Ryno: Small Ball Will Continue

Ryne SandbergRyne Sandberg promised the Phillies would play oodles of small ball in 2015.

He watched those efforts fail repeatedly last night in a 3-2 victory over the Nationals in 10 innings, but he remains as determined as ever to make it part of his team’s game.

The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in the third and fifth innings and twice tried to sacrifice bunt to advance their base runners. But Freddy Galvis bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the third and Ben Revere bunted the ball back to the pitcher in the fifth with the lead runner thrown out both times. (A batter earlier in the fifth, Cole Hamels reached base when he attempted to sacrifice a runner to second. He bunted the ball in front of the plate, but an errant throw to second allowed both runners to be safe.)

That’s 3-for-3 on bad bunts on a team that vowed bunting would be a big part of its game this season.

The Phillies also had a runner on second and no outs in the ninth, but Revere missed the sign to sacrifice bunt. He struck out swinging.

“We have to get the bunts down,” Sandberg said. “It’s a priority. We need to improve on that. We could have made it much easier on the offensive side of things with Cole out there on the mound and with the pitching we had.”

But the Phillies would have been better served swinging away in those situations … yes, even knowing the end result of Revere’s at-bat in the ninth. Baseball Prospectus’ Runs Expectations data from 2014 showed a team’s chances to score decreased when a team gave up an out to advance a runner.

Teams averaged 1.4023 runs with runners on first and second and no outs last season.

They averaged 1.2714 runs with runners on second and third and one out.

In other words, the Phillies had a 9.3 percent better chance to score with Galvis and Revere swinging away in the third and fifth innings. That might not seem like a lot, but every percentage point counts for a team that acknowledges it will struggle to score runs this season.

Sandberg isn’t buying it.

“First and second, no outs,” Sandberg said, “for me, that’s a bunt situation. We’re just going to practice it. We have to get it done. We have to talk about it. We’ve stressed it for two months now. We just have to get better at it.”

The numbers also showed a successful sacrifice bunt in the ninth would have hurt the Phillies’ chances to score. Teams averaged 1.0393 runs last season with a runner on second and no outs. They averaged .8873 runs with a runner on third with one out.

Giving up the out decreased a team’s chance to score by 14.6 percent.

Keep in mind: this is not some nerdy, geeky, Moneyball statistic that old-school baseball folks can dismiss with a wave of the hand. This isn’t VORP or WAR or some other number that can be debated in terms of its accuracy.

These are real numbers.

These are hard facts.

Giving up outs hurts your chances to score.

Of course, Revere struck out in the ninth and because he struck out the runner stood on second with one out. The chances to score there obviously are worse (.6235 runs) than if he had successfully sacrificed the runner to third. But giving away an out because you fear the worst – He might strike out! He might hit into a double play! – is playing scared in a sense. And if you believe you need to give up outs to advance base runners because your players cannot hit, why should you expect those same players you think can’t hit to suddenly come up with a hit or sacrifice fly to score a run?

“For that group of people out there that want guys to bunt all the time,” Joe Maddon said in a MLB.com story about bunting in 2013, “you don’t know the outcome when you choose to do that.”

“I just think it’s an easy out,” Hamels said in that same story. “I’ll take the easy out and work on the next guy, even if he’s at third base. They still have to get a hit to move 90 feet. So you’ve got a lot of options. Outs are hard to come by sometimes, so you might as well take that out while you can.”

But despite the evidence and the troubles getting the bunts down last night, Sandberg is going to continue to try. He is not the only one to feel that way.

“I think it comes down to situations,” Mike Scioscia said. “The one thing about generalized statistics is, they’re not as matchup-specific as I think they can be. I think there are absolutely times where you want pitchers to earn that out. And there are definitely times where you want to put pressure on the other team, where you don’t know if you’ve got the three hits coming in an inning that’s going to score the run. And you want to move the runner over and try to get that one hit to fall in that’s going to be a game-changing run.”

4 Comments

[pulls hair out]

Small ball will continue and he fails to bunt with 2 on and no one out. The big Bust strikes out 4 times swinging at sucker pitches. If I am the owner, I would borrow the money to pay off his entire contract and give him his out right release as he is beyond repair!

I defer to Scioscia on that issue…I think he is right on point. Plus, I think it depends on how offensively challenged the team is plus, who the next 2 batters would be and who they are facing on the mound. You have to be careful with numbers, because they only suggest a trend, not a law. On the other hand, vowing to “bunt whenever possible” seems equally stupid…..

Pingback: How Is the Small Ball Going? « The Zo Zone

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