If you follow the right SABR inclined people, and even the your fairly typical, lifelong, American League-only supporter, on Twitter, they’ll all tell you how much bunting sucks.
They’re anti-bunt in just about any situation.
I’m not pro-bunt, but coming having grown up ‘in the National League’ so to speak as a Phillies fan, I recognize the value in a good bunt. We’re going to come back to the underline.
The stat guys will be beat me over the head with their precise numbers to indicate to me how absurd it is to give up one of 27 precious outs. Bunting went against the tenets of those early 00s Moneyballing A teams.
I think the only thing to combat those very sturdy statistics is context, and the human intuition for the game. I’ve always lived by my claim that I believe in an effective balance of supportive and definitive stats, and a subjective, corporeal feel and experience for the game. I get a little frustrated with the super stat guys when they’re solely guided by the cold absolution of their numbers. If that’s the case, why have managers? Just elect someone to make every decision, in any sport with the growing movement of analytics, ‘by the book’, or the spreadsheet.
Numbers are very helpful. Numbers tell me that Justin Verlander’s velocity is down, and his location is off leading to more line drives and a higher batting average on balls in play. Indisputable. Eyes, indict, stats convict.
However, human beings play games.
Back to the anti-bunt stuff. In the bottom of the fourth of the Tigers game last night, the Tigers were up 3-2, with first and second, no one out and the efficient, experienced sacrificer Omar Infante (55 career sacs) at bat, with the lineup about to turn over after he and Brayan Pena.
I’m mostly certain statistics will say DON’T BUNT. Dane De Rosa relieved Angels spot starter Billy Bucker to face Infante. Flame thrower against dead fastball hitter. Leyland didn’t have Infante bunt, and since he meekly popped out to short right, I don’t even think he was asked to move the runners over. OK, I’ll buy Leyland wanted a fastball hitter to take a whack at a guy who was coming in to throw just that pitch. Maybe the Tigers scouting report failed them. Maybe they didn’t know De Le Rosa had a plus-plus fastball and could possibly overpower Infante.
Statistics said don’t bunt. And not that stats are correct 100%, just as humans aren’t either.
That half inning finished with Pena grounding out, runners to second and third. Austin Jackson walked and Torii Hunter struck out.
First and second, no outs. No runs.
I can’t predict the future, but had Infante moved the runners over, the universe is altered. Maybe Pena doesn’t ground out because the fielders are positioned differently, or the he’s pitched to differently.
I’m fairly certain Infante could’ve executed an effective bunt and moved the runners over. In a tight game, against an opponent you’ve got 7 straight against, with your 6th started on the mound, I’m scratching out runs how ever I can.
Pena or Jackson knocks in a run or two, and Jose Alvarez is given more of a cushion than just a single run.
*Quick note. I’m vehemently against non-bunters bunting. It’s a recipe for disaster and the fastest way to kill an inning*
Later on, in the top of the 6th, most fans will say Leyland left Alvarez in one pitch too long. His 110th pitch was hit by Erick Aybar (1 HR every 83 ABs, though more HRs as a RHB) for a go ahead home run. After that, the Angels ran away from the Tigers for their eight straight win against Detroit.
If the Tigers had had a bigger cushion than just a run perhaps Alvarez pitches Aybar differently and that home run never occurs. I don’t know, but I think that’s a very distinct possibility. Again, no one knows.
Let’s throw away the entire bunt scenario. Let’s put the Alvarez vs. Aybar matchup in the vacuum it was.
I’m OK with Leyland leaving a tiring Alvarez in against the 8th hitter in the Angels lineup. Most stats, and even common sense would say after Chris Iannetta had just singled it was time for Alvarez to go. Maybe Leyland didn’t get the bullpen ready quickly enough and he was stuck with Alvarez for another batter. One batter too long.
However, this is where the human sensitivity of managing is injected into the equation, at least for me.
Leyland, showing confidence in his young hurler, leaves Alvarez in to face Aybar and Brendan Harris. Out, and out.
Confidence is vital in life, but especially in sports. If Alvarez had gotten the final batters in the top of the 6th, he gets his Handshake of Doom coming back to the dugout and he’s exuberant that his cagey manager allowed him to get out of his own end-of-outing jam. Next time out on the mound – and I think Alvarez will have many next time’s during this 2013 odyssey – he’s out there with the belief that his manager knows he can succeed.
You may be able to drill down and piece three or four statistics together to prove something like a player’s increased confidence because of a previous decision, but I doubt it.
And that’s why you’ll always need managers and coaches to do what they do.
Spreadsheets can make a lot of strategy based decisions much easier, but no statistic or program can offer insight on how to connect to a person’s feelings, and how to inspire and motivate them.
Check out my CIVIL(!!!!!) Twitter exchange last night with my new Tigers buddy Neil Weinberg.