Why The Kinsler Bunt Was Wrong

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

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):

  1. Walked/HBP (+1 runs)
  2. Singled (+1 runs if Avila doesn’t score)
  3. Doubled/Tripled (+1.8 to 2.0 runs)
  4. Homered (+2.2 runs)
  5. Grounded out (both runners move up) (push)
  6. Fielder’s choice (runner out at 3rd) (-0.4 runs)
  7. Fielder’s choice (runner out at 2nd) (-0.1 runs)
  8. Fly out/strikeout (-0.4 runs)
  9. Double play (Grounder or line out) (-1 run or so)
  10. 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.


9 responses

  1. […] bat out of Kinsler’s hands and watched a budding rally crumble during the next two at bats. It was a poor choice, but failing to score at all against Kyle Gibson isn’t solely on the manager. Joe Nathan came […]

  2. […] bat out of Kinsler’s hands and watched a budding rally crumble during the next two at bats. It was a poor choice, but failing to score at all against Kyle Gibson isn’t solely on the manager. Joe Nathan came […]

  3. One factor, though, is that Kinsler has been in a slump for about a month. I very much doubt that if he had swung away the results would have been superior than two advanced baserunners and one additional out.

    1. Last 70 PA are not more predictive of the next at bat than his performance to date or his projection.

  4. Stephen Pershing | Reply

    Hold on…

    If Kinsler homered with 2 men on, then how do you come to 2.2 runs? I digress.

    I think that you have to also take into consideration that Gibson is a sinker baller who up to that point had not given up many hard hit balls. In fact, I count 5 ground ball outs, two strike outs and 4 fly ball outs (mostly shallow flies and pop ups) in the 4 innings prior. The likelihood of a double play with runners on first and second. Also, when Kinsler came up to bat Gibson had only walked one.

    Brad had to consider the possibility that two severely slumping hitters, Kinsler and Jackson could have easily gotten the sinker baller out of the inning without getting a run and without getting the reigning three time AL batting champion to the plate. Had Kinsler grounded into a double play and Jackson struck/popped/grounded out, then he would have eliminated his best scoring opportunity when a bunt would have guaranteed that Cabrera bat with two men in scoring position.

    He took what should have been a safe bet to try and put runs on the board, and it didn’t pan out. I think that play was far less troublesome than Miggy grounding into an inning ending double play.

    1. 2.2 runs is the difference between the runs scored and the number of runs we would expect if he laid down a sac bunt. All those numbers are compared to the bunt.

      Ground ball pitcher is a worthwhile consideration, but he has a decent walk rate.

      You’re basically making the argument that Ausmus intentionally gave away an out to make sure neither guy hit into a double play before Cabrera got up. Except the odds of a double play are low enough for that to be a silly bet, especially because it was the 5th inning. In the 9th inning, maybe I could buy it.

      1. Stephen Pershing

        And yet…

  5. Stephen Pershing | Reply

    Like or dislike the call or the play, I don’t think it would have mattered in the end. The debate is strictly academic. Even if the Tigers had gotten two runs in that inning, it would not have been enough, and there is no indication that the Tigers were going to rattle Gibson. Heck, he executed perfectly against ‘The Best Hitter in the Universe’ with bases loaded and less than two outs.

    Besides, even if the Tigers had gained a slim lead, I don’t think they would have been able to hold it, and I don’t think they were poised to have any big innings at all. I am really beginning to question how good this team actually is. Every team has holes, but those holes aren’t The Entire Bullpen, The Entire Outfield and the 5-9 hitters (now the 1-2 and 5-9 hitters). Teams that do have those holes don’t win many games.

  6. […] Ian Kinsler bunted yesterday, and it was a bad decision. […]

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