To bunt or not to bunt, it doesn’t matter much: Between Innings

Maybe Trevor Bauer just needs to be matched up against aces all the time. He was matched up with Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 13, which saw him give up just two runs in one out short of six innings. On Wednesday, Yu Darvish took the mound for the Texas Rangers, and Bauer proved himself up to the task again. Like Mike Clevinger before him, Bauer allowed just one run. He also only issued one walk in over six innings of work. The Cleveland Indians used his performance to build a 5-1 lead that they clung onto despite a small Ranger rally in the last frame, 5-3.

To bunt or not to bunt
The Indians, once again, left the game feeling more runs could have been scored. The team went a not terrible 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position, which shows they had men sitting with RISP throughout the night.

One of the bigger debate topics that popped up during the game was that twice (in the seventh and eighth innings) the Tribe bunted with runners on first and second with no one out.

Here is a quantitative look at how run scoring is affected by bunting. The numbers were collated between 1977 and 1992, and those presented below are done for the first and eighth positions in the lineup.

AL (1977-1992)

Jason Kipnis executed his bunt successfully by pushing it halfway down the third base line. In fact, with a third baseman other than Adrian Beltre, he might have been able to leg it out as an infield hit. Given Kipnis’ complete struggles in 2017 with his .239/.294/.407 slash, there is even an argument that it is among his better chances at reaching base safely.

Regardless, and giving him the benefit of the doubt of being an average lead-off hitter (he’s not), the Indians run expectancy that inning went from 1.614 to 1.456 by advancing the runners to second and third, while sacrificing the out. For a difference of 0.158 runs.

Zimmer botched his sacrifice attempt with an assist from Lonnie Chisenhall. The ball died directly in front of home plate giving catcher Jonathan Lucroy an easy time to get to it. With Chisenhall getting a late jump, Lucroy was able to throw to third to ruin the sacrifice attempt.

The run expectancy in the inning dropped from 1.431 to .804 due to the play. Over half a run is a huge factor. There was a decent chance for two runs before the out, but after it, the Indians were not even fully expected to score one. They did not plate any insurance runs after the play.

Had Zimmer laid down the sacrifice though, the final expected runs would have only dropped to 1.322. A mere 0.109 difference.

Bunting lowered the overall expected runs to be scored in each inning. Hitting away, therefore, is the better overall play on average. When the player is batting .291 with a .366 on base percentage (Zimmer), then that shouldn’t even be a decision. Hit the ball. But, when a hitter is struggling as much as Kipnis is at the plate, the difference is low enough that it is understandable for a good bunter to utilize it as an option at times.

There is a bigger issue at play here that is worse for holding down runs. Why is a player under .300 on base percentage leading off the game? There is absolutely no reason this lineup construction makes sense.

Beyond the box score did a study on optimizing the batting order and this is what they had found.

#1, #4, #2, #5, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9

You want your best three hitters to hit in the #1, #4, and #2 spots. Distribute them so OBP is higher in the order and SLG is lower. Then place your fourth and fifth best hitters, with the #5 spot usually seeing the better hitter, unless he’s a high-homerun guy. Then place your four remaining hitters in decreasing order of overall hitting ability, with basestealers ahead of singles hitters. Finally, stop talking like the lineup is a make-or-break decision.

Again there are minimal overall effects towards manufacturing a lineup. But, the biggest factor is the players who get the most plate appearances. Giving the most to your eighth best hitter hurts the ability to score runs far more than bunting runners over in the seventh inning.

Given the above (and additional instructions on the link), then the optimum lineup for the Indians would be:

Jose Ramirez
Francisco Lindor
Michael Brantley
Edwin Encarnacion
Lonnie Chisenhall
Bradley Zimmer
Carlos Santana
Jason Kipnis
Roberto Perez (or Yan Gomes)

D-Fence clap, clap

Zimmer helped make up for his non-sacrifice by making a Statcast 4-star catch covering almost 75 feet. He made it look almost routine. For those who remember Devon White, Zimmer has some shades of him gliding through center field (he’s quite not near that level yet overall- just for this play).

Game recognize game. Future Hall of Fame third-baseman Adrian Beltre drills a shot down the line. Ramirez nabs it, turns and fires a one-hopper to first to record the out. Beltre-esque play there.

  • Natedawg86

    I hate the bunt…unless it is Gomes with a runner on first, then bunt

  • jpftribe

    The over the shoulder catch Zimmer made to close that same inning would have been anything but routine for (pick one) Abe, Naquin, Chis. If those balls turn into doubles, it’s a tie game and the middle of a big rally.

    To me, accounts for a pretty high percentage of Bad Bauer vs Good Bauer, with the remaining going to giving up the long ball. You put stellar defense behind him, and he looks pretty darn good.

  • Chris

    Indians infielders do a very good job of giving first base a safe one-hopper when rushing a throw. I can’t say that I pay incredibly close attention elsewhere around the league, but I see this from the Inidians more often than from their opponents.

  • jpftribe

    Lindor pointed this out in post game when asked about Jose’s play. Not an accident.

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t really see it as an issue, and a lot of times, a one hop may be easier to get than a very low throw. Are we not getting outs because of this? I feel like the throws are on line for the most part.

  • Harv

    That critical Ramirez play at third warmed my heart. The Indians have had so few third basemen who could make that play over the decades – none since Travis Fryman and the one year of Matt Williams. And before that none since Buddy Bell/Graig Nettles. Meanwhile, seems like Tribe hitters were routinely robbed on the same play.

    Also, with a nooner today followed imediately by a Tigers series, why did Allen pitch for the 3rd straight day with a 4 run lead? With that and the Zimmer bunt maybe Francona is still a little fuzzy-headed and no one wanted to suggest he re-think.

  • nj0

    What I hate about the Kipnis bunt is that success means Lindor doesn’t bat, you’ve given up an out, and the double play is still a possibility. That’s what you’re hoping for.

  • mgbode

    I don’t follow.

    Success of the Kipnis bunt means Lindor bats w/ runners on 2nd & 3rd with one out.

  • jpftribe


  • mgbode

    was editing….

    Or are you saying because they chose to IBB. Then, you have gone to bases loaded and one out.

    If so, notice the run expectancy is the EXACT SAME as it was with runners on 1st & 2nd with no outs. No harm done.

  • mgbode

    Oddly, the bunts I hated the most were M-Mart bunts due to the fact he is so wretchedly awful at it.

  • mgbode

    as Jim noted above, it is a taught technique. they have found it an easier way to make sure it remains in-line w/ 1st while putting a bunch of juice on it.

  • jpftribe

    Francona said he pitched him last night because he didn’t want to pitch him today in an early game going into Detroit, which didn’t make much sense to me. I think there is reason to worry about him as well.

  • nj0

    Yeah. The obvious counter is the IBB which leads to the exact same situation. Additionally, at that point in the game a pitching change seems likely (and it happened last night), meaning that the other team gets a match-up they like.

    It’s all minor stuff and I trust Tito. But still, I don’t like it. If everything else is equal, let the top of your order swing the bats. (But what do I know.)

  • mgbode

    If you expect the IBB, then you are trading Kipnis batting with it for Brantley. I make that trade without worrying about it.

    Again, my issue was that it was Kipnis as part of that decision though. I don’t bunt if J-Ram was lead-off.

  • Chris

    I totally agree… my comment was a compliment.

  • jpftribe

    Yeah, but…
    Optimal assumes constants in the lineup, where that is just not the reality. If you look at total PAs:
    Santana – 342
    Frankie – 339
    EE – 324
    JRam – 318
    Kip – 250

    You figure Santana is largely a result of not wanting EE at first and hitting some leadoff (which he hasn’t done in quite a while), this will all balance it’s self out over the year. It’s just a matter of time before Kipnis hits his way into his position or someone like Chis is moved up.

    I don’t think we’ll see JRam moved into 1 or 2. He’s going to be before or after EE, and that’s not really a bad thing.

  • jpftribe

    Or you knock Darvish out and get into their bullpen for the third day straight.
    I think this is why people go nuts. When you dig into the numbers behind a lot of these decisions, they are darn close to 50/50, so there is a legit argument for or against a particular decision.

  • mgbode

    If Zimmer keeps his OBP above .350, then there is really no reason he won’t be our lead-off by August.

  • Chris

    Sure there is… Tito.

  • tsm

    Was at the game and sitting behind a Rangers fan. He pointed out to me that Beltre normally would have been safe on the ball to Jose, but his leg is still not 100%. The team needs his bat and glove, so they live with his gimpyness.
    My complaint is about the prior game where Cody gave up the 2 out no one on HR to Beltre. Beltre is the one guy in the lineup who you can’t let beat you in a late game situation. Manning kept harping on how the Rangers are aggressive, swing at the first pitch and love fastballs. So Cody gives Beltre a first pitch fastball! Should have made him chase a pitch out of the zone – preferably a curve. The next morning Cody claims it was a good pitch in the correct location! I saw the replay a number of times and it was a letter high fastball on the inside portion of the plate.

  • Natedawg86

    I hated every time that M-Mart stepped into the batters box

  • Steve

    “Given the above (and additional instructions on the link), then the optimum lineup for the Indians would be:”

    I wouldn’t rely too much on half a season worth of stats. The projection systems update in-season, they’re still our best bet – and at leadoff, so is Santana.

  • jpftribe

    That’s the beauty of baseball. The games within the game. Allen’s saying I’m gonna put it in a place where he can’t do much. Beltre is saying, if I get a fastball, it’s probably going to be “here”. Bam.

  • mgbode

    I like to mix the projections with the current. As in, I’m pretty sure Kip’s shoulder is bugging him, but the projections won’t model it. On Santana, once he has a couple weeks showing he is back to the monster-OBP guy he has always been, I wouldn’t hesitate to move him there, but not until that point either.

  • mgbode


  • Steve

    The projections do change to account for the present, Santana’s projected OPS for the rest of the season is down 14 points from the preseason number. Jose Ramirez is up 44. I’m with you on making mental adjustments for situations like Kipnis.

  • mgbode

    Yes, bad wording on my part. One of those mental adjustments would be to be ready to pull the trigger on Santana when he starts being his old self (or reasonable facsimile) just not before.

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