I have an idea to help the Pirates’ moribund offense: STOP GIVING AWAY OUTS

This is a table of National League teams, ranked by on-base percentage heading into Monday’s action (this holds true for all of these charts):

Tm OBP ▾
STL .355
NYM .343
LAD .340
ATL .336
COL .322
ARI .320
HOU .318
LgAvg .317
WSN .316
MIL .311
SFG .307
CHC .305
MIA .305
PHI .305
SDP .304
CIN .300
PIT .275

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

This is a table of National League teams, ranked by stolen bases:

Tm SB ▾
MIA 38
SDP 29
STL 29
ARI 27
PHI 27
ATL 26
CHC 24
COL 23
HOU 23
MIL 23
LgAvg 23
LAD 21
SFG 20
WSN 17
PIT 16
CIN 15
NYM 12

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

This is a table of National League teams, ranked by times caught stealing:

Tm CS ▾
CHC 14
LAD 14
PIT 13
SDP 12
SFG 11
ARI 10
ATL 10
NYM 10
LgAvg 10

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

This is a table of National League teams, ranked by sacrifice bunts attempts:

Tm Att ▾ Suc %
LAD 34 26 76%
MIL 26 17 65%
CIN 25 18 72%
PIT 25 18 72%
NYM 23 14 61%
STL 22 15 68%
PHI 21 14 67%
LgAvg 21 15 68%
ARI 20 15 75%
SDP 20 13 65%
SFG 20 13 65%
CHC 19 10 53%
HOU 19 13 68%
MIA 19 10 53%
WSN 19 11 58%
COL 16 13 81%
ATL 13 12 92%
341 232 68%

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are terrible at getting on base. They are not particularly good at stealing bases, but they try them all the time anyway. The Pirates’ on base percentage is more than 40 points below league average, yet they’ve tried four more sacrifice bunts than the average National League team. The ostensible reason that the Pirates do this is that their manager thinks that he must maximize the chance that every single base runner has to score by moving them along the base paths by any means necessary. 

This is a list of National League teams, ranked by the percentage of base runners that score:

Tm RS% ▾
ATL 36%
COL 35%
STL 33%
HOU 31%
LAD 31%
ARI 29%
CIN 29%
MIL 29%
NYM 29%
PHI 29%
LgAvg 29%
CHC 28%
SFG 28%
MIA 27%
SDP 26%
WSN 25%
PIT 24%

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

The Pirates are not generating more runs by bunting and stealing bases and running around like chickens’ with their heads cut off. They’re minimizing the few chances that they do have to score by giving the opponents even more outs than their pathetic offense already makes. 

Here’s reality: there’s no reason to think that bunting a runner from first to second or second to third results in more runs scoring. In fact, there’s real, documented evidence to the contrary. Teams with runners on first and no outs have a 0.941 run expectancy for that inning (link via @inclementewthr, who put this out there right as I was about to start Googling for it). Teams with runners on second and one out have a .721 run expectancy for the inning. There’s a similar drop for bunting a runner from second to third. That’s not me futzing with numbers. That’s not new age statistical mumbo jumbo bullshit. That’s cold, hard reality. Trading a base for an out does not make you more likely to score. It makes you less likely to score. There is no room for argument. 

Whenever the Pirates play a game like they played on Monday night and I get on a rant about how dumb it is for the Pirates to waste outs, there are always people that get mad at me and say that bunting is part of baseball and that Clint Hurdle’s managed more games than I ever have and that I’m crazy for thinking that ignoring more than a century of baseball bunting history is a way for the team to make their offense better. When baseball was invented, it was mostly played by uneducated roughneck borderline criminals that existed on the fringes of society. They thought that sacrificing an out for a base would make them more likely to score runs. No one had Retrosheet or Baseball Reference or SPSS back then, and without being able to crunch the numbers, that’s a logical opinion to have. 

It’s 2012 now. We know what’s happened to every single baserunner in modern baseball history. We have computers that can handle these reams of data. We can crunch the numbers. We can calculate the probabilities. Sacrifice bunting by position players is dumb in almost every single situation imaginable (if you have a runner on second and no outs in a tie game or down by one run, you can bunt because while your run expectancy for the inning will go down, the probability of that single runner scoring will go slightly up; this isone of the few cases where bunting is even mildly defensible). It’s not actually an argument worth having; it’s dumb and if you disagree, you’re wrong. This is not a point for discussion.

I don’t understand why, “It’s old school!” is a valid argument. There’s no other aspect of our modern lives in which it’s OK to disregard the advancements made in favor of “It’s old school!” Do you use an abacus when you don’t have to? A rotary phone? An Apple IIe? Do you ride a horse to work? Do you burn gas lamps at night instead of using electricity because gas lamps are old school? 

The Pirates’ offense this year is really bad. It would be really bad if they never got caught stealing or wasted at bats with sacrifice bunting. But it’s insane that they give away the outs that they do have left and right, that they bunt away with position players like mad and get caught stealing all over the bases with the few base runners that they do have. In Monday’s game, the Pirates had three players touch a base safely after they took their one run lead (a hit, a walk, and a fielder’s choice ON A BUNT, of course) and all three of those runners made outs in preventable fashion. That is beyond insane; it’s negligent. The Pirates got away with it on Monday and they’ve generally gotten away with it to date in 2012, but it’s going to catch up to them eventually.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.