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explaining-mediocrity-part-2-how-bad-are-we-at-bunting | May | 2008 Articles

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Explaining Mediocrity Part 2: How Bad Are We At Bunting?

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In my last attempt to figure out how the Braves can have a top-flight offense and pitching staff -- second in the league in BA, second in ERA -- and yet be a .500 team. I picked on their situational strategy, which I felt was exceedingly bunt-heavy, and tried to understand why it was that the Braves had terrific stats in normal offensive situations but terrible stats in high-pressure (and high-leverage) situations. I explained it by saying the hitters were "pressing," which is undoubtedly true, but a bit unsatisfying. So I went through to see just how bad we are at bunting, and how that might affect us. The answer? Almost unconscionably bad. I looked at pitch-by-pitch accounts of all 43 Braves games this year, and noted every time someone bunted a ball fair or foul. In 43 games, there were 4 bunt singles, two by Gregor Blanco, one by Kelly, and one by Yunel, but of course Yunel broke his finger trying to bunt another time. And there were 7 successful sacrifice bunts. There were also 5 bunt strikeouts (two by Jo-Jo Reyes in the past week alone), 5 bunt groundouts, 1 bunt fielder's choice (Chuck James), and 3 bunt popouts, including one bunt popout into a double play by James. On 7 other occasions, a man came to the plate with a runner on base, bunted foul, and then swung away. Of these, two walked, and the other five made out, including two strikeouts. I don't much like the idea of bunts, as giving up an out to advance a runner a single base will rarely improve a team's likelihood of scoring. However, bunting ought to be a fairly high-percentage play: you put your bat in front of the ball and get the ball to roll fair a few feet. Instead, the Braves have been completely inept at this task, failing to move the runner over, often striking out, popping the ball up, or getting the lead runner thrown out. In 43 games, when they tried to bunt, the Braves "got the job done" 7 times, struck out 9 more times, and grounded, popped or flew out 14 more times. Even Tom Glavine, the active leader in sac bunts, struck out bunting as a pinch hitter. The only person on the team who I have any confidence in as a bunter is Gregor Blanco -- all the pitchers need to have an emergency session of Pitchers' Bunting Practice, and all the other position players need to be forbidden ever to bunt. As it is, we're giving away free outs and getting less than nothing in return.

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