The State of the Sacrifice Bunt in San Francisco


Often over-praised by the old guard and employed by managers as a way to be seen managing, the sacrifice bunt is generally a bad play. There are certain game situations — later in a tie game — with certain hitters — especially the pitcher — where it can be a useful tactic. Bunts are usually an exchange of a precious out for the sake of one base for one runner — a mean exchange. They actually lower the odds of scoring even a single run, much less the odds of scoring multiple runs. They put batters into two-strike counts if they fail to lay the bunt down. They’re generally bad, bad, bad.

And the Giants are actually pretty bad about the sacrifice bunt.  Praised as Bruce Bochy is — as a tactician, as a manager who puts his players in a position to succeed — he is pretty bad about bunting.  Consider that while the average National League team has attempted 56 sacrifice bunts this season, the Giants have attempted 58. Now, compare these two Excel-based graphs, each depicting when players are laying down sacrifice bunts (less than 2 outs, at least one runner on):




If the sacrifice bunt is best used late in games, in high-leverage situations, when one run can win the game, the Giants are not using the tactic properly.

And of course, bunting is criticized for taking the bat out of the player’s hands.  These are the Giants who have had the bat taken out of their hands this season:





Marco Scutaro



Barry Zito



Madison Bumgarner



Matt Cain



Tim Lincecum



Ryan Vogelsong



Joaquin Arias



Andres Torres



Guillermo Quiroz



George Kontos



Kensuke Tanaka



Chad Gaudin



Brandon Crawford



Juan Perez



Gregor Blanco




The WPA/PA statistic includes all PAs by the player in 2013, not just bunts.  WPA is win probability added, and is intended to capture how individual players affect their team’s win expectancy on a per per-play basis.  You can find a great, easy-to-understand explanation of the stat here.  With a couple of glaring exceptions, these have been players (at least this season) who are more likely to hurt than help in a clutch situation, even swinging away.  Yes, moving runners over at the cost of an out hasn’t been a good use of resources since Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, but give Bochy credit for usually not wasting his bunts on actual good hitters.

But what in the world is Bochy doing letting Marco Scutaro bunt?  This is a guy who can hit the ball, can take a walk, and should be allowed to swing away in almost every circumstance.  I suppose Scutaro has so many bunts because he is second in the order, and thus able to “handle the bat” and sacrifice the leadoff hitter over.  Considering that Scutaro is a better hitter than any who have proceeded him in the order all season, having him sacrifice is, in almost any circumstance, an outrageous waste of talent.


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