Last night in St. Pete, the Red Sox trailed the Rays, 4-3 in the top of the ninth. Fernando Rodney opened the frame with six balls in seven pitches, walking Will Middlebrooks (who gave way to pinch runner Xander Bogaerts), and falling behind Jacoby Ellsbury, who then blooped a single into shallow left.
Read on for more and to weigh in on John Farrell’s strategy.
At this point, with two on and no outs, the Red Sox had a 44.1% chance to win the game (according to Tom Tango’s win probability charts). Shane Victorino laid down a good bunt, moving the runners to second and third and increasing Boston’s win probability… to 44.8%. Dustin Pedroia followed with an RBI groundout before Rodney fought back from 3-0 to strike out Mike Carp, taking a tie into the ninth inning. You all know what happened in the bottom of the ninth.
Win probability charts, to the best of my knowledge, assume average players in all roles. Victorino is an above-average hitter, as evidenced by his .351 regular-season OBP (and his .353 wOBA). He’s 5-for-11 with two hit-by-pitches in the series so far. Rodney is an above-average pitcher, as evidenced by his opponents’ .310 OBP against him in the regular season. But Rodney couldn’t find the plate, perhaps opening a door for a big inning for the Red Sox.
Bunting was the right strategy to scrape one run across. It put Pedroia in a position to bring the runner home with a groundout or a fly ball, and significantly reduced the likelihood of a double play. But the Red Sox were playing on the road against a team that had won three straight elimination games and was flying high after taking advantage of Boston’s shaky defense in the eighth. A big inning would have all but clinched a trip to the ALCS for the Red Sox. A run just prolonged the game.
What should John Farrell and Victorino have done? Was the bunt the right call? Weigh in below.