Bunting is like Greg Davis, everybody has a (mostly negative) opinion. With all the hoopla surrounding the bunt the last few weeks, we thought we'd take the opportunity to defend the bunt as an offensive strategy which has helped make Augie Garrido the winningest coach in NCAA history. We aren't as conversant in the language of Moneyball, so our apologies in advance.
The anti-bunting argument posted by Huckleberry relies on the NCAA expected runs table for an average offensive team, and the argument is supplemented by using the 2008 Longhorns offensive statistics (which more or less conform to what we'd expect to see nationally). Of course the 2009 Longhorns have as much in common with the 2008 Longhorns as the '08 Longhorns football team had with its predecessor.
The fact is, had Texas been an average offensive team this season (or above average as the 2008 Horns were) they may not have lost a game all season. The Horns are 29-1-1 when scoring 6+ runs this season. The Horns don't have a single player hitting over .350, no player has more than 8 HRs, and this year's Texas squad is Augie's worst slugging team since he came to Texas. Instead they are what they are, an elite pitching squad with very good defense that does just enough offensively to get by. And so far it has gotten them to Omaha.
The offensive answer for Texas this season, more than any Augie-coached Longhorns team other than 2005, has been the bunt. Game two against TCU showed this team all too often is power deprived with trouble scoring if it cannot get the leadoff man on base. Texas has more bunts than any team in the country precisely to get the leadoff runner to second where only a single is needed for him to score.
Before getting into the stats, we'd like to note that bunting statistics -- as well as the bloggers who log them -- are imperfect. Some scores probably reflect times Texas tried to bunt but failed, some scores reflect times the player popped out or grounded into a double play but Texas managed to score anyway, some scores reflect times Texas was playing Nebraska. We suspect those failures even out over the course of a season and probably do not significantly affect the totals.
As Huckleberry pointed out, Texas faced 129 "bunting situations" in 2008 and decided to bunt 34 times (or just over 25% of the time). In 2008 Texas scored, on average, about .25 fewer runs per inning when bunting as compared to when a hitter was allowed to swing away. In contrast, what we found for the 2009 Horns is as follows:
Texas thus far has faced a "bunting situation" 150 times in 2009 (these numbers may not be perfect but they're close enough...so bear with us). Texas bunted 84 times in 2009 (56% of the time) facing this situation, scoring 103 runs in 53 innings. The Horns chose not to bunt 66 times (44% of the time), scoring 62 runs in 25 innings. Included in that total are 19 runs scored in two innings versus Army and Missouri which can be taken -- depending on where you stand on bunting -- as either proof that not bunting has the potential to pay off with the big inning, or (if you remove those 19 runs as outliers) even stronger evidence that the bunt is essential to Texas scoring runs this season.
Anyhow, the expected run table for Texas in 2009 based on these numbers is:
Bunting --> 1.22 runs per inning
Not Bunting --> .939 runs per inning
Statistically speaking, the nature of the 2009 Longhorns has made bunting even more important, not less important, for Texas to score runs. What's more, the stats show that Augie recognizes this, hence bunting more than twice as often this year as the much more offensively-minded 2008 Horns. If the stats were all that went into the bunting the stats indicate bunting is by no means a dumb offensive strategy for this team.
As far as the anecdotal evidence goes, the bunt does the following things for Texas:
Keeps the pressure on. The fielding skill level at the college game is typically well below that of the majors. A well placed bunt forces the defense to make plays and quick decisions. Moreover, consistently putting a runner in scoring position in theory increases the odds that an opponent will fold, giving Augie the mental advantage.
Takes away the DP. Texas hit into one double play against TCU. Considering the lack of power, the double play ball can be an absolute dagger to a team struggling to score runs. Even with the bunt Texas has hit into a ridiculous number of double plays (48) this season, more than any team in Omaha with the exception of Southern Miss.
- Builds teamwork. It is often said that Augie would bunt (insert great slugger's name here) if he was on Texas' roster. The logic goes that having every player bunt gives every player a "team above individual" mentality that makes Texas mentally stronger than pretty much everyone it plays. So the logic goes.
So, what's the bottom line with bunting? The clear answer is that the answer isn't really clear. Should Keyes or Belt be bunting? Probably not. Should everybody else? Probably. Has Augie tailored Texas' offense to maximize the effectiveness of the bunt? It would seem so. With last season's offense, it would seem almost criminal to bunt as often as the Horns do. But this year, needing just 6 runs to almost guarantee victory, and having a pitching staff that has regularly performed at a very high level...every bunt that makes scoring a single run easier makes sense.
Given the intangible advantages, the nature of the 2009 Horns as a great pitching/poor hitting club, the fact that UFCUDFF is a pitcher's ballpark, and the results for Augieball (1700 wins, 5 championships...so far), it stands to reason that the bunt is an important part of that success.