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Almost nobody is bunting with the free runner in extra innings

Three bunt attempts in 22 half-innings with a free runner on second base in MLB so far this season

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

When the Dodgers and Astros played 13 innings on Wednesday in Houston, they got a longer taste of MLB’s 2020 rule of adding a runner at second base at the beginning of each extra inning. Neither team bunted in any of the four extra innings, but they aren’t alone in that regard across the sport.

There have been eight extra-inning games so far this season, five ending in the 10th inning. In those games, there were 24 half-innings that started with a free runner on second base. So far, only four teams have even attempted a sacrifice bunt, including the last one in a blowout later in the frame. Just two bunts were successful:

  • July 25: Eric Mejia, Royals vs. Indians, leading off the inning, successful sacrifice
  • July 25: Cesar Hernandez, Indians vs. Royals, runners on first and second, no outs, down one. He fouled off one bunt attempt and later struck out looking
  • July 27: Jarrod Dyson, Pirates vs. Brewers, leading off the inning, bunted foul twice, then struck out looking, and was none too pleased about it.
  • July 30: Austin Hedges, Padres vs. Giants, runners at the corners, no outs, up four, a suicide squeeze to score a run.
  • July 30: Edward Olivares, Padres vs. Giants, runners on first and second, no outs, up five, he tried to bunt once but missed, then lined out to right field.

Earlier in the 10th inning in that July 30 game, Jurickson Profar technically didn’t attempt to bunt, but he briefly squared before pulling back, and paying a painful price with this unfortunate hit by pitch:

The lesson here: bunting can be very dangerous sometimes.

Baseball Prospectus has data for the 2019 season, with run expectancy based on play-by-play data from the entire year, as well as the likelihood of scoring at least one run.

Run expectancy & likelihood of scoring

Situation Expected runs Likelihood of scoring
Situation Expected runs Likelihood of scoring
Runner on 2B, no outs 1.1465 60.70%
Runner on 3B, 1 out 0.9528 64.98%
Runners on 1B/2B, no outs 1.5371 62.68%
Runners on 2B/3B, 1 out 1.3679 68.90%
2019 data Source: Baseball Prospectus

Generally speaking, bunting in these situations decreases overall scoring, with average expected runs in the inning going down with a sacrifice. But, the likelihood of scoring goes up by bunting successfully with either a runner on second or runners on first and second with nobody out.

For a home team in a tie game, it likely makes more sense to bunt to lead off the inning, but it’s also dependent on who’s batting. The Dodgers on Wednesday were the road team, and their leadoff hitters in extra innings weren’t the bunting type.

“I think that to play for one run on the road, to sacrifice, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, in my opinion,” manager Dave Roberts said Thursday. “In two innings we had Corey Seager leading off, so I don’t expect him to bunt, and the other innings we had Eddie Rios. This game isn’t played in a vacuum. I think that you have to look a little bit deeper.”


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