Monday, February 26, 2007

Around three weeks ago, I broke down all of the Angel sacrifice bunts in 2006 to determine whether or not successful sacrifices were actually counterproductive and hurt the team. As I mentioned in that piece, limitations in the data prevented me from exploring the topic any further.

That limitation has already been transcended, as Baseball Reference's tremendous Play Index has a new feature that allows one to search for bunting attempts in addition to successful sacrifices. (And if you're not a subscriber to PI, you're just living in ignorance of the finer things in life.)

To wit, here are the 31 successful sacrifice bunts laid down by the Halos last season, and here are the 40 bunt attempts.

Now, I'm not 100% sure that this covers all attempts; the notorious Adam Kennedy attempt on May 18 is not listed, for instance. Also, any time a bunt attempt was called for early in a count, but then taken off, would not be included. But this should still give us close to a complete picture of Angel bunting last season.

So, as you can determine from the above, there were nine sacrifice attempts that resulted in something other than a sacrifice. Of these nine, one led to an out with no advancement, one turned into a double play, two advanced a runner but were not counted as a sacrifice as there was one out, and five were singles.

As you may recall, I discovered that the sacrifice bunts that were laid down "cost" the Angels -.080 wins, using the win expectancy chart and adjusting for the handedness of the pitcher and batter. I was expecting (and hoping) that adding in these nine additional attempts would allay that, but in fact it goes down slightly to -.091 (though one of those appears to have been a clear bunt-for-hit attempt by Reggie Willits, though removing that would only make it -.086, and the Kennedy attempt I reference above would probably knock that down further).

However, there is one particular bunt call that lays waste to all the others. As you may recall, and I discuss this in the link to my entry on the Kennedy bunt above, in that same game Mike Napoli was asked to lay down a squeeze bunt. Mike Napoli, a power-hitting batter who had successfully executed only three sacrifice bunts in his entire professional career.

The result was predictable: a pop-up double play to end the inning. As the game was tied 4-4 at that moment, this was incredibly crucial, and markedly disastrous. By the win expectancy chart, this cost the Angels -.249 wins; their chances of winning the game stood at 74.9% before the play and 50% after. No other bunt play last year from the Angels came close to matching this swing, either in a positive or negative direction. Take out that bunt, and the team was helped to the tune of .158 wins over the course of the season.

Still, I concluded in my earlier piece that Mike Scioscia seems to have a good grasp of when the bunt is a good play and when it is not, in general, and I still hold that conclusion. It's just that last year, when he made a bad call that completely mis-fired, it was a total doozy.

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It's interesting to see that the bunt can be a successful strategy if used wisely and how important it is to be able to do the fundamentals, i.e. for a player to lay one down and for a manager to understand when to bunt and to know who is able to.
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