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):
This is a table of National League teams, ranked by stolen bases:
This is a table of National League teams, ranked by times caught stealing:
This is a table of National League teams, ranked by sacrifice bunts attempts:
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:
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.