How Is the Small Ball Going?
It did not work in the fifth inning last night in a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals. The Phillies had runners on first and second with no outs in a tie game when Ryne Sandberg called for Ben Revere to bunt. Revere bunted the ball in front of the plate and Yadier Molina threw out the lead runner at third for the first out.
“Why do I like it?” Sandberg said about the decision to bunt there. “First and second and no outs with a bunter up there.”
It was the fourth time this month the Phillies have bunted with runners on first and second and had the lead runner thrown out at third. It happened three times with no outs and once with one out.
The Phillies lead Major League Baseball with 12 sacrifice bunts. But as I wrote earlier this month, the numbers show bunting is counterproductive to scoring. 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.
The Phillies had a 9.3 percent better chance to score with Revere swinging away in the fifth inning. It might not seem like much, but for a team last in baseball averaging 2.73 runs per game every percentage point counts. And why play for the small inning there with five innings to go? It would have made more sense bunting in that situation if it were the eighth or ninth inning.
Let’s look closer at the Phillies’ bunt attempts this month:
According to MLB’s play-by-play, Phillies pitchers have bunted a ball in play 10 times. (This does not account for striking out on bunt attempts, balls bunted foul, etc.) They have successfully sacrificed eight times. The Phillies have scored seven runs in four of the innings their pitchers have sacrificed. That seems pretty good to me, but then I have no problem with pitchers bunting. Pitchers are bad hitters so having them bunt is almost always the right play.
The Phillies have had their hitters bunt the ball in play 10 times with at least one runner on base. (They have bunted for hits three times without a runner on base. They are 0-for-3.) Twice it seems the hitter has bunted on his own, but the other eight times have been called from the dugout. Phillies hitters successfully sacrificed just four times. The Phillies scored just three runs in those innings, which is not a good ratio.
Does bunting avoid the chance of somebody hitting into a double play? Yes, but it also hurts the team’s chances of a big inning because they have one less out to work with.
Hitters bunting with at least one runner on base:
- Freddy Galvis (April 11): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs, 3rd inning. Force out at third base. 0 runs scored.
- Revere (April 11): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs, 5th inning. Force out at third base. 0 runs scored.
- Galvis (April 14): Runner on third, 1 out, 5th inning. Popped out on failed safety squeeze. 0 runs scored.
- Chase Utley (April 15): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out, 5th inning. Grounds out (not a sac attempt). 0 runs scored.
- Cody Asche (April 24): Runners on 1st and 3rd, 1 out, 8th inning. Popped out. 0 runs scored.
- Cesar Hernandez (April 24): Runner on 1st, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 1 run scored.
- Andres Blanco (April 26): Runner on 1st, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 1 run scored.
- Galvis (April 27): Runner on 2nd, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 0 runs scored.
- Odubel Herrera (April 28): Runners on 1st, 0 outs. Sacrifice bunt. 0 runs scored.
- Revere (April 29): Runners on 1st and 2nd, 0 outs. Force out at third base. 1 run scored.