Carleton: Bunting and the value of being honest

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on April 25, 2018:

We talk about honesty in baseball too, this time the need to keep the other team “honest.” Once in a while, you do something just to show the other team (and perhaps, the advance scouts in the stands) that you are willing to do it. Sometimes that means throwing inside just to make sure the batter doesn’t get “too comfortable” in the box. But today, I want to talk about the lowly bunt. Here at BP, we have a history of dragging down the bunt, unless of course you happen to be a power hitter to whom the defense is giving the entire left side of the infield.

The idea of the bunt as a good and noble play was one of the first casualties of the sabermetric movement. Once John Thorn and Pete Palmer (in The Hidden Game of Baseball) noticed that the average number of runs scored from the situation “runner on first base, no outs” was a lot higher than “runner on second base, one out,” people started asking why it was that teams were throwing away a perfectly good “runner on first base, no outs” scenario to go for something lesser. Research by Mitchel Lichtman (as well as research that I’ve done) later showed that while the “successful” sacrifice was a bad idea, the act of bunting wasn’t a horrible thing. Sometimes, you drop down a perfect bunt and get a hit, and sometimes the defense throws the ball away. When you factor that into the equation, bunting approaches (though it does not reach) a break-even strategy.

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Originally published: April 25, 2018. Last Updated: April 25, 2018.