Mariners Throw Outs Away At Crucial MomentMay 9th, 2012 by terrybenish
There is palpable outrage in the blogosphere regarding the Wedgester’s decision to sacrifice in the ninth inning last night. Dustin Ackley was asked to bunt after Mike Carp and Michael Saunders had drawn walks to lead off the ninth inning from the Tiger’s redoubtable Jose Valverde. He could not and there was one out and runners in same spot. Ultimately the M’s lost on a circus catch by Don Kelley of Big Jesus’s foul down the right field line. Our fan could have caught it instead of Kelley, but he totally wussed out. I seem to be the first to note the Seattle version of Steve Bartman, a guy stands up and cringes and pulls his mitt back into his chest, closes his eyes and turns away. Woot Woot!
But I digress, which is and has been a go to line in conversation and writing for some time now. Read the piece, the link to Fangraphs below, which will lead to a library full of stuff which shows over and over again that in the long run, actual results show that small ball, especially bunting does not alter outcomes of major league games, it is a consumer of scarce outs used by anxiety ridden managers who do not trust their hitters to do the job.
I just watched a college season where the team bunted in the first inning, with the leadoff hitter on…frequently. In some games there were six, seven or eight sacrifices, not to include bunting to get on. Records were set, career records. The team bunted when it was way ahead to get one more run, instead of five.
There are twenty seven outs in a nine inning game of baseball, in a simple manner when a team sacrifices eight times that leaves nineteen outs or six and one third innings to score against a team that might actually use nine innings to compete.
Let’s hypothesize that Ackley had been successful, which would have left runners at second base with one out and Brendan Ryan up…here are the words from the Fangraphs piece, including comments about the Dodgers doing the same thing last night and failing:
In the span of three innings, the Dodgers and Mariners attempted four bunts. The results – one infield single, two double plays, and a strikeout. Four plate appearances, five outs, one runner advanced from first base to second base, and no runs scored. The Mariners and Dodgers both lost.
“Neither one of those decisions I would look back and change. They have to pick between Matt and Andre, and if I can get Andre up there with the bases loaded, I’ll take it every day. He’s leading the league in RBI. I wouldn’t really change anything. We just have to execute, that’s all. First and second nobody out we have to try to get runners over and get them in scoring position. With Mark, I do it all the time. I’m still giving two guys a chance, but I don’t even need a hit. I just need to get a ball in the air. I have two guys that are basically leading the league in RBI and they have to take their pick.”
“It’s not automatic, but it depends on how the hitter’s swinging. In that situation, we’re looking to get Ichiro and potentially Montero at the plate. Eventually, they both got up there. Ryan had a couple of hits, he had seen Valverde eight times, had a couple knocks off him in the past. We just weren’t able to finish it off. But we did everything to give us every opportunity to win that game. We were just one hit short, and even Jesus put up a heck of an at-bat there.”
Leading the league in RBI. Had a couple knocks off him in the past. Just have to execute. You hear phrases like this uttered after games that are lost that didn’t need to be lost, as managers have learned that ordering a sacrifice bunt essentially shifts all the responsibility for success onto the player’s shoulders. Whether it’s a good match-up or not, they’re supposed to get the job done. They don’t even have to get a hit! Just get the ball in the air. It’s super easy, even against a released the ball from here:
Mattingly and Wedge put on their teflon shields, pointed to the fact that managers have been doing this for hundreds of years, and laid the blame for these losses at the feet of their players. The problem is that they repeatedly took steps that made it less likely that their team would actually win the game, and had they just sat on their hands and done nothing, they would have had a better chance of congratulating their boys on a victorious come-from-behind win. Instead, they sat there and just waxed on about a lack of execution.
The only thing that needs to be executed is the sacrifice bunt from the playbook of Major League managers. It is not always the wrong move, but it is used far too often and in too many situations where swinging away is more likely to produce a positive result. At the front office level, every organization in the game is getting smarter. In some cities, the on-field personnel are utilizing facts and logic to better inform their tactical decisions. But, by and large, most Major League managers are still like Mattingly and Wedge, and they’re going to bunt regardless of whether or not it actually helps their team’s chances of winning.
We don’t live in 1953 anymore. We have access to more and better information than ever before. Teams are spending large amounts of resources to make better decisions to get improvements on the margins that may end up winning them one or two games over the course of the season. And yet, at the end of the day, most of these teams are still entrusting their in-game strategy to people who simply don’t understand the basic probabilities of the sport.
Maybe it’s going to take five more years. Maybe even 10 or 15. But at some point in our lifetime, teams are going to start hiring managers who understand that giving away an out should be a rare occurrence.
Bunting for a base hit, putting on a well-timed squeeze,
beating an overshifted defense, having a pitcher move a runner into
scoring position… there’s room for bunting in baseball. The
frequency of sacrificing bunting that is prevalent now, though, is
simply incorrect strategy, and the sooner it is removed from the
sport, the better off Major League teams will be.
That neither Wedge nor Mattingly knows that as a strategy it
does not work is not surprising. Earl Weaver knew it did not work.
The Boston RedSox of the last ten years did not bunt at all. Swing