last week alone... I don't know, but that seems like a lot to me and it certainly doesn't look like we were trying to get hits. Now, let's get into the nitty gritty analysis, and the really long-winded stuff... after the jump. And this isn't going to be pretty... can someone print this out and leave all fifteen pages on Bobby V's desk for me?

Since the analysis went so long... let's put a quick summary up here at the top. (Well, quick by my standards anyway.) If you want the actual details... scroll on down.

13 Bunt Attempts, 11 with 0 outs and 2 with 1 outs (both SPs against Philly)

5 times with runners on first and second, 6 times with a runner on first, and 2 times with a runner on second

5 runs scored in the inning with one of the 13 bunt attempts, but only 2 runs scored as a result of the bunt. A 2 for 13 rate.

(Caveat here is you could call it 3 for 13 if you think sacrificing Nava to second somehow caused the pitcher to approach Salty differently before his two run walk off HR... I suppose it is possible, but I don't think it is likely. Or 4 for 13 if you want to count the run scored by Salty himself. Sometimes the run scored after the sacrifice bunt attempt failed, and the lead runner was eliminated on the play, but a subsequent hitter drove in a run anyway.)

We bunted with the lead 6 times, tied 5 times, and trailing 3 times. We then won only 5 of those games, and lost 6 of them.

Two of the bunt attempts while trailing came in the game won by Salty's walk off HR. Which means of the three times we bunted while trailing, we accounted for one win (though I maintain that was not helped by the sacrifice bunt attempt). That means of the other 10 games with a sacrifice bunt attempt, we were leading 5 and tied in 4 and trailing in one, and turned that into a 4-6 record. Three of those losses were by a single run.

None of the sacrifice bunt attempts led to a situation where we won the game (unless you count the Salty walk off HR), and 3 times we eventually lost the game by a single run.

Overall, I think this small sample size reinforces what the sabermetrics folks have been saying for years... the sacrifice bunt gives away an out, often doesn't result in a run scoring, and negatively impacts your team's chances to win.

Bunt #1: Aviles vs. Tigers, leading 9-7, top 9th, 0 outs and runners on first and second.

Game #3 of the season, so that didn't take long, against the Detroit Tigers... and we all know how this game turned out. And we all screamed about the bunt when it happened, even with the resulting runs... but here it is again for documentation purposes.

1. Darnell McDonald singles on a soft fly ball to RF Brennan Boesch.

2. Pinch hitter Cody Ross singles on a pop up to 1B Prince Fielder, deflected by 2B Ryan Rayburn. Darnell McDonald to 2nd.

3. Mike Aviles out on a sacrifice bunt to 1B Prince Fielder. Darnell McDonald to 3rd. Cody Ross to 2nd.

Pitcher Change: Octavio Dotel replaces Phil Coke.

4. Kelly Shoppach strikes out swinging.

5. Nick Punto singles on a ground ball to SS Jhonny Peralta. Darnell McDonald scores. Cody Ross to 3rd.

6. Jacoby Ellsbury grounds out softly, P Octavio Dotel to 1B Prince Fielder.

Now, the end result of this was a one run gain. The bigger question we all asked (after losing 13-12, with blown saves by both Melancon and Aceves this night) was how many runs could we have scored if we didn't sacrifice Mike Aviles. According to the Baseball Reference site, this was a negative impact of -0.09 on the score, which is a small negative impact. However, it certainly seemed like the wrong call at the time, even if one run ended up scoring in the inning. Aviles sacrifices with Shoppach and Punto due up? How lucky is Bobby V that Punto (who was leading off that night, if you all recall) actually would come through there?

Bunt #2: Shoppach vs. the Blue Jays, tied 0-0, top 3rd, 0 outs and runners on first and second

So, took us three games to get to the next one... and yes, that's the top of the 3rd (I may have to go digging deeper for the quote, but I thought Bobby V said somewhere he'd only sacrifice in cases where it might bring in the game winning run... top of the 3rd??).

1. Cody Ross singles on a line drive to LF Eric Thames.

2. Mike Aviles singles on a sharp ground ball to RF Jose Bautista. Cody Ross to 2nd.

3. Kelly Shoppach ground bunts into a force out, C J.P. Arencibia to 3B Brett Lawrie. Cody Ross out at 3rd, Mike Aviles to 2nd, Kelly Shoppach to 1st.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury singles on a line drive to LF Eric Thames, Mike Aviles scores. Kelly Shoppach to 2nd.

5. Dustin Pedroia strikes out swinging.

6. Adrian Gonzalez grounds out, 2B Kelly Johnson to 1B Edwin Encarnacion.

Okay, at least this is your #9 hitter, with the big bats coming. However, what happens when you ask your catcher to sacrifice bunt, something he doesn't have a ton of experience with? Well, we get the force play at third, and eventually score a run on Ellsbury's single. Question... if this had been executed well, do we score two runs? Probably... when you give away an out, though... you don't always get to choose which one. If Shoppach struck out or popped out, it's probably the same result... but a hit by Shoppach, and a hit by Ellsbury... and either Papi bats, or Gonzo hit into a GIDP. So... as far as results go... no runs scored as a result of the sacrifice bunt. So we're 1 for 2.

Bunt #3: Aviles vs. the Twins, leading 3-1, top 2nd, 0 outs and a runner on second

So... yeah... top of the 2nd inning, leading 3-1 already... and we're giving away outs. The good news? Almost two weeks went by between sacrifice bunts, at least, as they were identified by Baseball Reference. The bad news? The photo and headline for this game? Aviles and "Four of a kind: Aviles powers Red Sox's rout" because he had four hits on the day. Yup, he was 4-5 with 3 runs and 2 RBIs, and a sacrifice bunt. In the second inning... so... umm... about that not sacrificing thing, and bunting for base hits? This was a bunt to first base. Pretty clearly a sacrifice, right?

1. Kelly Shoppach doubles (5) on a fly ball to CF Denard Span.

2. Mike Aviles out on a sacrifice bunt to 1B Joe Mauer. Kelly Shoppach to 3rd.

3. Ryan Sweeney grounds out, 2B Trevor Plouffe to 1B Joe Mauer.

4. Dustin Pedroia grounds out, SS Jamey Carroll to 1B Joe Mauer.

Let me get this straight... we scored 3 runs in the top of the 1st inning, with 8 Boston batters coming to the plate. We start the second inning off with the #9 hitter cranking a double (remember... this is Shoppach running) to CF. And our lead off guy, who doubled in the first, sacrifices?? Now, again, at least there are hitters behind him (though they didn't get hits) in Sweeney and Pedroia, and maybe one of those would have been a GIDP with Aviles on first. But why are we giving away outs? 1 run scored in 3 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #4: Shoppach vs. the Orioles, tied 4-4, bottom 9th, 0 outs and runner on first

Okay, now this is the exact situation we're supposed to use the sacrifice bunt. Here it is... bottom of the 9th inning, in a tie game, with runners on first and second, nobody out and C Kelly Shoppach at the plate. Wait... there's only a runner at first? No worries... still got Shoppach at the plate, and we all saw how well he did on his last sacrifice bunt attempt... Wait... what? Okay... never mind all of that... here's how it went down.

1. Ryan Sweeney singles on a ground ball to CF Adam Jones.

2. Kelly Shoppach out on a sacrifice bunt, C Ronny Paulino to 2B Robert Andino (covering 1B). Ryan Sweeney to 2nd.

3. Mike Aviles grounds out, 3B Mark Reynolds to 1B Chris Davis. (Runner does not advance.)

4. Will Middlebrook grounds out 1B Chris Davis to P Luis Ayala.

And so much for that. We went on to lose this game in 13 innings, with Franklin Morales responsible for the two runners that eventually scored. 6-4 Orioles victory, Chris Davis gets the game winning RBI... before earning the win while pitching this series... and the Sox are now 1 run scored in 4 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #5: Byrd against the Royals, losing 4-3, top 9th, 0 outs and runners on first and second

Okay... THIS is the exact situation where you're supposed to sacrifice bunt. It's the 9th inning, runners on first and second, your #8 hitter is up, but you've got Sweeney hitting #9 and Aviles in the hole, as the lead off man. You need one run to bring up the Royals for the bottom of the 9th and possibly force extra innings. I mean, we cannot really lose two out of three to the Royals, can we?? (Well, let's "bunt for a hit," right, Bobby V? Yeah... that bunt up the first base line couldn't have been an actual sacrifice bunt, could it??)

1. Cody Ross singles on a soft line drive to RF Jeff Francoeur.

Pinch runner Darnell McDonald replaces Cody Ross.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia walks. Darnell McDonald to 2nd.

3. Marlon Byrd out on a sacrifice bunt, 1B Eric Hosmer to 2B Chris Getz (covering 1B). Darnell McDonald to 3rd. Jarrod Saltalamacchia to 2nd.

4. Ryan Sweeney flies out to LF Alex Gordon.

Pinch runner Nick Punto replaces Jarrod Saltalamacchia. (You know... so we can score two on a single.)

5. Mike Aviles grounds out, SS Alcides Escobar to 1B Eric Hosmer.

For starters, how much did this have to hurt Aviles... a chance for a game winning hit against the team that yanked him in and out of the line up and traded him for Yamico Navarro... then basically dumped Navarro to the Pirates. Aviles was 2 for 5 for the night, and Byrd... well, he's Byrd and he already had a hit that game, so hard to imagine him getting another. Sweeney's fly to LF just wasn't deep enough to score McDonald from third. And we lost 2 of 3 to the Royals... 1 run scored in 5 sacrifice bunt attempts... Anyone else feeling a pattern developing here?

Bunt #6: Lester vs. the Phillies, leading 5-1, top 4th, 1 out and runner on first

Okay, I joked about this one in the game thread... amusing to me that both of these (#6 and #7) were in the same game, and the real example I was looking for was the 7th, but this attempt by Lester is included for documentation purposes. Obviously, with an AL pitcher batting, this is definitely the right call... up 5-1 or down 2-1.

1. Will Middlebrooks homers (5) on a fly ball to right center field. (Love having WMB on my fantasy team.)

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia homers (6) on a fly ball to right center field. (I drafted him, but who needs two catchers?)

3. Ryan Sweeney reaches on fielding error by P Joe Blanton.

4. Daniel Nava strikes out swinging.

5. Jon Lester out on a sacrifice bunt, C Carlos Ruiz to 1B Hector Luna. Ryan Sweeney to 2nd.

6. Mike Aviles flies out to CF Shane Victorino.

So... basically, a good sacrifice by Jon, but with two outs (and already leading 5-1 for a game they would eventually win 7-5), Aviles failed to deliver the hit to drive in the runner. It does, however, put the Sox at 1 run in 6 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #7: Sweeney vs. the Phillies, leading 7-4, top 8th, 0 outs and runner on second

This was the one I wanted to use as an example in the game thread, though my memory was that we were up 7-2, not 7-4, and I remembered that there were two non-hitters due up (I recalled as soon as I opened this about the pitcher's spot, but had forgotten that detail in the game thread)... John Leary helped with the link, and this is another one that really pissed me off... without further ado:

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubles (10) on a fly ball to CF Shane Victorino.

2. Ryan Sweeney out on a sacrifice bunt, P Joe Savery to 1B Hector Luna. Jarrod Saltalamacchia to 3rd.

3. Daniel Nava reaches on a Fielder's Choice out, SS Jimmy Rollins to C Carlos Ruiz. Jarrod Saltalamacchia out at home.

4. Vicente Padilla flies out to CF Shane Victorino.

Okay, for starters... I assume if Salty had either scored (and Nava had singled), or Nava struck out/popped out, that we'd have seen a pinch hitter for Padilla. Once the runner in scoring position was out, with a 7-4 lead, it was determined that it was better to let Padilla pitch the 8th. So he was allowed to bat... however, net result is... Sacrifice bunt gives away an out, and two outs later... no runs have scored. So we are now 1 run scored in 7 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #8: Beckett vs. the Phillies, leading 1-0, top 2nd, 1 out and runners on first and second

Well, our third bunt attempt in two days, but that's to be expected with pitchers batting in an NL park. Wait... why are we still doing that? Granted Beckett's history (and his deep "single" to CF this game even) suggest that maybe we should let him swing... but, I'll concede that a sac bunt is a good play here. Except....

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia strikes out on a foul tip.

2. Daniel Nava walks.

3. Marlon Byrd singles on a ground ball to LF Juan Pierre. Daniel Nava to 2nd.

4. Josh Beckett ground bunts into a force out, P Cliff Lee to 3B Ty Wigginton. Daniel Nava out at 3rd. Marlon Byrd to 2nd. Josh Beckett to 1st.

5. Mike Aviles singles on a sharp ground ball to LF Juan Pierre. Marlon Byrd scores. Josh Beckett to 2nd.

6. Dustin Pedroia grounds into a force out, fielded by 3B Ty Wigginton. Josh Beckett out at 3rd.

You know... this was the game that I joked about Beckett's base running on the deep fly ball to CF, and then eventually getting tagged out in a slow jog during a "run down." I'd forgotten about the failed bunt attempt here (which, as I recall, was actually also a good play by Cliff Lee to get the lead runner, though Wiggington was able to go back to 3B, since the ball was hit a little too much back to Lee.) However, while a run does score this inning (starting to see why the 5 runs in 13 attempts isn't going to turn up), this is actually a run scored despite the sacrifice bunt attempt, which failed. So, this isn't on Bobby V, but it remains we now have 1 run scored on 8 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #9: Podsednik vs. the Orioles, tied 2-2, top 4th, 0 outs and a runner on first

Ugh. Really? I mean, I guess it is Scotty Pods, but... 4th inning of a tie game? And this might also explain why this is starting to boil over for me now... if we're on Bunt #9 and it's a week ago? Yeah, we've had 5 sacrifice bunts in less than a week... and that does not sound like a team that doesn't believe in the sacrifice bunt, I don't care who is in our line up. By the way... this is also the game that Scotty Pods hit a HR in... and we had him sacrifice in the fourth. With a runner on first.

1. Daniel Nava singles on a ground ball to RF Nick Markakis.

2. Scott Podsednik out on a sacrifice bunt, P Jake Arrieta to 1B Chris Davis. Daniel Nava to 2nd.

3. Kelly Shoppach pops out to 2B Ryan Flaherty.

4. Mike Aviles grounds out, SS Robert Andino to 1B Chris Davis.

I mean... yeah, I know it's Podsednik... but with Shoppach due up, and Aviles hitting with probably two outs... why are we giving away outs here? No run scores, dropping us to 1 run in 9 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #10: Podsednik vs. the Rays, down 7-3, bottom 6th, 0 outs and runners on first and second

Okay, seriously... help me out here... is one run going to help us rally, down 7-3? I mean, this is on Sam Horn Autograph Day (just thought that was an interesting tidbit on the GameDay recap... we really have a Sam Horn autograph day??)... and this was a long inning, with multiple pitcher changes. I wonder what we gave up by throwing in a free out there. I mean, even Marlon Byrd had an RBI before we bunted...

1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia walks.

2. Daniel Nava walks. Jarrod Saltalamacchia to 2nd.

Pitcher change: Burke Badenhop replace J.P. Howell.

3. Marlon Byrd singles on a ground ball to RF Ben Zobrist. Jarrod Saltalamacchia scores. Daniel Nava to 2nd.

4. Scott Podsednik ouut on a sacrifice bunt, C Chris Gimenez to 2B Sean Rodriguez (covering 1B). Daniel Nava to 3rd. Marlon Byrd to 2nd.

5. Mike Aviles out on a sacrifice fly to CF B.J. Upton. Daniel Nava scores.

Pitcher Change: Jake McGee replaces Burke Badenhop.

6. David Ortiz flies out to RF Ben Zobrist.

Okay, it's a run. In a game we were losing by 4 runs, we scored one run in an inning with a sacrifice attempt. We have 2 runs scored in 10 sacrifice bunt attempts. A 20% success rate... on scoring a run. However, this was the game Joyce hit the grand slam. Marlon Byrd had just singled in a run off Badenhop. We were down 4, not 1. Why not let Podsednik swing the bat? He hit a HR the previous game. Where is the benefit of giving up a free out to a bullpen that hadn't gotten an out in the inning? I mean... I love sacrifices... when they are the kind that Mike Aviles had... sacrifice flies. If it's an out, so be it... if it carries and is a three run HR... even better. But fine... 2 runs scored on 10 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #11: Shoppach vs. the Rays, tied 0-0, bottom 5th, 0 outs and a runner on first

So, fast forward just one day and we'll get two more bunt attempts. And neither is productive. Unless you think that Punto sacrifice bunt set up Salty's heroic walk off HR. Wait... I'm spoiling all the suspense.

1. Daniel Nava walks.

2. Kelly Shoppach out on a sacrifice bunt, P David Price to 1B Carlos Pena. Daniel Nava to 2nd.

3. Marlon Byrd grounds out, 3B Drew Sutton to 1B Calros Pena. (Runner does not advance.)

4. Mike Aviles grounds out, SS Elliot Johnson to 1B Carlos Pena.

So, again... Marlon Byrd is hitting behind Shoppach here. I know it's David Price... there are no runs in the game... but Marlon Byrd pretty much is a given out. Perhaps it would have been a GIDP (but Byrd should be fast enough to beat it out, right?)... so, 2 runs scored on 11 sacrifice bunt attempts.

Bunt #12: Punto vs. the Rays, down 2-1, bottom 9th, 0 outs and a runner on first

So, is this the type of situation where we should be surrendering an out? Bottom of the 9th, down a run, and Nick Punto is the batter? Why not pinch hit for Punto? (Yeah, yeah... defensive issues if we go to extra innings...) Wait... why is Punto on this team?

1. Daniel Nava walks.

2. Nick Punto out on a sacrifice bunt, 3B Drew Sutton to 2B Sean Rodriguez. Daniel Nava to 2nd.

Pinch hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia replaces Marlon Byrd.

3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia homers (8) on a fly ball to right center field. Daniel Nava scores.

Okay, so a run scored after a sacrifice bunt attempt. However... is it in any way related? I mean, does it matter if Nava is on first, and Salty pinch hits for Punto and hits the HR? Do we think the pitcher was pitching to Salty differently with Nava standing on second instead of first? Maybe... Do I count this? I don't think so... I think this run scores either way. So... depending on how you see it... we either have 2 runs scored on 12 sacrifice bunt attempts, or 3 in 12.

Bunt #13: Aviles vs. the Rays, leading 3-2, bottom 8th, 0 outs and a runner on first

Okay, I've been saying this in game threads for days... I wanted someone to look at Bobby V's bunt attempts and break down their success rate. I mean, contrary to the quote at the beginning, he is clearly using the sacrifice bunt as a tactic and it is clearly not having any success. And while I was getting ready for a 10 mile hike that turned into 12-14, I got to see this bunt attempt, and then Aceves give the game away on a HR to Sean Rodriguez. That 14 miles was good to burn off some steam... but here we go... lucky #13.

1. Scott Podsednik singles on a ground ball to CF B.J. Upton.

2. Mike Aviles out on a sacrifice bunt to 1B Carlos Pena. Scott Podsednik to 2nd.

3. Dustin Pedroia flies out to RF Ben Zobrist. Scott Podsednik to 3rd.

4. Jeremy Hellickspn intentionally walks David Ortiz. (So, the Rays starter was still in the game...)

Pitcher Change: Wade Davis replaces Jeremy Hellickson.

5. Kevin Youkilis walks. David Ortiz to 2nd. (Podsednik is still on third... bases loaded for Adrian Gonzalez.)

6. Adrian Gonzalez grounds out, SS Elliot Johnson to 1B Carlos Pena.

Damn, that hurt me to see Gonzo ground out. I had predicted a grand slam from him over the weekend, since I benched him on my fantasy team Saturday morning. It was there, and then it wasn't. And then Aceves gave up the two run jack to Sean Rodriguez (a guy I keep thinking about adding, with all that positional eligibility and some success.) However, this is now either 2 runs in 13 attempts, or 3 runs in 13 attempts. Why not let Aviles swing the bat there? Why give away outs?

The game results? Well, we had four sacrifice bunt attempts (for no runs) in two wins, and won three other games with sacrifice bunt attempts... so 5 wins for 7 attempts, and six losses for the other six attempts. We bunted with the lead six times, tied four times, and trailing three times. Including trailing 7-3, which was one of our "successful" run scoring sacrifice attempts. Except we were down four runs at the time.

Come to think of it, we lost both times we successfully sacrificed... so what does that tell us? I'd say it tells us that giving away outs is never a good strategy. 5-6 in games where we sacrificed an out to advance runners, and none of those situations resulted in a run scoring that ended up helping us win the game. So, how many times would the batter we sacrificed actually have done something that contributed to the win if we'd allowed him to hit?

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