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A Deeper Look At The Decisions To Bunt

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"I wouldn't really change anything. We just have to execute, that's all."

Those were the words of Don Mattingly, defending his decisions to bunt with runners on first and second base and nobody out in both the seventh and eighth innings in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Giants. On some level, he is right. The Dodgers got burned by a pair of unlikely outcomes, two crushing double plays by Juan Uribe (on his sacrifice bunt attempt) and Andre Ethier (with the bases loaded and one out).

In both situations, the Dodgers were down one run at the time.

The Dodgers could have also scored more than one run in the first six innings, and they wouldn't have been in a situation in which Clayton Kershaw could allow two runs in eight innings and get hung with the loss, in a game he said he felt as good as he has all season.

But let's focus on those seventh and eighth innings.

On Sunday's WGN broadcast of the Dodgers' game against the Cubs, Chicago announcers Len Kasper and Bob Brenly educated their viewers with data on and an explanation of run expectancy. Using data from 2010 through May 1, 2012 from innings one through eight ("If the 9th and later were included, it would skew the numbers because of incomplete innings with game-ending runs, etc," they explained), they showed both expected runs and the likelihood of scoring at least one run for each of the 24 base-out situations.

On average, a situation with runners on first and second base with nobody outs, 1.418 runs are scored.

With runners on second and third base and one out, 1.367 runs are scored in that inning from that point forward.

In other words, even if Uribe's sacrifice bunt was successful (it was not), the Dodgers would have expected fewer runs in that situation. But the Dodgers just needed one run, so what were the chances of at least one run scoring in each situation?

With runners on first and second base with nobody out, the chance of scoring is 60.3%.

With runners on second and third base with one out, the chance of scoring is 67.0%.

Again, at least on some level, having Uribe bunt was a defensible move. It just didn't work out.

In the eighth inning, since a sacrifice bunt by Mark Ellis made an intentional walk to Matt Kemp inevitable, we can look at one more base-out situation.

With the bases loaded and one out, 1.524 runs are scored on average from that point forward, and the chance of scoring at least one run is 65.1%.

This means that on a general level, the decision to bunt in the eighth in theory put the Dodgers in a more advantageous run scoring environment. But that ignores the situation of the game and the cardinal sin of willingly letting the bat being taken out of the hands of the best hitter in the lineup.

There is some thought that Kemp would have been walked either way, but I'm not sure. There have been seven intentional walks this year with first base occupied, and six of them came in a tie game in the ninth inning with to load the bases. Kemp, it should be noted, is the only man in baseball to be intentionally walked this season with first base occupied with the other team leading, as Jim Tracy and the Colorado Rockies were burned last Wednesday by putting the tying run on base for Dee Gordon, who doubled home two to tie the game.

In addition, with Tony Gwynn Jr. having already taken over for Juan Rivera, who hurt his leg while sliding in the seventh inning, the Dodgers had these three batters waiting after Kemp:

  • LHB Ethier (14-for-48, .292/.358/.458 vs. LHP this year entering Tuesday, .236/.288/.339 since 2010)
  • LHB Gwynn (3-for-16 vs LHP this year, .238/.295/.341 since 2010)
  • LHB James Loney (3-for-27 vs. LHP this year, .209/.249/.300 since 2010)

That gave Bruce Bochy an easy opportunity to bring in a left-hander, especially since backup catcher Matt Treanor was the only right-handed bat available off the bench. Bochy brought in Javier Lopez, who had allowed lefties to go 5-for-13 this season but has been murder on left-handed batters the last two seasons (.176/.261/.230 since 2010).

Before last night's game Mattingly said, "I still feel like there's a need for that right-handed bat." The eighth and ninth innings showed it, as none of the trio of Ethier, Gwynn, and Loney hit the ball out of the infield against Lopez.