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On the Subject of Bunting

For Augie Garrido, sacrifice bunting may often simply be about equality, about building a team identity. No player is above it, no player exempted. Even if you're Seth Johnston or Drew Stubbs, Brandon Belt or Kevin Keyes. Hell, Garrido would probably even ask Albert Pujols to bunt if he thought the situation called for it. In Garrido's mind, it's about the type of execution and selflessness that it takes to consistently win baseball games. It's about concentration. It's about putting pressure on the other team to execute, to field the bunt and make a good throw to first, then make pitches with a runner in scoring position.

For a team with the best staff ERA in the country and an offense that has struggled for most of the year -- and was famously shut down for 22 innings on Saturday night/Sunday morning -- bunting would seemingly make sense. Reduce the number of hits needed to score by making sure that a runner is in scoring position. What's wrong with that logic?


Plenty, fans and adherents of the Moneyball philosophy would argue. In that belief system, outs are the most precious commodity in baseball (you only get 27, after all), not to unthinkingly be given up by sacrifice bunts or the risky proposition of trying to steal a base. James Click of Baseball Prospectus goes as far as to call the sacrifice bunt "archaic" and "outdated." Even Fidel Castro is a Moneyball man, disliking sacrifice bunts! Okay, maybe not the best person to support an argument, but let's move on.

Mostly applied to the major leagues, some find it surprising that more college teams don't take advantage of the fruits of Billy Beane and Co.'s labor. After all, the aluminum bat gives college hitters an incredible advantage over their major-league counterparts.

More importantly, the fundamental truth remains in both major league and college baseball -- giving up outs limits the ability of an offense to have big innings. Texas fans this weekend cited the preponderance of bases-loaded opportunities coming with two outs, giving the offense an incredibly small room for error. Do the statistics support the theory that giving up outs decreases the ability to score runs?

Thanks to the analysis of Huckleberry over at Barking Carnival (and others at the major-league level), there is a definite answer to that question -- a resounding affirmative. The following numbers are the national expected runs table based from the years 2005-2008, based on the number of outs/runners on situation:

(Information below is formatted as follows: Situation - Expected runs in the inning, % of innings scoring at least one run, Expected runs after successful bunt, % of innings scoring at least one run after successful bunt)

Runner on 1st, 0 outs - 1.10, 52, 0.84, 48
Runner on 1st, 1 out - 0.65, 34, 0.39, 27
Runner on 2nd, 0 outs - 1.39, 69, 1.08, 70
Runner on 2nd, 1 out - 0.84, 48, 0.44, 31
Runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs - 1.83, 72, 1.59, 75
Runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out - 1.16, 51, 0.73, 35
Runners on 1st and 3rd, 0 outs (bunt to 2nd and 3rd) - 2.07, 89, 1.59, 75
Runners on 1st and 3rd, 1 outs (bunt to 2nd and 3rd) - 1.40, 71, 0.73, 35

As Huckleberry points out, browsing through the numbers reveals that the only time sacrifice bunting really makes sense is with a runner on second and no one -- team's scored 70% of the time with the bunt against 69% without. There is even a caveat to that approach, beyond the negligible difference of 1% -- the expected runs decreases from 1.39 without a bunt to 1.08 with the bunt. Huckleberry?

Essentially, the only time the numbers say you should bunt if you're an average team in an average park is when you are tied or down by one run and you have a runner on second base (whether or not someone is on first) and nobody out late in the ballgame. And if you don't have a pitching staff you trust a whole lot, it should probably be the bottom of the ninth inning. Even in these situations, the numbers aren't very convincing as the percentage goes up from 69% to 70% in one and from 72% to 75% in the other.

What exactly is the cost in runs, then, of the average sacrifice bunt?

The data also tells us is that even in the best-case scenario for bunting from the EV(runs) perspective, bunting a runner or two over will cost your team 1/4 of a run on average. And that's only if the sacrifice is successful. Finally, this analysis slightly depresses the disparities in any particular situational perspective. This is because, for example, the runner on 1st with no outs number includes the runner on 2nd with 1 out situations caused by sacrifice bunts, which we know score at a lower rate than the former situation.

Since the national averages are simply that -- averages, what about when the Longhorns bunt? That is the subject here, of course. Is Augie's team any more successful than the national average? Once again, Huckleberry has the answer, at least in terms of the 2008 team:

The important thing is that our team, just like the national average, scored more runs per inning and scored at least one run more often in runner on 1st and no outs situations than they did in runner on second and one out situations. Also like the national average, we gave up about 1/4 of a run each time we bunted that runner over and decreased our likelihood of scoring even a single run by 3-4%. The number of data points for some situations isn't sufficient for final conclusions, but the trends indicate that the national averages above can serve as a good measuring stick for situational decision-making.

Huckleberry actually went further, as well, looking at each bunting opportunity during the 2008 season, an admittedly small sample, but one that nevertheless provided more insight into the situation:

In 2008, we faced 129 such situations (in the games that have their box scores posted on We bunted in 34 of the situations, which yielded 19 innings in which we scored for a total of 40 runs. We did not attempt a bunt in 95 of the situations, which yielded 57 innings in which we scored for a total of 137 runs.

Bunting -> 1.18 runs per inning at a 55.9% scoring rate; 0.647 winning percentage resulted
Not bunting -> 1.44 runs per innings at a 60.0% scoring rate; 0.653 winning percentage resulted

Even eliminating the games against lower-quality teams didn't change the end result:

Bunting -> 1.11, 55.6%; 0.593
Not Bunting -> 1.32, 61.6%; 0.603

It appears that Texas, in general, received roughly the same results from bunting as the rest of college baseball, making the conclusion applicable across the board -- bunting just isn't worth it. As Huckelberry notes at the end of the second post, perhaps Garrido does realize this on some level, bunting less against quality opponents.

However, it's unclear why Garrido continues to ask his players to bunt when the statistics weigh so heavily against the practice. Perhaps he never read Moneyball. Perhaps he hasn't seen the actual statistics. Perhaps he's just so set in his ways that it's too late to change. For as great of a coach as Garrido undoubtedly is, and the pure numbers and results suggest that without qualification, he's simply wrong about sacrifice bunting, which should only be used with a runner on second and no outs. Even then in moderation. Excess bunting didn't cost the team in 2005 and, hopefully, that 1/4 of a run lost every time the Longhorns bunt doesn't cost them a chance at a national championship this season.