We’ve seen three baseball games so far this year, and if that’s a meaningful sample, I think Hyun-Jin Ryu has all the major awards locked up.
We’ve also seen eight plate appearances this season that ended with bunts. After the jump, a few facts about those bunts, which will accomplish nothing except establishing a baseline for a feature I hope to bring back to these pages with some regularity throughout the summer.
I’ll use the term “bunt” below to represent a plate appearance ending with a bunt. A player showing bunt and walking or bunting foul twice, only to swing away with two strikes, will not show up here, since Baseball Reference’s play-by-plays only note bunts that result in an out or a player reaching base (or, often, both). Of the eight bunts we’ve seen in 2014:
5 (62.5%) were bunted by pitchers. The other three were all by shortstops- Dee Gordon (twice) and Everth Cabrera.
1 (12.5%) was clearly laid down with a base hit in mind. Gordon bunted to lead off the sixth inning in the second game in Australia last week. The other seven were in sacrifice situations, so even if the bunter hoped to reach base, the primary motive seemed to be advancing the runner(s).
3 of 7 (42.9%) sacrifice attempts successfully advanced the runners(s). Others ended in a force out, a foul out, and two strikeouts.
2 of 8 (25%) total bunts put the bunter on first base- Gordon’s hit and Cabrera’s eighth inning sacrifice Sunday night, which forced Brian Wilson’s error, leaving two on with no outs and igniting the game-winning rally.
1 of 4 (25%) of runners advanced via sacrifice scored- Yasmani Grandal, who moved to second on Gordon’s error-inducer, stole third, and scored the go-ahead run on Chris Denorfia’s single.
2 of 8 (25%) total bunts led to an increase in win expectancy for the batting team. This includes the single and the reached-on-error, but neither of the successful sacrifices dropped by Ryu and Andrew Cashner.
Average change in win expectancy as a result of a bunt has been negative 0.88%, as Wilson’s error was the difference in Sunday night’s game, swinging win expectancy by 10% after all other bunts had averaged a drop in win expectancy of almost 3%.
I’ll try to keep up with these numbers to the best of my ability as the season goes on. What I’d like to hear from you, dear reader, is how you think the percentages above will compare to year-end trends. Obviously, very few of the bunts attempted by American League teams will come from pitchers, and the junior circuit bunts far less, so I’ll probably limit the study to National League bunts.
Will more than one in eight bunts come in non-sacrifice situations, perhaps as players try to take advantage of increasing use of defensive shifts? Will more than a quarter of bunts lead to increased win expectancy? How will that trend compare to the percentage of runners advanced by bunts who come around to score later in the inning? Will the average change in win expectancy for the bunting team be positive or negative? By how much?
You’re up. Are you laying one down or swinging away?