2013 Reds / Dusty Watch / Reds - General

Death by a thousand bunts

The origin of the expression “death by a thousand cuts” dates back to a barbaric form of torture and execution by the the Imperial Chinese government called lingchi, where criminals were put to death by being sliced over and over again. The idiom has come to refer to a series of small bad events, none of which are fatal in themselves, but which nonetheless adds up to a slow and painful death.

That brings us to last night.

You may have heard the Reds played a 16-inning game. That’s not quite right. The Cardinals indeed played 16 innings. But the home team only competed in 14. Six of their precious outs were sacrificed at the altar of bunting.

[Let me be clear, Dusty Baker's insane obsession with giving up outs to obtain bases was not the main reason the Reds lost that extremely important game last night. The hitters left runners on base. A crucial throwing error by Joey Votto. Pitchers gave up home runs (plural) to a rookie. In a 16-inning game, there are a large number, if not a thousand, opportunities to win.]

Back to those sacrificed outs.

Most baseball analysts recognize that the sacrifice bunt has been discredited as a strategy in nearly every case except when a pitcher is at bat. That the practice is gradually disappearing suggests that more modern thinking big league managers have begun to accept that reality.

Major league baseball teams today have access to better information than ever before and they devote a large amount of resources to assimilate that data in the desperate, but reasonable, hope that at the margins, smarter decisions will help them win some games over the course of the long regular season. The sacrifice out is an example of a practice where teams are getting too smart to be so dumb.

The specific case against sacrifice bunts isn’t based on a new-fangled statistic, fantastic assumptions or computer simulation. The simple concept has been around for decades. Earl Weaver understood it in the 1960s. You take data from actual games — every game played, in fact — and calculate how many runs score, on average, from certain situations.

It’s called run expectation. The data from all the games played in 2013 (and these are conclusions that have held for decades) shows this: With a runner at first base and no one out, the team on average scores .83 runs. With a runner at second base and one out, the team on average scores 0.64 runs. So a bunt play that sacrifices an out in exchange for a base, clearly and substantially reduces the chances of a team scoring.

Similarly (and this was the situation for the Reds in the bottom of the sixth inning last night), when a team has runners on first and second base and one out, their run expectation is 0.88. A team with runners on second and third with two outs sees their run expectation plummet to 0.57.

Those numbers conclusively demonstrate the folly of *successful* sacrificed outs. Obviously, when a team attempts and fails at a sacrificing an out, it cuts (dare I say, slices) their run expectancy even more. This isn’t to say that sacrifice bunting never pays off. Of course it does. It’s just that not bunting pays off more often.

Again, these numbers aren’t sabermetric hocus-pocus. It’s simple addition and division based on the actual games that have been played this season. Run expectancy numbers are real and up-to-date.

Of course, one of the special joys of having your team managed by the personification of Old School is experiencing one such ill-considered sacrifice after another. Dusty Baker is a serial sacrificer. The Reds, in fact, lead the galaxy in sacrifice bunts with 76. The next closest team has 61. And that number — amazingly — doesn’t count the failed attempts. The bad bunts resulting in a force-out. The worse foul bunts for strike three. The even worse bunts that result in double plays. And anyone who has watched Dusty Baker’s team try to get bunts down this year can attest, there have been all too many of those agonizing failures.

Back to last night’s mass grave of sacrifice outs — Dusty Baker’s archaic strategies cost the Reds at the margin several times. For example, in the 15th inning, Baker had Brandon Phillips, a hitter with 18 home runs and 23 doubles this year (and more astonishingly, one of each already in that game!), sacrifice his out for a base. To repeat, the Reds gave up the out of a player with 100 RBI for a single base advance. In the 14th inning, Baker ordered Devin Mesoraco to give up his out to bring up light-hitting Jack Hannahan, who promptly hit into an inning-ending, momentum-crushing, double play.

But Baker’s most egregious strategic failure (and superlatives are treacherous where Dusty is involved) took place in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the score tied, Bronson Arroyo was due to hit with runners on first and second and already one out. Arroyo had given up a run in the top half of the sixth and was likely to pitch one more inning at most. The at bat presented the perfect opportunity to have Ryan Ludwick or Devin Mesoraco come in to face either the fading and vulnerable Shelby Miller or the lefty Randy Choate who was warming up in the bullpen. Checkmate.

I think you know how this ends by now. Baker not only kept Arroyo in the game, but ordered him to sacrifice his out, moving the go-ahead run into scoring position from, um, scoring position. With the Reds’ precious second out now given up for basically nothing, Shin-Soo Choo faced left-handed kryptonite at the plate. He grounded out, weakly.

The bottom line is that the Cincinnati Reds entrust in-game strategy to a manager who simply doesn’t seem to understand the basic probabilities of the sport. In the face of mountains of readily available data, Dusty Baker repeatedly takes steps that make it less likely that his team will win games.

At GABP, most fans continue to enthusiastically applaud their team’s death by a thousand cuts. Instead, they should boo the out-of-date and truly torturous practice of the sacrifice bunt. But then again, it’s not the average fan’s responsibility to understand the intricacies of baseball strategy, it’s the team manager’s job. After all, in ancient China crowds reportedly loved the horrific spectacle.

109 thoughts on “Death by a thousand bunts

    • @Kurt Frost: I think I need to see a list of alternatives before I commit to that. Failure is one thing, failure with a bad attitude is another monster.

    • @Kurt Frost: Welcome to the dark side Kurt. I feel your pain. I’m actually sorry to have company here, but the inevitable is well…inevitable. I made the decision to stop going to any Reds’ games two years ago, not as a boycott, but because the games just weren’t any fun for me to watch with Mr. Baker managing the team. Many of the comments I’ve seen recently seem to reflect that same sentiment, that this team just isn’t fun to watch.

      I had actually saved up enough money to purchase season field boxes for the 2013 season in anticipation of Mr. Baker’s contract expiring after last season, but when Mr. Baker’s contract was renewed, I instead purchased season tickets for the local minor league team. I’ve had a blast watching minor league baseball this season, but it wasn’t the Reds. It may have been more fun if the local team was a Reds affiliate, but alas, such was not the case. I miss attending the Reds games, but Mr. Baker just takes the fun out of watching and I just get angry rather than enjoying the games.

  1. There’s a certain perverse logic that seems to emanate from the Reds dugout: Hoping a sac bunt here and there will accidentally make up for the fact that the entire team hitting philosophy has been an abject failure ever since Brook Jacoby took the job as batting coach.

    • @Johnu1: I sincerely hope that you are not referring to Votto’s approach of waiting to get your pitch to hit, and not swinging at the “pitcher’s pitch”. I’m personally really glad to see this approach rubbing off on Choo and Bruce. If you disagree, then you might want to take Barry Bonds and Ted Williams to task as well.

  2. The best was trying to bunt your fastest runner over with one of your hottest hitters up. Luckily that one did fail.

  3. I am just curious how much baseball Mancuso and Dotson have played or managed through their years. While i understand the arguments about the bunting, the fact is the Reds last night went a large portion of the game without getting any runners on base in any inning. When you only need one run to end the game and your team is hitting miserably, you have to somehow get them in scoring position. If you want to complain about Major League players not knowing how to bunt, then fine, but the strategy is to win the game and the fact was the Reds hitters stunk last night. About 3 weeks ago everyone wanted Heisy playing fulltime. They guy stinks!! When your 3,4,5 hitters go 0-19 or whatever they did, what the heck is a manager supposed to do. I dont love Dusty, dont get me wrong, but everytime I log into Redleg Nation, even after a victory, the bashing continues. You all bash a manager who has had his starting left fielder and 4 hole hitter out the majority of the year, his ace hurt, setup man and main lefty in bullpen hurt all year yet we are going to the playoffs and have a good chance to still win the division. I know injuries are part of the game, but wow, I guess Dusty is just horrible, huh!!!

    • When your 3,4,5 hitters go 0-19 or whatever they did, what the heck is a manager supposed to do.

      I don’t disagree with the analysis of sacrifice bunts, but THIS.

      • @RedZeppelin: I think you just have to trust the process. Believe that your guys are going to get that hit the next time. I like what JohnU said… given that the team is struggling to get hits, and sacrificing the out puts a premium on getting that next hit (the thing they are struggling with)… wouldn’t the team be better served having MORE opportunities to hit than less? The next filed goal goes in… the next 3 pointer goes in… you don’t stop kicking/shooting/hitting.

        • @Steve Mancuso: I do agree with you about why Phillips bunted. That was about the only one in the game i couldn’t figure out. Next year we need Hamilton and Robinson on the roster fulltime for more speed on the bases to get runners in scoring position.

        • @Steve Mancuso: No question. Obviously a game can be lost due to poor decisions by the manager, but it can also be lost by poor performance of the players. It seems like here and elsewhere the focus is always on the former. We’re wringing our hands over the bad bunting decisions while an 0-for-19 performance by the heart of the lineup is only a footnote.

    • @henryinlex: What’s playing the game have to do with this? Does it make the argument weaker to you? Mookie Wilson played baseball for 20+ years and I’m guessing you know more about the intricacies of the game better than he does.

    • @henryinlex: What is your point about how much baseball Chad and Steve have played through the years? It adds nothing to your point and comes across as an absolutely needless personal attack.

      I never played an inning of baseball beyond Pony League and my managing experience is limited to one year of t-ball. That doesn’t mean I can’t make sound observations about the game, the Reds, and the season. Chad and Steve probably forget more about baseball daily than many of us, including you, ever know.

      Spare us the old jock mentality and that comes from an old jock.

      • @Kyle Farmer: Kyle and Charlotte, being an armchair quarterback doesn’t mean you know anything about baseball. I love reading Mancuso and Dotson, that is why I come to this site. They do a great job and do know more about the stats than me, however, my point was that the constant bashing of Dusty is getting old. There are many reasons the Reds loss the games they do and sometimes it is the manager, but more times than not it isn’t. It is just too easy to always second quess. My point was, people who have played the game and managed, understand this and dont normally criticize others, as they know how difficult it is. I would just like to see more constructive criticism. By the way, I have played and managed more baseball at much higher levels than you mention in your post.

        • @henryinlex: Well, since you played at a higher level than I and managed more baseball than I have then you are obviously far smarter and have a far better understanding of the game than I do.

          What a moronic statement. Wow. Keep leaning on those distant memories of faded baseball glory. Hope it makes you feel good about yourself. Makes you seem kind of pathetic to me. But, I guess everyone has to lean on something for some sense of self-esteem.

          As for me, I don’t give a rat’s rear end whether Steve and Chad (or any other editor or poster for that matter) have ever played an inning of baseball in their lives. They are smart guys who understand the game and I love reading their stuff.

  4. Henry,

    Lots of people like Dusty and recognize that injuries have hurt this team this year. But, his in-game decisions are sometimes crazy and the players have seemingly lost focus on baseball fundamentals this year. Pressure? I don’t know. Dusty’s whole managerial career is filled with bizarre crunch time decisions. Failure is always magnified over success when it comes to sports.

    The bunting was certainly bizarre last night and the night prior with Frazier trying to bunt over Hamilton. Hamilton can fly. I know it, you know, the Cardinals know it. They really didn’t need to bunt him anywhere. Cozart’s and Frazier’s flaying failure and then proceeding hits to score Hamilton illustrate Steve Mancuso’s point that “hits” score runs, not bunts.

    Bizarre game decisions aside, I am really looking forward to Hamilton outracing a bunt down the first base line. Now that will be fun. Or, taking home on a suicide squeeze.

    • @rickdelux: I’m looking forward to his first triple and inside-the-parker. For right now, the most exciting part of the game is when Billy steps on the field. Having the rare talents of Hammy and Chappy, to witness, is a true blessing. Billy Hamilton will surely put butts in the seats.

  5. After three losing seasons and two extremely brief playoff embarrassments under Baker, plus the daily bungling this year, they have to make a change. They have to look at the whole picture and see that he’s not the answer at the top, and most of his coaches aren’t either.

  6. For the life of me, I don’t comprehend what Chris Heisey was doing in his two-out AB in the 15th and I am a big fan of his. Heisey’s judgment was awful and he let the team down. Other players let the team down too, unfortunately. Bunting is fine, in balance, not with two out in the 15th with the winning run on third. I don’t think bench management was at its finest last night either.

  7. If the Reds have any analysts or stat people in the organization, they should resign today in protest. They should call a press conference and announce that they are suing the Reds for creating a hostile work environment.

  8. Rick,

    I am not trying to defend Dusty. All i am pointing out it like in Dotson’s summary, he bashes the use of Duke against a lefty. I actually thought that was a great move at the time. Lecure was getting rocked and they were crushing the ball against him. He was on the ropes and Duke came in and got the out. However, for some reason Dusty is bashed in comments for doing something right. Bunting with Hamilton on 2nd Tuesday night was bizarre and you are correct, i ddidnt understand that.

    Hamilton is a game changer. He may only bat 250, but man, his speed is ridiculous. The Reds should start him in center next year and bat him 8th with no pressure as a 1st year player. Resign Choo, put him in left and keep him at leadoff, and have Ludwick and Robinson as your reserve outfielders. Paul and Heisy need to go. they dont bring anything to the team.

      • @StealYourBase: Don’t disagree but hindsight is 20/20. Thats all I’m getting at. The frustrating thing about this team is they have stopped doing the little things, whether it is putting down a successful sacrifice, or hitting behind the runners, the majority of these players are up there trying to be a hero. Thats why i love Phillips, when he was moved to the 4 hole, his job was to drive in runs, he did that. His OBP went down and he was criticized for it, but that wasn’t his job. Now hitting in two hole, his BA and OBP has gone up. There is a correlation to all of that. It also helps hitting in front of Votto and Bruce, but Phillips is willing to sacrifice stats to win ballgames. Thats what it is about. You can’t always count on gappers and homeruns to win ballgames.

        • @StealYourBase: Yes, Votto needs to hit .330/.490/.600 with 29 HR, 120 RBI, and bat .600 with RISP, .750 with RISP and 2 outs, and .980 with the bases loaded.

          Would that make you happy? Yes, he went 0 for 7 with an error on a ball that would have scored the run anyways if he hadn’t made a diving stop (one that a 1B like Fielder or Adams wouldn’t make). He had a bad game and he’s in a slump. He probably needs a break and someone to hold him accountable. He’s playing poorly. I will agree with all those things.

          But “the bottom line” is that if every hitter in the lineup were like Votto has been ON AVERAGE the Reds would be far and away the best team in the majors. I don’t know how anyone could argue this.

        • @prjeter: Joey Votto is being paid to be THE MAN. He needs to step up and do that. I am hopeful that he will do that. I do have faith that he will turn it around in time and have a hot Sept/Oct. But he’s got to do it or this team is going nowhere fast in October, assuming they even get there. Have you seen Washington’s remaining schedule? Cake with icing on top.

        • @henryinlex: Not creating outs wasn’t Phillips job? Interesting statement. In the game of baseball where there is no clock, making an out is the worst possible outcome, even when it scores a run. BP, if he really is good enough to “sacrifice OBP for RBI,” hurt the team by doing so. Statistics and math assert this, and if you don’t accept it none of us will ever be able to convince you.

          Still, I find the statement curious that it’s not BP’s job to get on base (i.e.-not create an out). That is EVERY hitter’s job regardless of where they hit in the order.

        • @prjeter: Agree. A walk is far more valuable than an out. Sometimes I get the impression that there are some who equate a walk with a hit. Nonsense, a hit is superior to a hit in most circumstances. So while I applaud players with a high OBP, a higher batting average means more overall.

        • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: So a guy with both a high batting average and a high OBP seems extremely valuable. Say, worth $17 million/season. Gotcha. :D

          @prjeter: …So while I applaud players with a high OBP, a higher batting average means more overall.

          So would you feel a a guy who hits 0.300, but rarely walks and has a 0.343 OBP is worth more than a guy who hits 283 with a .373 OBP?

          Seems weird to not make a distinction regarding slugging. Also, one of these guys is far less valuable to the team if he slumps.

        • @CP: Good point. I should have qualified it by saying, “all things being relatively equal.”

          Yeah, I’m not worrie, a bit about Joey long term but I’m a little concerned at the moment that the knee may not be right. I’m particular concerned that he doesn’t seem to be able to get around on a + fastball.

          But I don’t believe he is a “head case” or is not giving it his all. The lack of hitting maybe getting into his head when in the field or on the bases, however.

        • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: This is something I’ve been noticing during his slump. He hasn’t put many +fastballs in play that I can remember.

          I was at the Rockies games Fri and Sun last week and I was watching to see if I could deduce anything different about his approach before/during/after and I couldn’t see anything from right field.

        • @prjeter: Just a random fact: Detroit and Boston have the highest team OBP in baseball. Detroit and Boston have scored the most runs in baseball.

      • @StealYourBase: Don’t the Reds generally keep their better relief pitchers (Chappy) to one inning while allowing their worst relief pitchers (Ondrusek) multiple innings?

        Makes perfect sense.

  9. This is a great piece: well-written, smart, funny. It almost made me forget the pain of last night–almost.

  10. I can see two sides of this.

    On one hand, if your team is scuffling for hits, sometimes a bunt looks attractive because it can help get a guy in scoring position. Therefore, you have to think to yourself that you only need to get ONE hit instead of two to get a run, but of course you have one less chance to doso, and you also have taken away the posibility of a XBH which could have scored the guy from first anyway. But for a scuffling team, I can see bunts looking attractive.

    But then, as Steve said, the stats say that having that extra chance is more valuable than having a runner in scoring position. So yeah, just let the guys swing away, Dusty. A bunt has its uses, but it should not be a primary offensive weapon, ESPECIALLY when your players don’t seem to be very good at it.

  11. Long time reader of the blog, and first time commenter. I am kind of in between on the whole sac bunting debate. I definitely think bunting has its place, and especially when our offense has been struggling you have to score runs anyway you can. But there is no excuse for bunting when Hamilton is on base, that Phillips sac bunt was silly, and I still don’t understand that dumb suicide.

    I know what the stats say about projected runs scored and all that stuff, but that fact is that no matter who is batting there is between a 70% and 75% chance that he is getting out. There are certain times where I like my odds in at least making a productive out. Now I don’t know any percentages about success vs failure on sac bunting, but I have to assume that it is a pretty high success rate. I don’t know…just a thought

    Also, going back to two nights ago and last night…I would like to think that Frazier and Cozart knew that bunting was dumb in those situations with Hamilton on base, so they purposely missed their bunts in spite of Dusty.

    • @DreadtheRed91: Wouldn’t that be something? In 20 years, a book is written and it turns out Cozart and Frazier missed intentionally because they knew they could drive the runner in. THAT would be a story!

  12. Neil deGrasse Tyson had a great line about science — he said the great thing about science is that regardless if you believe in it or not, it’s still true.

    I think the same can be said about the uselessness of the sacrifice bunt.

  13. There are generally speaking two types of errors that can be made in baseball; mental and physical. Players can and do train and practice repeatedly to reduce physical errors, but they will always be part of the game. The mental errors are the most infuriating because they do not require “skill.” 3-4-5 hitters going 0-19 is a physical error, and as painful as it is to watch, those things happen. Instructing one of the few power threats you have on the team (Mesoraco) to bunt to bring up Jack Hanahan is a mental error. You are trading Mesoraco’s bat for Hanahan’s bat. That move is, objectively, a dumb one. Allowing Soto to pinch hit for Corky Miller instead of Mesoraco, when Mesoraco already has to come in to the game by virtue of being the last catcher available, is dumb. I saw someone on Twitter suggest the plan was for Soto to get on base and then use Billy Hamilton to PR, which he couldn’t do with Mesoraco. If that’s truly the reason, it is still incomprehensibly dumb.
    The Chris Heisey bunt, we are told, was Heisey’s decision. You do wonder what mentality permeates the dugout that would cause Heisey to think that bunting in that situation is a good idea.
    Teams go through offensive peaks and valleys. You have to hope when your team is in a valley the manager doesn’t compound the problem. It’s hard enough watching the Reds swing away at every pitch in the zip code of the strike zone, making themselves easy outs. It’s even worse when they strike gold and get on base to watch a manager give up a precious out with the hopes a .200 hitter gets lucky and finds a hole.

  14. Steve, this is among your best works. Last paragraph was priceless.

    Ever thought about applying for a job at the Enquirer? Seriously.

  15. One quibble with a great article: The proper evaluation for most of last night’s bunts is whether the tactic increased the Reds’ chances of scoring ONE run.

    A choice that decreases the overall expected run total, but increases the chances of scoring once, would be the correct approach in extra innings, especially at home.

        • @Greg Dafler: Agree with you but this is mixing two different things. Because Bronson was going to bat, a bunt was understandable.

        • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: I don’t think it is two different things. If Dusty’s logic here is “I’m going to bunt, so I might as well keep Bronson in the game”, then it applies entirely. While that is speculation, Baker has done this in past games…left the pitcher in to bunt, then not let that pitcher go out the next inning (or only throw to 1 batter.)

        • @Greg Dafler: Do you think he would have bunted with one out, runners on first & second; with anyone other than a pitcher? God, please tell me no or Dusty is worse than I thought.

        • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: So Dusty’s mistake here was (IMO also) allowing Arroyo to bat…not bunting. Ok, I can buy that, but I’d have PH for him also, that’s what didn’t make sense in this specific instance.

        • @Bill Lack: If he was going to bunt with anyone other than Arroyo, given the circumstances, he is a complete idiot. I can’t believe Baker would do that. Would he?

    • @Chris Garber: This is a good point mathematically. The runs expected metric, I think, adds up all the probabilities of scoring 1 to N runs, which is, of course, bounded at some point. The odds of scoring “1″ is the one that matters in extras. Good thought.

      PS- I guess you’d also have to add in the instances of scoring 2, 3, or 4 runs when a homerun is hit, since you still get credit for the runs even though only the first was needed.

      • @Steve Mancuso: I’m not sure this is actually true.

        Using this table http://www.tangotiger.net/RE9902score.html, you can look at the odds of scoring one run in each base/out state.

        there are really only a few situations when you would bunt: a runner of first with zero or one out, a runner on second with zero or one out, or runners on first and second with zero or one out. Here are changed odds of scoring one run by successfully bunting in each of these 6 situations.

        runner on first, 0 outs: +5%
        runner of first, 1 out: +2%
        runner on second, 0 outs: +13%
        runner of second, 1 out: -4%
        runners on first and second, 0 outs: +15%
        runners of first and second, 1 out: -1%

        So really, it seems like the premise of this article is pretty flawed. Bunting does increase your odds of scoring one run in most cases, but reduces your overall run expectancy. In extra innings at home you don’t really care about scoring a bunch of runs.

        In last night’s game, the Reds tried to bunt in the 14th with a runner on first and no outs. They failed, but if they had succeeded it would have increased their chances of winning.

        In the 15th they succeeded in bunting in the same situation, which did increase their chances of winning. Now, would letting Brandon hit have increased it more than 5%? Quite possibly, but you can’t say the bunt decreased the Reds chances of winning.

        • @al: I’m not exactly sure how you’re interpreting that table, but it only covers a few seasons. Here is the same author (Tom Tango, he literally wrote The Book) with data from all years dating back decades and up to 2010. It shows that even looking at just the odds of scoring one run, sacrifice bunting is counterproductive.

          http://www.tangotiger.net/re24.html

        • @Steve Mancuso: i did the same thing with the data you provided above, and there are still times when bunting increases the chances of scoring a run.

          guy on second nobody out, and first and second nobody out are the two situations where the odds go up.

        • @al: Odds for one run go up? Is this why Dusty uses the sac bunt in the first inning? Play for the one run? What a manager.

        • @tpteach: Note that in my post I referenced only the bunts in extra innings. I think it’s clear that even if you increase your odds to score one run with a bunt, you’re decreasing overall run expectancy.

          My argument was for the idea that there may be situations where a bunt makes sense. Mostly it’s when you only need one run.

        • @al: My retort wasn’t directed at you, but merely to highlight the lunacy that is Dusty Baker. If he went by your book and used that bunt in those situations more exclusively, I could agree more with him. However, sadly, Dusty spends his outs via the bunt like their tokens in an arcade – from the moment the game begins.

  16. I love the Reds, but the team is wearing me out. I baseball, but I feel like I need to take a break to get re-energized for the postseason.

  17. Here are the reasons to bunt:

    1.) The pitcher can’t hit and there is someone on first.
    2.) The defensive shift leaves a huge hole on one side of the infield or the infield is playing way back. (ummm, that means bunt into the hole.)
    3.) Twice a year do a safety squeeze because everyone loves the squeeze from time to time.
    4.) A speedy player has the ability to bunt for a hit.
    5.) In some cases when runners are on first and second with no outs and the hitter has a propensity to hit into the double play. Go ahead and bunt them in to scoring position. (Even this is questionable, but I won’t complain too much.)

    Period. No more. Sacrifice bunts are stupid.

  18. Steve, you didn’t mention how the last two games Dusty brings in Hamilton, only to have the hitter attempt to bunt him over. WHY give up an out when Hamilton leads the world in stolen bases and why not allow Billy to steal 3rd, which his done with ease the last two years.

    • @stevechai: Good point. I meant to include a paragraph on the (thank goodness) failed bunt attempts by Frazier and Cozart both nights with BH on base. As you mention, his stolen base success rate may be as high as the bunt success rate, without necessarily giving up an out. Dusty’ thinking on the entire question seems really muddled at best.

      • @Steve Mancuso: There needs to be axiom, that if Billy Hamilton has an open base in front of him, no one is allowed to bunt. Possible exception is in rare cases where the pitcher is a great bunter and the catcher is a Molina-like talent and only applies if Billy is on second base with no outs. I could be persuaded to accept an occasional “safety” squeeze.

        • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Adding the bunt (for a hit) option in the Hamilton mix would alter a lot of defenses. There’s a lot more to base stealing than just getting to the next base. Making infields play in or tight against the middle creates a lot of offensive options.

          What NEEDS to happen is the Reds get a hitting coach who can help make that work. So far, Hamilton has basically stolen first and second bases.

    • @stevechai: Trailing by a run in extra innings, I would not send BH to third base. Nobody should make the first out at 3B and Molina has a cannon for an arm. Other situations, maybe.

  19. Why more ink has been spilt on bunting than on Joey votto’s 0-7 night. (Note Votto’s night was listed in the TSR negative.)

    Because Votto is and should be playing and batting where he is batting. He’s in a funk and was hitless last night. It happens. And yes he could have gotten a hit somewhere along the way that could have changed the outcome of the game. Multiple players could have and failed. In the past, when those players were in a position where the Reds had better options, those sort of things were discussed at length.

    As a matter of strategy, that is something that can be changed. Strategy should be employed to put the odds in your favor, not the opponents favor. Maybe not bunting last night wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game, but it certainly hurt the probability of the Reds putting necessary runs on the board.

    • @Greg Dafler: I think that is probably the consensus on Votto but here’s the rub: What we don’t need is for Votto to go 0-for-7. What we need is for Votto to win the game. At the end of our lives, we will all say “it happens.”

      I was kind of hoping the Reds would win the pennant this year. If that is going to happen, the things that need to be done — generally, the team has to play better.

      Oversimplified? Sure. But all of baseball boils down to that sometimes. We needed Votto to drive in the big run last night, not go 0-for-7.

      Mudville reprised.

  20. I would love for people to stop counting Votto’s money. It’s like he’s dipping into each person’s wallet and personally taking out a $20 every time he bats.

    • @Kurt Frost: 100% agree. It seems like so many of the negative comments about Votto are some variation on “he’s not getting paid to…”

      I get that no one wants a bad deal, but what he’s getting paid this year ($17m) really isn’t relevant in a discussion of what he’s doing on the field. The dollars are absurd, they are for almost every player getting paid to play a game. They’re set by a market that is outside the scope of general reality.

      To me, all that matters is that when the Reds signed him, they paid what you pay for a perennial MVP candidate. That means someone in the top 5-10 in their league. Is Votto having a down year? I think everyone including Votto would say yes. So critiquing him is fair. But fangraphs has him as the 5th most valuable position player in the NL, and baseball reference has him as the 6th. And that makes sense. It’s a down year, so he’s closer to 10th than he is to 1st, but he’s still giving a lot of value.

      If advanced stats aren’t your thing, he’s #1 in games played, 3rd in runs scored, 7th in hits, 6th in total bases, 10th in HRs, and 1st in walks.

      Hitting .240 for a month sucks. He needs work. I’d much rather talk about that than be upset about his contract.

  21. We’ve fallen in love with RISP and OBP because the metric experts told us to. It’s as if to say BA and RBI are currently useless stats and if you believe in them, somehow you are out of the loop.

    Fact is, with a guy on 2nd base (or, to be metrically correct, ISP) the OBP for a guy who walks is basically just adding a baserunner. What I want that guy to do is improve his BA. I don’t care squat about his OBP. I want his OPS to go up.

    Bottom line, this team needs to get more doubles and a whole lot fewer walks.

    • We’ve fallen in love with RISP and OBP because the metric experts told us to. It’s as if to say BA and RBI are currently useless stats and if you believe in them, somehow you are out of the loop.

      This is exactly my problem with the advanced metrics crowd. I don’t believe their stats are fraudulent, I just don’t think their stats have made the traditional stats meaningless (which is what they do think). RBIs are not just a product of luck. Wins for a starting pitcher don’t mean everything, but they are not completely meaningless either. When Scherzer went to 19-1, someone here reflexively posted that this was only because he gets good run support and wins are meaningless. This, despite the fact that ALL of Scherzer’s numbers are great – the person who posted this has just been conditioned to believe that wins are meaningless, so he concluded that Scherzer must just be lucky to have a 19-1 record.

      As a traditional guy, I look at 19-1 and assume the guy’s a great pitcher. Some might say that conclusion is equally baseless, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that a starting pitcher who is 19-1 is not winning every game by a score of 10-9.

      All stats are tools. Some I find useful, some I don’t. Sometimes the traditional stats tell me all I need to know. If Miguel Cabrera finishes a season at .340, 40, 140, do I really need to know anything else to know he had a great season? Really?

      By the same token, if your number three hitter plays 155+ games, and finishes the season at .290, 25, 75, I don’t want to hear anything else. That’s a bad season.

      • @PRoseFutureHOFer: With all due respect, I think you are misrepresenting what the advanced metric people are saying.

        No sabermatrician would ever say AVG or RBI is meaningless. The problem comes when people attempt to use AVG to tell you how productive a hitter is. That simply doesn’t work on several levels, not the least of which is that not all hits are equal (single, double, HR). OBP is not the definitive measure of a hitter, either. Merely a better one. No one says RBIs are a product of luck. There are a product of opportunity. Joey Votto sees men on base 30% of the time. A typical cleanup hitter sees men on base over 50% of the time. Is it any wonder then, that he has fewer of them than Bruce or Phillips?

        As far as pitching wins are concerned, again, no one is saying the 19-1 is meaningless, merely that wins are team stat, not an individual pitching stat. Look at Chris Sale’s numbers for example: and ERA of 2.97; WHIP at 1.06, Batting Avg Against is .226. These are terrific stats. Yet Sale has a losing record (10-12). Scherzer’s won/loss record is being scrutinized not because his record is bogus, but because it’s going to be used solely in determining the CY Young award. Other players have stats that cleearly suggest they have been every bit as good as Scherzer (Yu Darvish, for example), but may be discriminated against because they don’t have the glittering W/L record Scherzer does. And because the CY Young award is an individual award, Wins and Losses, which are team-dependent, shouldn’t play a deciding part in who receives the award.

        Nobody is saying Scherzer hasn’t had a great year, maybe even a CY Young year.

        And Migeul Cabera’s traditional stats do tell you he’s having a great season. They don’t tell you if he’s having a season better than Mike Trout. Defense and baserunning are part of a player’s value, too. So, no traditional stats do not tell you all you need to know.

      • This is exactly my problem with the advanced metrics crowd.I don’t believe their stats are fraudulent, I just don’t think their stats have made the traditional stats meaningless (which is what they do think).RBIs are not just a product of luck.Wins for a starting pitcher don’t mean everything, but they are not completely meaningless either.When Scherzer went to 19-1, someone here reflexively posted that this was only because he gets good run support and wins are meaningless.This, despite the fact that ALL of Scherzer’s numbers are great – the person who posted this has just been conditioned to believe that wins are meaningless, so he concluded that Scherzer must just be lucky to have a 19-1 record.

        As a traditional guy, I look at 19-1 and assume the guy’s a great pitcher.Some might say that conclusion is equally baseless, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that a starting pitcher who is 19-1 is not winning every game by a score of 10-9.

        All stats are tools.Some I find useful, some I don’t.Sometimes the traditional stats tell me all I need to know.If Miguel Cabrera finishes a season at .340, 40, 140, do I really need to know anything else to know he had a great season?Really?

        By the same token, if your number three hitter plays 155+ games, and finishes the season at .290, 25, 75, I don’t want to hear anything else.That’s a bad season.

        That pretty much sums up my feelings about it. What really burns me up is the smug, arrogant, attitude of just a small minority of the advanced stats guys. They act so condescending at times, it’s like they pat you on the head and tell you, “there, there now, RBIs and runs aren’t totally meaningless”.

        Last night after Brandon got his 100th RBI, I made the comment that people needed to be balanced in evaluating the advanced stats and the old reliable stats. I was told to “Please, just stop” (commenting, I guess).

        I think Saber metrics are great, I think they are great predictors, especially of potential, but they don’t tell the whole story. I also made the comment last night that RBIs and runs scored is where the rubber meets the road. I’ve been told that those stats aren’t important because they are dependent on what your teammates do. Well baseball is a team game, it requires team work. A successful team meshes together; individuals contribute to and make sacrifices for the good of the team. Certain, players have that innate ability to step up and rise to the challenge. I think when a team is successful you will see this. When a player has an outstanding season, an MVP type season you will see this. During very successful seasons, teams and players will excel. It’s not all luck or some random roll of the dice. There is a human element there, too.

        • @JCTENRED: there are just as many old timers (many of them pros on the radio) who tell anyone interested in looking at the game in novel ways that they are beyond idiots, and beyond that are ruining the game.

          I think runs scored are just as important as any traditionalist. But on a daily basis here, and on the TV broadcasts, and the radio broadcasts, I am told that Votto is having a terrible year because of one number: RBI. It so happens that RBI are also one of the most team dependent stats around, and so it begins to get tiresome, when there are so many better ways to evaluate a single player’s ability or season performance.

          You said you agreed with .290, 25, 75 being a bad year for a three hitter. That seems extreme. Of the 42 players with at least 150 ABs hitting third, 14 are hitting above .289. Of those, only 5 have at least 19 HRs. The RBI totals for those 5 are: 60, 64, 67, 74, and 130. Votto has 64 (Cabrera obviously has 130).

          So it gets old sometimes being told that you don’t understand baseball by people who tell you that Votto is having a bad year because he’s in the top 4 of #3 hitters in the game using only BA, HR, and RBI.

        • @al:

          Oh, I agree, I think it’s harsh to say Votto is having a terrible year, he’s just not having a great year, not an MVP type year, even though the metrics guys insist he is. The Reds really need him to have that kind of year to win the division and make some noise in the post season. Last year before the knee injury and in the previous seasons he was creating runs (driving in runs and scoring runs) at a higher rate. His runs scored are up some, but his RBIs are down more and the overall runs created are down. They talk about RBI opportunities, but remember who batted in front of him last year. There has been a huge improvement in the leadoff spot, while the number 2 is at least the same. Something has been off just a little for him most of the season. He is just missing or taking a lot of pitches he used to drive. It seems his concentration/focus is off just a little. It shows in the field, too, hence the 13 errors and base running blunders, not knowing the number of outs, etc. That’s not the Votto we’ve become accustomed to. Votto is a very intense young man, that’s why I find his lapses in concentration surprising. But we don’t know what is going on in his life, he is also a very private man and there could be something bothering him. Baseball is just a game, there are a lot bigger things than that.

          I’ve been a Red’s fan since 1970 and Votto ranks up there with my all time favorite Reds. I think his contract is money well spent. I just think he is having a bit of a down year and would really like to have had the 2010 MVP version of Joey this year, but you cannot expect that every year. Players are human beings, not machines.

        • @JCTENRED: I agree with pretty much all of this. It’s hard to say Votto is having a good year for him. He isn’t. But there’s a vitriol towards him that seems unwarranted, given that in his down year, he’s still the best hitter on the team.

        • @al:

          There is always abusive people on any kind of blog. They live to anonymously attack others whether public figures or other posters. It’s cowardly and a form of bullying. I don’t have a problem with analyzing and criticizing a players performance but I don’t like attacking a player and making it personal. I remember the personal attacks on Dunn and JR, it was uncalled for.

        • That pretty much sums up my feelings about it. What really burns me up is the smug, arrogant, attitude of just a small minority of the advanced stats guys. They act so condescending at times, it’s like they pat you on the head and tell you, “there, there now, RBIs and runs aren’t totally meaningless”.

          Last night after Brandon got his 100th RBI, I made the comment that people needed to be balanced in evaluating the advanced stats and the old reliable stats. I was told to “Please, just stop” (commenting, I guess).

          I think Saber metrics are great, I think they are great predictors, especially of potential, but they don’t tell the whole story. I also made the comment last night that RBIs and runs scored is where the rubber meets the road. I’ve been told that those stats aren’t important because they are dependent on what your teammates do. Well baseball is a team game, it requires team work. A successful team meshes together; individuals contribute to and make sacrifices for the good of the team. Certain, players have that innate ability to step up and rise to the challenge. I think when a team is successful you will see this. When a player has an outstanding season, an MVP type season you will see this. During very successful seasons, teams and players will excel. It’s not all luck or some random roll of the dice. There is a human element there, too.

          That was me that asked you to please stop. Stop carrying on about RBI. Joey can’t shit runners to put on the bases in front of him. Put two players 1-2 in the league in OBP batting in front of him and he would have your precious RBI numbers just like Phillips. The Phillips is sacrificing OBP crap for RBI needs to stop also. His OBP is .316. His career OBP is .321. Phillips is actually having the worst offensive year of his career.

        • That was me that asked you to please stop. Stop carrying on about RBI. Joey can’t shit runners to put on the bases in front of him. Put two players 1-2 in the league in OBP batting in front of him and he would have your precious RBI numbers just like Phillips.The Phillips is sacrificing OBP crap for RBI needs to stop also. His OBP is .316. His career OBP is .321. Phillips is actually having the worst offensive year of his career.

          I know it was you. First of all you don’t have any business telling me to stop. This is a public site, I’m allowed to express my opinion, you don’t run then site. You are just the kind of arrogant Internet bully I was talking about. You’re a big man behind a keyboard. And what’s up with the profanity? Kids read this stuff, I do believe profanity is not tolerated on this site. I tell you what, big man, you just ignore my comments and don’t have any more contact with me.

        • I know it was you. First of all you don’t have any business telling me to stop. This is a public site, I’m allowed to express my opinion, you don’t run then site. You are just the kind of arrogant Internet bully I was talking about. You’re a big man behind a keyboard. And what’s up with the profanity? Kids read this stuff, I do believe profanity is not tolerated on this site. I tell you what, big man, you just ignore my comments and don’t have any more contact with me.

          I’m actually a big man behind an ipad.

    • We’ve fallen in love with RISP and OBP because the metric experts told us to. It’s as if to say BA and RBI are currently useless stats and if you believe in them, somehow you are out of the loop.Fact is, with a guy on 2nd base (or, to be metrically correct, ISP) the OBP for a guy who walks is basically just adding a baserunner. What I want that guy to do is improve his BA. I don’t care squat about his OBP. I want his OPS to go up. Bottom line, this team needs to get more doubles and a whole lot fewer walks.

      Wanting someone to improve their BA is fine, but it has to include an analysis of how they’re being pitched, especially with a runner at second, especially especially when 1st base is open. If he walks, which of those four balls should he have hit for a double? And why underestimate the importance of “adding a baserunner”? That’s a good thing, particularly if the next few hitters also add baserunners…

      Votto’s slump, at this point, has probably gone on long enough that pitchers are much more disposed to come after him right now – after all, he went 0-7 last night, not 0-5 with two walks. But this, too, shall pass.

      • @RC: I wasn’t trying to dismiss sabermetrics. I find the science fascinating, though overwhelming. That’s not the fault of the science.

        But I think the pounding away recently of the RISP and OBP has caused me to gag.

        RISP is just a stat that comes from opportunity, not skill. OBP is fine…I want guys on base.

        I also don’t want them standing there while the next two guys screw up a bunt or hit a dinky popup back of first base because they couldn’t put the bat on the ball.

        • @Johnu1: RISP is a sabermetric idea?

          So, you don’t want too many guys to get on base since they may not be driven in?

          I would think a team would want players that make fewer outs than other teams.

          Is RBI a stat?

  22. Two questions.

    (1) In a bottom of the ninth or extra-inning tied game, the only thing that matters is the odds of scoring a SINGLE run. Do we have data on that? Could it be that bunting increases the odds of scoring a single run, even while reducing the average runs scored?

    (2) Relatedly, the average runs scored is important to know, but in these situations especially we should want the variance as well. For example, if bunting gave us an average of 1 run, with 0 variance, that would surely be better than not bunting even if that gave us 2 expected runs with a 2.5 variance.

    Don’t get me wrong. I HATE the bunt. I’d just like to see the variance of the numbers as well as the average numbers. And since Dusty doesn’t understand averages, goodness knows, he wouldn’t know how to handle a variance.

  23. Re-name the goat Dusty. Miltons everywhere will rejoice. And put some nice gold framed specs on him in the next picture.

  24. Joey Votto is now batting .301. If his slump continues, he’ll be below .300 after tonight. When was the last time Votto was hitting under .300 at this point of the season?? I don’t know the answer and am kind of mystified by his slump.
    The sad thing is we’d be doing cartwheels if anyone else on the team could muster up a .301 BA. But here we are all worried about Votto. He certainly sets the bar awfully high.

  25. I want to start out by agreeing with the gist of this article and with most of its points. The Reds bunt far too much, the aggregate effect of giving up outs is negative, they should be doing far less of it, and Dusty Baker’s stodginess is largely to blame. That said, I do want to quibble a little bit with the limits of this argument at the extreme margins. First of all, run expectancy is a calculation of how many total runs will score in the inning, meaning that the chance to score multiple runs is factored in and skews the numbers. So to say that no outs and runner on first has a .83 run expectancy, while one out and runner on second has a .64 run expectancy, is to say that over 100 times, the one out situation will score 19 more runs. But part of that difference presumably comes from the fact that with fewer outs the team is more likely to score multiple runs. What it does not necessarily mean is that the team is 19% more likely to score A RUN. Now, in most game situations, it doesn’t matter, more run probability means more chances to gain or expand a lead, but when a game is late and close, when a single run might be the difference, you might be willing to trade some probability of multiple runs for some added probability of getting one. Now, I’m not saying that the sac bunt does make it more likely to score A RUN. I’ve never seen that research. But it does seem to me that not bunting is definitely more likely to score MULTIPLE runs, and that that likely accounts for at least some of the difference in run expectancy. So I think the argument that the sac bunt is always a net negative except when the pitcher is at bat misses the point a little, though just barely and only in fairly specific circumstances. That doesn’t change the fact that overall they need to bunt a whole lot less.

    • @bhrubin1: As I understand it, those situations are only calculating the the Run Expectancy of the Lead Runner (that’s how it’s usually calculated when using the statistics towards a certain runner (like runner on 1st, no outs). The way the question is phrased (again, usually, I’m not positive with this research as I didn’t do it) is: What is the likelihood that the runner on first scores with no outs? What about the same runner on 2nd with 1 out?

    • @RC: The overall body of work that Votto has presented is not in question. We only needed one more run last night, no matter where it came from.

    • @RC: I’ll never for the life of me understand why RBI are more prized than runs scored. I still like the old fashioned Runs Created stat, R + RBI – HR.

  26. I wish this whole article could be posted as a response (or instead of) Buster Olney’s piece on ESPN essentially asking the same question. This is a much, much, much better article. Well written, Steve.

  27. Steve, this article is gold. I know we’ve disagreed at times about Votto (minor I might add) but on this point I couldn’t agree more. And, I think this is an incredibly well-written piece.

    I am so hopeful that Walt and Co. dismiss our leader soon so we can enter the 21st century and improve our chances of winning games.

    Again – superb writing and articulation.

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