In the 5th inning of Friday night’s game against the Twins, Brad Ausmus called for two bunts. Avila led off with a single (Down 1-0) and Romine laid down a bunt which the Twins misplayed, allowing Romine to reach base. The Romine bunt was fine because Romine is an extremely poor hitter and the Tigers were bringing up a much better hitter in Ian Kinsler. I might not have bunted with Romine in a 4-0 game or in the first inning, but down one in the 5th it was fine.
Then Ausmus gave Kinsler the sacrifice sign.
There are a few problems with this bunt. On average, it costs you .16 runs. We’ll start there. You’re giving away runs with this play on average, but those numbers are player agnostic. Kinsler is “slumping,” which is why a number of people liked the bunt, but Kinsler is also projected to have something like a .330 wOBA for the rest of the year. And that .330 wOBA is a much better prediction of his next at bat than his previous 67 PA. Unless he’s hurt, he’s one of your best hitters.
Let’s walk through this. Kinsler could have (run values relative to successful sac):
- Walked/HBP (+1 runs)
- Singled (+1 runs if Avila doesn’t score)
- Doubled/Tripled (+1.8 to 2.0 runs)
- Homered (+2.2 runs)
- Grounded out (both runners move up) (push)
- Fielder’s choice (runner out at 3rd) (-0.4 runs)
- Fielder’s choice (runner out at 2nd) (-0.1 runs)
- Fly out/strikeout (-0.4 runs)
- Double play (Grounder or line out) (-1 run or so)
- Bunted (push, which equals -.16 runs from previous state)
Options 1-5 would have been better than or equal to the bunt. Options 6-9 would have been worse. You’re going to get 1-5 at least 35% of the time, perhaps more. Of course, there is some chance Kinsler makes two outs and you want to avoid that, but the odds are stacked heavily against that. You’re wagering that second and third with one out is the better outcome than letting Ian bat. That’s wrong. I don’t have a super detailed projection of Kinsler’s probability of each of those out types on hand, but the expected value of the bunt is worse than not bunting.
The problem is also that you have Jackson (pretty good hitter) and Cabrera (awesome hitter) coming up. Cabrera, the guy this was supposed to set up, doesn’t need you to advance runners for him. Cabrera can drive Romine in from first better than almost anyone in baseball. You avoided a double play with the bunt. You made sure Cabrera came to the plate. That seems like a good thing but it’s not. The odds of a double play by Kinsler or Jackson aren’t very high and having the extra out is valuable.
It’s entirely possible that letting Kinsler swing away wouldn’t have helped, but on average, it’s the better outcome.