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It’s a sight all of us found all too familiar last year. Tight game, late innings, you’re playing for one run. Kinsler gets on first, as any good leadoff hitter should. As Elvis strides to the plate, you beam with pride until you remember that Wash is going to have him bunt, leaving an open first base for an opposing manager with even a hint of intelligence to stash one of the two best hitters on your team via the intentional walk.
For awhile I wanted to find a way to quantify whether or not bunting Elvis was better than having Elvis swing away, so I used the walk rate and hits/AB ratio of the first six hitters to calculate the probability of scoring the one run that Wash wanted in each scenario. For example, if Elvis bunts, then Kinsler can score via a Hamilton hit, or a Hamilton walk and a Beltre hit, or a Hamilton out and a Beltre hit, etc. (there are actually 9 different ways Kinsler can score in this scenario). For example, the probability of Kinsler scoring via a Hamilton out then a Beltre hit is found by multiplying .667 (one minus Hamilton’s OBP) by .313 (Beltre’s 152 hits divided by 485 AB vs. righties) for a probability of 20.9%. Summing the probabilities of all possible ways Kinsler can score if Elvis bunts gives the probability of success if Wash pulls his favorite move. I wasn’t sure how to account for productive outs and would welcome suggestions on how to do so. I used the season numbers against same-handed pitchers since in most high-leverage situations Hamilton was facing a left-hander and all batters immediately following (Beltre, Cruz, and Young) were righties.
So what is the conclusion? Well, if Elvis bunts there is a 51.84% chance that Kinsler scores. If Elvis swings away, there is a 47.88% chance that Kinsler scores (this is the sum of probabilities for 19 different possible ways for Kinsler to score). Slam dunk, right? Wash is right and all of us doubters are wrong!
Not so fast. Two other possible scenarios are Elvis bunts and the opposing manager gives an IBB to either Hamilton or Beltre. If the bat is taken out of Hamilton hands, the probability of scoring one run drops to 51.53%. If the bat is taken out of Beltre’s hands, the probability of scoring one run drops to 46.35%, rendering the bunt strategy inferior to that of having Elvis hit. (The huge drop is mostly due to removing Beltre’s high hit rate against righties). This strategy of pitching to Hamilton and putting on Beltre is the exact course Scioscia took in the first game of the final doubleheader of the year on the Sunday before the disastrous last 3 games at Oakland. One run game, Elvis bunted, Hamilton strikes out, Beltre put on, Cruz out. Without an insurance run, Nathan blows the save, loss in extra innings, and we’re all left to wonder if that game (and the division) could have been won if Wash had let Elvis hit.
Here are some things I was left to ponder after looking at all this:
-Wash’s strategy is fine unless you factor in the countermoves the other manager could make. I'm not sure I want him trying to outsmart/think 3 steps ahead of other managers because I'm not sure he's there yet. Hopefully he dials up the right moves more often than not as smallball is going to be much more crucial with less power in the lineup this year.
-In order for the bunt followed by the Beltre walk to have the same probability of success as Elvis hitting away, Elvis’ OBP would have to be about 90 points lower than it was. This seems possible if Elvis was a pitcher like all of the other leading sacrifice bunters last year, but not when he is a blossoming offensive force in the #2 spot in the lineup.
-When playing for one run, you’ve either scored your one run or reached 3 outs by the time the 6th place hitter has concluded their AB, which means that in some of the more unlikely scenarios Young played a part. Wouldn’t it have made much more sense for Murphy to be in this position considering his OBP was roughly 100 points higher than Young’s?
Not saying you're wrong, but the math you used to determine the probability percentages seemed skittish to me.
Also, I must contend that Elvis isn't exactly "a blossoming offensive force in the #2 spot in the lineup." That's both a generous designation, as well as a liberal projection. In four years Elvis has yet to produce a wRC+ higher than 95, about average for ML shortstops, and slightly below-average compared to the rest of the league.
As far as bunting Elvis (or anyone, for that matter) goes, it's my belief that no bunting from 1st-to-2nd should occur, no matter what the circumstance, until at least the 7th inning. To boot, I think any bunting with any lead is ludicrous, even if it's to try turning a 1-run lead into 2, or a 2-run lead into 3. You play for the big inning and don't give away outs.
I have a feeling that, because there's so much more speed and so much less slug in the lineup in 2013, that we'll see a lot more pre-7th inning bunting going down. With all the wheels we'll have in the lineup, it calls for a reckless offensive game plan. Lots of SB attempts after singles, lots of 1st-to-3rd on base hits, lots of challenging outfielders to make plays. I'm rather excited about the prospect of that, which is why I'm against bunting almost in totality. Unless it's the 8th or 9th and we need one run to tie the game (or win the game), cut that shit out.
Wash is not a good game manager. We all know this.
Andrew, I'm not sure how you are calculating all those numbers...but they do sound about right...and I want to commend you for a thoughtful and awesome post.
I also agree with Eric...which is a bit scary....that speed is essentially wasted if you are going to bunt a lot.
Hit and run instead. Or steal that base. You can't give up those outs!
That said, I doubt this thread will see a lot of posts...only because most all of us are already in agreement with your conclusions, Andrew...and hate Wash's game management.
The bigger question is...with the War of the Worlds looming...is Wash the guy to take us into battles that need to be fought with modern warfare....? Can we afford to concede the 4, 5 , 6 games a season that we lose because of his antiquated, two dimensional approach?
@ eric: i agree that the numbers seem skittish since for lack of a better method using more advanced sabermetrics i just used brute force. do you have any other suggestions on how to model run expectancy under the different possible ways of playing out kins on 1st, no outs?
i wasn't familiar with a particular metric that could efficiently handle this particular scenario.
I would recommend checking out the glossary Fangraphs has, and looking up the WPA/Clutch section. Not sure it provides what we're talking about here, but there should be some external links to help illuminate which actions affect various scenarios.
My problem with Wash isn't that he bunts... it's that he's inflexible with his bunting.
Colby Lewis; World Series; Albert Pujols and David Freese blowing their noses on Cobra's sleeves and he STILL bunts?
Put one of those bastards in the HOSPITAL with the slash play and we win that World Series.
Show the bunt.
Pull the bat back.
Swing away trying to drive the ball into Freese's teeth - as close as he had come into the plate the only chance they'd've had would have been the ball bouncing off David's face into Albert's glove.
Pitcher had no idea how to put down a working play with the defense in his place (or even if he'd been allowed to try something different).
Our not-a-manager failed there and he's failed innumerable times since.
That Colby Lewis bunt was the most painful thing to watch in the history of baseball. You knew it was going to result in a double play. I was madly hoping he'd strike-out.
I totally agree about Washington's utter mindless inflexibility. Let's be honest about it: Ron's just not very bright. I gave him the benefit of the doubt until this past season.
It's simple. Wash is no tactician. If he's the same in 2013 as he was in '12, Mike Maddux will be the manager in 2014.
I grew up as a Pirate fan for many years, so I always saw the value of bunting due to pitchers being required to bat. In that case an out is better than them hitting into a double play if there is a man on 1B.
I am completely lost on why we would have decent hitters bunt in the American League. I just see us giving away outs that are not necessarily going to be outs.
I simply never saw the logic in bunting (except for a surprise bunt to get on base, which I see as a great way to increase your odds on success) with either Gentry or Andrus. Two guys that you are very unlikely to double up when they hit away.
Even if they fail to move the baserunner over, well they can steal swipe 2nd base, if they end up on 1B as a fielder choice. I am not that big of a fan in stealing unless we have very high percentages on success (pitcher, catcher combinations.)
I agree that Wash is no tactician. He is old school and simply won't break bad habits regardless of continued negative results.
I too commend you, Andrew. In my mind your approach works, but like you said, not knowing how to account for productive outs is a major flaw in the modeling. Sac flies or groundouts that advance the runner, or in isolated incidents, errors that produce extra bases materially affect your %. I'd suggest going to fangraphs glossary to look for external links that would give you filters to isolate a Kinsler at 1 instance. You'll probably find the raw data there, but may have to (again) do some pretty heavy lifting to make it work for you.
I'd offer to help, but I'm sufficiently okay with saying, "Wash sucks and I hate bunting in nearly every circumstance" without any sufficient evidence to back that up.
i agree with eric. i give wash one more year. mike maddux as manager and greg maddux as pitching coach would be awesome.
Here's the hole in your theory. Elvis's bstting average on bunts is well over .400 in his 4 years. So it's not always a sacrifice that leaves a base open. Often Elvis beats out the bunt, sometimes resulting in a 1st and 2nd sceanrio. So in addition to his sacrifices, he bats between .353 and .571 in his non-sacrifices.
Bunting is one of those things that fans go nuts over when it fails. But the better bunters should probably bunt more.
Don't get me wrong. I like Wash as our manager. I just think 2013 is his 'prove it or lose it' season. What we've known from the start of his stay is that he's aggressive but laid back, defensive-minded in an offensive park, and is tactically bad with a bunch of intelligent players.
He's a major dichotomy, but his players like to play for him, which is why he still has his job. If you think the players tanked on him in September because they didn't like him, they would have tanked all year, or years ago.
Because of his personality, how he likes to play and how he likes to use his players, 2013's roster should be perfect for him. There's a ton of speed, a lot of defensive potential, and given a couple arms in the bullpen, the pitching should be fine as well.
I would completely agree with you, except for the fact that Wash has become so predictable in this and other moves (as pointed out in the comment about Colby's bunt above) that pulling off a bunt single to put runners on 1st and 2nd is quite difficult when everyone in the park knows what's coming.
Also, where are you getting your bunt numbers for Elvis from? I went to the Rangers sortable stats page and did a filter for runner on 1st base, but the only bunt statistic it showed was SAC for sacrifices. No indication of bunt attempts and no indication of how many bunt singles.
Wash has a 1970s National League mindset, which doesn't play well in 2012 American League, particularly not with one of the top lineups and most prolific hitters' park. And with a number 2 hitter who can both handle the bat and run, it makes even less sense. Time to THINK, Wash.
It is a GIANT stretch to even imply that Wash has a strategy.
Baseball Reference has more stats than you can shake a stick at. If you go Elvis' page and look under "splits" they break it out by year. There's a table pretty far down called hit trajectory that analyzes a players batted balls and there's a section just for bunts.
Elvis & Gentry are just about the only players on the Rangers I'd want to see bunting, Both are highly successful when they do. But bunting isn't appreciated by everyone. And I agree, some pitchers are better off just taking pitches rather than bunting into a DP. Some players should never be asked to bunt.
If you are a MLB player drawing the salary you SHOULD be able to bunt. Too many "Hey look at me" players and not enough team players.
Bunting is important, it just shouldn't be done until the later innings. You only have 27 outs in a game. You should be trying to maximize your run output in that allotment of at bats. Bunting just decreases odds of scoring multiple runs.
Eric, I can't ignore one of the themes you keep using. "If you think the players tanked on him in September because they didn't like him, they would have tanked all year, or years ago." That's wrong, on several levels.
You have repeatedly distilled the guesses of what happened in 2012 into "tanked" or "didn't tank," but that's a twist of the real idea others have argued into an easy-to-dodge straw man, while ignoring the real one. While the effect is the same, there's a major difference between "tanked" (ie, deliberately lost games) out of dislike for the manager, and "tuned out" (ie, stopped listening to and believing in) the manager. You can still want to win and try to win (you're not tanking), while internally rolling your eyes at what the manager is saying or ordering you to do (but you are tuning out).
And more importantly, the latter idea takes away the concept that anyone was deliberately losing, but can explain what happened with the Rangers in 2012. You agree that Wash's decision-making is laced with stupidity. Why must we assume that the players are too dumb to notice? Isn't it possible that over time, as they saw one ill-conceived choice after another backfiring, they began to question? Still wanting to win, but getting a bit disheartened over the stupidity as it led to one loss here, then another there, then yet another, and so on? Tuning out? Beginning to play with malaise because they stop believing that this manager has the goods to lead them where they want to go?
2. "If you think the players tanked on him in September because they didn't like him, they would have tanked all year, or years ago."
That's a completely fallacious argument. You're saying player attitudes can never change. We all know better. In life, love turns to hate, trust turns to questioning, following the leader turns to wishing for a new one. Those things happen all the time all across society, and sports is people being people. Asserting otherwise is nonsensical.
It doesn't have to be "tanking" that was the end result of a change. It can be trust at first, turned to mistrust later. Tuning out - a change in the relationship dynamic - can happen.
I saw Ranger players in 2012 that often looked and played like they were going through the motions. "Tuning out" fits what I saw. And it also matches the same sort of thing observed in multiple sports teams over many years - managers "lose" their players' trust, the players tune out the manager, intensity and focus are lost, and talent goes to waste. While we can't know what's in the mind of others, we can observe the actions, and to me the actions we saw correspond to that explanation ...and the edge that has players fighting for wins whatever it takes turned into the the malaise that wants to win but accepts more losing
"Elvis's batting average on bunts is well over .400 in his 4 years."
If you're saying that Elvis reaches base successfully 40% of the time when he bunts, I call BS on this. If that were the case, he should bunt every time!
Either this is a purely made up "stat" or it's one that is taking advantage of the scoring rules and erasing the "at bat" for each successful sacrifice bunt. While that's proper from a batting average standpoint, it fails to include all the outs being given away to get Kinsler to second.
More likely, the .400 number is telling us that if you only count the non sacrifices when Elvis bunts - which consist of the bunts he beats out for hits, plus the ones he fails to get the runner safely to second - then the batting average is .400. But that calculation ignores all the at-bats where the sacrifice was successful and Elvis was out at first. Overall his BA is more likely around .100 or less for all the times he bunts.
David-you missed my poimt. You over-applied the example I gave.
My point was simply that when people start to apply statistical analysis to the probability scoring runs on a sacrifice as opposed to swinging away they negate the fact that sometimes the bunt results in a basehit. It skews the mathematical probability as do the occasions when a player is awarded a successful statistical sacrifice when the ball is thrown away. I personally like my chances when you make pitchers field the ball in something other than a comebacker. .
I was not suggesting that Elvis or Gentry should never swing away, I would think that would be rather obvious. But they complement their overall offense game in ways that the Kinsler's & the Murphy's cannot. And they skew the typical sacrifice bunt stat by reaching base more often than a Murphy or Kinsler would.
I''ve found this issue to be a bit of the drum beat of the "Wash sucks" crowd. But it's not always a bad play, Colby Lewis bunt attempts aside.
You have repeatedly distilled the guesses of what happened in 2012 into "tanked" or "didn't tank," but that's a twist of the real idea others have argued into an easy-to-dodge straw man, while ignoring the real one.
You can still want to win and try to win (you're not tanking), while internally rolling your eyes at what the manager is saying or ordering you to do (but you are tuning out)
That's a completely fallacious argument. You're saying player attitudes can never change. We all know better.
I saw Ranger players in 2012 that often looked and played like they were going through the motions. "Tuning out" fits what I saw.
What I mainly have a problem with is your last statement. You constructed a minor debunking of my perceptions, then to tell me I'm wrong you wrap it all up with a neat little bow by saying that your perception is the correct one? I don't really see the logic there.
Basically -- and this is with most things we disagree on -- you tend to operate from a naive perspective. In football, there are countless examples of teams who've massively underachieved by starting the year 3-5, let's say, then when management offs the coach, they all of a sudden finish the year 6-2 and sneak into the playoffs. I believe the Cowboys experienced a similar phenomenon when they got rid of Wade Phillips and brought in Jason Garrett a few years ago.
But since this isn't football, let's keep issues in the realm of the baseball universe. Last year, the Red Sox perversely underachieved, and it had nothing to do with the talent on roster. It was simple: The players loved Tito, and they brought in Bobby V, whom the players clearly disdained. They had 95-win talent, and by July rid themselves of a couple problem children (Gonzalez/Beckett [who voiced displeasure behind closed doors]) and a bad contract (Crawford).
People are going to wonder how the Red Sox suddenly became good again in 2013 now that they have another Red Sox "guy" as manager. It was nothing more than mutiny. Players grossly outweigh their managers in terms of money, and, as such, power. When they decide to turn off the switch, the manager is done for.
If, after the season, the Rangers' front office, who's exceptionally bright and well-connected from top-to-bottom, knew that the players sucked at the end of the year because they stopped believing in Wash, we would have a new manager in 2013. No question about it. If you have players texting upper management in Boston to tell them they don't want to play for Bobby Valentine, then you would hear whispers of the same from Texas if they didn't want Wash anymore.
Then there'd be a smear campaign on Washington, and Mike Maddux would take over.
I might point the crowd towards a recent interview with Soscia(sp) where he's been quoted as being very positive on the bunt to move players. It is popular and used frequently by managers-do a little research. The stats crowd love to put it down but don't keep stats on successful bunts to move players where the bunter succeeds in hitting safely. Why is that? It's because it is small ball and not exciting, I guess. What is the scoring chance with runners on first and second vs runners on first? Elvus succeeds more than he fails so Washington uses the advantage as he should.
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