The Worst Bunts of 2012

Earlier this week I posted about the Best Bunts of 2012 according to Win Probability Added (WPA). Nothing like that is really complete, however, without talking about the worst. So here, divided into some rather arbitrary categories, are some of the worst bunts of 2012.

You can read more about the background stuff in the other post. I use WPA for this both because it gives a sense for the strategic situation of the bunt (or, in some cases, and attempted bunt), and also because it gives a sense of the “story” of the game. It should not be used to value individual players. It might give a sense of whether or not the bunt made sense strategically. Of course, a bunt could make sense strategically and still be costly when it failed. In other words, just enjoy this for what it is and take it with a grain of salt.

Worst Bunt into a Double Play

One would think that a bunt into a double play would be the worst overall bunt of the season, but that is not true this year, at least. On May 8, Brett Pill homered off of Clayton Kershaw in the top of the second inning to put the Giants on top of the Dodgers 2-0. By the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers were still down 2-1, but Ryan Vogelsong, who had been dealing all game, was on the hill. The Dodgers started a nice rally with singles from Juan Rivera and James Loney. It was a nice situation to have — two runners on with not outs. Juan Uribe came to the plate and bunted. It made sense — Uribe’s hitting has totally gone into the tank since making the move from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Maybe he’s a double agent. Buster Posey fielded the bunt and the Giants managed to get both Uribe and the lead runner, costing the Dodgers -.228 WPA. It wasn’t the Dodgers last shot — Andre Ethier’s double play ball with the bases loaded in the eighth was even more devastating — but Uribe’s bunt was very bad.

Worst Successful Sacrifice Bunt

As I have hopefully noted before, this is not meant as a precision, perfect, analysis. WPA per plate appearance only gives the relative value at the time. I thought about doing a little “customization” here, but instead I decided to allow the highest-WPA sacrifice bunt in to show the limits of this sort of thing.

I added that note because of this play: on June 13 the As were visiting the Rockies during inter-league play. It was a slug fest, and in top of the ninth, the Rockies were winning 8-7. Coco Crisp led off the inning with a single for the As, and Jemile Weeks came up and bunted Crisp over, which was recorded as -.067 WPA. However, Crisp would then steal third and get sacrificed in by Collin Cowgill to tie the game.

That run scoring does not on its own mean that WPA analysis was useless here. After all, Crisp could have scored in another way even if he hadn’t been bunted over. After all, this was Colorado, and WPA takes account of run environment in addition to relative score, inning, and so on. However, it does not take account of the skills of the individual players involved: Crisp’s speed, Weeks’ poor hitting, and so on. I do not know whether the decision (without considering the good end result) was the right one or not, but I left this is to point out the some of the additional things that need to be considered when analyzing managerial decisions.

Worst Bunt of the Post-Season

The Atlanta-St. Louis wildcard game is remembered for a controversial infield fly call. But, as Chipper Jones noted after the game, the Braves did not do themselves too many favors with their play in the field, committing three errors. They also had a pretty silly bunt attempt.

Trailed 3-2, Atlanta managed to get runners on the corners against Kyle Lohse with one out in the fourth. With pitcher Kris Medlen on deck, Andrelton Simmons tried to bunt, but was called out on batter’s interference, a -0.092 WPA play for Atlanta.

Special Achievement Award for Outstanding Excellence in the Field of Failed Squeezes

Before we get to the worst bunt of 2012, someone — or, more precisely, something needs to be recognized. I noticed this when looking at the overall second-worst non-pitcher bunt of 2012, which I was not going to write up. I will not go into great detail about each play here, but it is worth noting: Alcides Escobar had three of the overall worst twelve bunts of the 2012 regular season, and all three came on failed suicide squeeze attempts in which the lead runner go thrown out at home: May 8 (-.189 WPA), June 17 (-.233 WPA, second-worst bunt of the regular season), and August 6 (-.157 WPA).

This is not to pick on Escobar. Whatever one makes of the metrics versus visual scouting dispute over his fielding, this season Escobar finally was decent with the bat, and by getting on base more, he was able to utilize his speed. Moreover, if Ned Yost was calling for bunts for Escobar, it was at least somewhat understandable, given that Escobar ended up bunting for more hits than any player aside from Erick Aybar this year, and had about a 41 percent success rate. In one of the games mentioned here, Escobar had already bunted for a hit prior to the squeeze attempt. Of course, that may have also made the opposing fielders more watchful later in the game. Boom, Yosted.

Still, one player having three failed suicide squeezes in relatively big situations is at least worth mentioning. And it gets a bit weirder the closer you look. For one thing, the Royals managed to win two of the three games in which Escobar had squeeze attempt go bad. For another thing, the lead runner on two of the attempts was your friend and mine, Jeff Francoeur.

Source: FanGraphs

Worst Bunt Resulting in Fielders Choice, Also Worst Overall Bunt of 2012

On July 25, the Brewers and Phillies were deadlocked at 5-5 in top of the ninth. With Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound, Corey Hart led off the top of the inning with a single, then stole second. Rickie Weeks followed that up with single to put runners on the corners with no one out. The Brewers’ win expectancy was over 80 percent. Martin Maldonado then came up to the plate and bunted, but Papelbon fielded the ball and threw Hart out at the plate. That went for -.235 WPA, the worst non-pitcher bunt of the season in those terms. While Milwaukee would briefly gain the lead in extra innings, they would eventually lose the game 7-6.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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Bryan Grosnick
11 years ago

You know, Justin Maxwell actually had two failed squeezes last season that were pretty terrible. Perhaps he’s no Escobar, but maybe if Escobar is the Justin Verlander of failed bunts, then Maxwell is the Clayton Kershaw?