The Worst Bunts of the Year, Part Two

Earlier this year, I took a look at the worst (and best) bunts of the year. I couldn’t help myself. It’s simply too much fun to watch the best-laid bunting plans go down in flames, while a perfectly executed bunt is one of the most exciting plays in baseball.

Originally, I planned on waiting until the end of the season to update both lists. I forgot something, though: the end of the season is really busy and fun as it is. Playoff races, individual awards, wondering where the Mets went so wrong. There are already innumerable annual traditions to write about at season’s end. Instead, I decided to get a head start on these standout bunts, and circle back if one improbably beats them out for the worst (or best) bunt of the year.

As a reminder, here was the worst bunt of the first third of the season:

That one was really bad, both in execution and outcome. It cost the Cardinals dearly — more than a quarter of a win by WPA. It’s not easy to lose so much value in a single play on offense. With that in mind, I’ll be answering a bonus question for each bunt in this list: was it worse than José Rondón’s ill-fated attempt? Without further ado, let’s get bunting.

5. August 6, Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

The situation:
First and third, two outs, bottom of the 11th. The Astros trail by one. It’s safe to say that this isn’t an obvious bunting situation. The Twins had a truly clunky defense on the field; their corner infielders were Miguel Sanó (at third) and Mitch Garver (at first). That’s a first baseman at third and a catcher at first, for those of you keeping score at home, though Sanó still moonlights at third, with 37 innings in total there this year.

The play:

The cost: -.20 WPA
What a strange way to start the series. I’m still not sure if this was a good play by Altuve. I like the idea of applying pressure in an unexpected spot, but the Astros wouldn’t win the game if he was safe, and Altuve isn’t as fast as he used to be; he’s just 9-for-28 on bunt attempts since 2019, and his home-to-first time is tied with 2020 for the worst of his career this year.

That wasn’t the best bunt I’ve ever seen, but give plenty of credit to Sanó. That was a spot where he can’t have been expecting a bunt. He was reasonably deep behind third base when the play started:

It was do or die right from the start, with not even a prayer of getting the runner at home. Luckily for the Twins, Sanó didn’t move off of third base because of a lack of arm strength; he has one of the best infield arms in the majors. It was just a matter of getting to it in time, then picking it up cleanly, both of which he managed. That’s a heck of a play, though I still quibble with Altuve’s thinking.

Worse than the Cardinals?
Nah. It wasn’t great obviously, but this was both a tough situation to start with (you don’t win a lot when you’re down with two outs in the ninth inning) and a tremendous defensive play. It didn’t cost the team two outs — something most of the worst bunts do — and that’s enough to make it less egregious in my eyes.

4. June 15, Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

The situation:
In a tie game, Paul DeJong reached to start the bottom of the eighth. Mike Shildt doesn’t need an excuse to bunt, as we’ve seen in previous installments of this series. As is customary, Shildt asked a player with no career sacrifice bunts, Lane Thomas, to lay one down. But that says Adam Wainwright up there — because Thomas put down a perfect bunt and reached base. First and second, no one out, the Cardinals went to a pinch hitter: Wainwright.

Wait, what? Despite having used only one pinch hitter in the game so far, the team was in a pickle. Shildt really wanted to bunt. He had an out he was trying to donate, you see, and he wasn’t taking no for an answer. Back went the real hitters to the dugout, and up stepped Wainwright to drop one down.

The play:

The cost: -.21 WPA
Despite my bunt-related snark, this is a decent spot to try one. Getting a runner to third with only one out is quite valuable in a tie game. A successful sacrifice here would have set the team up well. The Marlins knew it, and had two infielders wayyyyyy in. All the bluffing in the world doesn’t matter when you send a pitcher up to pinch hit. And yeah, that was an awful bunt: DeJong was out by so much that I can’t imagine a runner in the game who would be safe there. As an added “bonus,” Wainwright isn’t exactly fleet of foot; that second out turns this from kind of bad to nightmarish.

Worse than the Cardinals?
That’s a confusing statement, but no. It was close, but because the team kept a runner in scoring position in a tie game, it wasn’t quite as harmful to the home team’s cause. It’s hard to lose too much value when you still have a runner in scoring position in a tie game.

3. September 5, Dylan Moore, Seattle Mariners

The situation:
It’s a setup you’ve seen before: Moore came to the plate to start the top of the 10th inning, which meant there was an automatic runner on second base. The top of the inning is generally a bad time to bunt, so the Diamondbacks played Moore straight up. Modern-times straight up, at least; they shifted against him, with the second baseman up the middle and first baseman off the line and deep. If he wanted to bunt, Arizona would give it to him. Spoiler: he wanted to bunt.

The play:

The cost: -.22 WPA
Not great! Moore went with the ever-classic sneak attack bunt. With his blazing speed, he was playing for either of two outcomes: a sacrifice bunt (acceptable, not great), or a bunt single (incredible, break out the trumpets and celebratory banners). Either of those outcomes seemed like a reasonable possibility, with the defense all the way on its heels and in a shift. Push the ball past the pitcher, and his odds looked good: Pavin Smith couldn’t field a bunt and cover first, which meant a tough play for second baseman Andrew Young.

Of course, Moore didn’t do that. He bunted the ball about five feet, giving Daulton Varsho an easy play. Jarred Kelenic, the runner on second, didn’t get much of a secondary lead. Here’s where he was with Moore already out of the box:

If the bunt had been even a little better, that lead wouldn’t have mattered. It’s really hard to field a bunt and make a throw to third base; Varsho barely made the throw despite having to travel all of five feet to recover the ball. But he did make the throw, and the Mariners lost an out and some excellent runner positioning. To add insult to injury, Moore was thrown out stealing second base on the next pitch, turning it into a very slow motion double play. Luis Torrens doubled — with the bases empty and two outs, whoops — and the Mariners didn’t score in the inning. They scored six runs in the 11th to win, though, so it all ended in smiles.

Worse than the Cardinals?
Nope, as long as you don’t count getting caught stealing.

2. July 6, Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers

The situation:
Taylor, mere days away from being named an All-Star for the first time, came to the plate to lead off the top of the 10th inning. Like Moore in the play above, Taylor is a fast boy, and thought he’d get two bites at the apple (hit or sacrifice) by bunting into an unprepared defense. And honestly, why would the defense be prepared? Will Smith, the runner on second, is a slow boy, and Taylor was, again, about to go to his first All-Star game because of a sterling offensive half. No one was expecting him to give himself up.

The play:

The cost: -.22 WPA
Sure, this is the same situation as above, so these are technically a tie. This one seems worse to me, though, so I’m giving it the edge. Chris Taylor is a much better hitter than Dylan Moore, something WPA doesn’t account for. Smith is a slow runner, so he’d be less valuable at third base.

You have to be really sure a bunt will work out to pull the trigger in this situation — a sacrifice isn’t even good! It’s not terrible, sure, but you don’t see managers calling for it in the top of the inning basically ever, and with good reason. Taylor needed to reach base safely to truly come out ahead, but his bunt was much worse than that. By pushing it toward third base, he gave Jorge Alfaro, owner of perhaps the strongest arm among all catchers, a running start. Smith never stood a chance. He did nothing wrong — you’re just not going to be safe in that situation if you run like Will Smith, no matter your read on the play.

Worse than the Cardinals?
Not quite.

1. July 4, Roberto Pérez, Cleveland Guardians

The situation:
Honestly, you shouldn’t bunt when you’re down a run going into the bottom of extra innings. It sets you up to play for a tie, and not in a good way: sacrificing an out decreases your chances of scoring two runs significantly, and you’d vastly prefer to win the game outright in these spots. Cut Pérez a little slack, because he was hitting .131 with a .274 OBP going into this game, but the odds of running into a home run alone make a bunt questionable. Anyway: bottom of the 10th, automatic runner on base, Astros lead by one.

The play:

The cost: -.41 WPA
I believe the technical term for this play is “unmitigated disaster.” Pérez was conscious of not tapping the ball directly into the ground, like so many of our previous looks at bad bunts, but there’s more than one way to lay down a bad bunt. That wasn’t a particularly challenging attempt, either: I know that bunting isn’t automatic, but a 92 mph fastball middle-in is about as good as you can expect in terms of an easy pitch to handle. Sometimes a bad bunt comes down to trying to do too much with a tough location, but this was emphatically not that.

Poor Harold Ramirez had a tough decision to make. He took a decent secondary lead, then jammed on the brakes when the ball wasn’t obviously down. What are you supposed to do, though? Here’s a still of the highest point of the ball’s flight towards Raley:

That’s not even a pop up; it’s more of a bunt lineout to pitcher. By the time Raley was in clear fielding position, Ramirez had barely come to a halt:

He was dead to rights, despite his best efforts to get back to the bag. Raley made a strong throw, Carlos Correa was in position to receive the throw, and that was that. In fact, Cleveland’s best chance was hoping Correa came off the bag too quickly as he celebrated; they challenged, but his foot dragged just long enough. Just like that, the game went from tossup to all but over; two outs, no one on, and Oscar Mercado coming to the plate.

Worse than the Cardinals?
By a ton! This one was far worse, at least in terms of win probability. It might not beat the sheer “wait, how did this go wrong?” of it all, but make no mistake: you might not see a costlier bunt, even if you watched years’ worth of games.

In the end, I’m fairly sure we won’t see a worse bunt than Pérez’s Hindenbergian effort in the three weeks of games left this season. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. This one, though, was the fourth-costliest plate appearance all season, behind two catch-and-throw-home double plays and a triple play. It’s hard to imagine having your worst effort come at a worse time, and for that, Roberto Pérez can stake a claim as the worst bunter of the year.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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J. T.
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J. T.

There are still a lot of people out there that think paying an out for a base is a good investment. Bunting is one of the worst aspects of this great game. Not only is it often a bad decision, it looks wimpy to begin with.

mariodegenzgz
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mariodegenzgz

I couldn’t disagree more. A bunt for a hit from a fast runner is a truly exciting play, first and foremost, and there are situations where giving up an out in exchange for a base makes sense. And really, the more variety there is in baseball, the better. Nobody wants a lineup of 9 Joey Gallos or 9 Ben Reveres. Balance is key.

JohnThacker
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JohnThacker

However, a lineup of 9 Shohei Ohtani’s would be fine. Get someone who can do it all, bunt singles to home runs to pitching.

HappyFunBall
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Member
HappyFunBall

Exciting, sure. Variety, sure. Hell, even occasionally a good tactical decision.

But outs are really tremendously valuable. Late game outs even more so. Giving them up on purpose should very rarely be done.

mariodegenzgz
Member
mariodegenzgz

I don’t look at baseball like that, to be quite honest with you. “Efficient” baseball is one thing, fun baseball is often another. What’s logical and efficient is often not what’s fun and engaging, and this is a sport, at the end of the day. A straight sac bunt has this thing where it drastically increases the stakes of the very next AB, which is cool, we all know how fun a bunt for a hit can be, and squeeze plays are among the five most fun things in the game. So I don’t care if it’s inefficient or it doesn’t really alter win expectancy, I’d still like to see it.

Really, the beauty of things like push bunts, squeeze plays, hit & runs, and general “smallball” is that they have a very strong tendency to generate plays that involve defense and multiple moving parts in general, and that’s when offensive baseball is at its best and most fun, imo. Current baseball doesn’t reward it, but there’s a reason those mid 2010s Royals teams developed such a rabid cult following for a little while: they played a very engaging brand of baseball.

HappyFunBall
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HappyFunBall

Perhaps. But when you focus tactical decisions around playing to entertain vs. playing to win, you’re just the Harlem Globetrotters.

The mid 2010s Royals didn’t play small ball by choice. They did it because they couldn’t afford big boppers, and slap-hitting contact hitters were cheap.

Seamaholic
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Seamaholic

This isn’t true at all. Professional sports have two bottom lines: Wins, and making money (which means attracting fans). There happens to be a corps of front offices and commentators right now that leans hard into the first and pretty much ignores the second. Which is fine, albeit a strange way to make a living. But that’s not always been the case nor will it be always be in the future. Nor do most baseball fans understand the game that way.

mariodegenzgz
Member
mariodegenzgz

Absolutely true. It really does feel like front offices are pushing baseball to the limit of its entertainment value for the sake of efficient winning (which makes sense for them to do). You watch these games where both teams K 12+ times, there are no stolen base attempts, most if not all the runs are scored via homers, and they’re just so… static.

MLB really does have to intervene have. Baseball is the best sport in the world already despite its issues, just imagine what it could be if athleticism, contact, and starting pitchers were more encouraged.

hughduffy
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hughduffy

To be fair, the mid-2010s Royals did play small ball somewhat by choice. They have a large home outfield that depresses home runs while increasing singles, doubles, and triples. Slap hitting contact hitters are slightly more valuable when you play half your games in Kauffman Stadium. Even better are slap hitting contact hitters who can take a walk. Could they have moved the outfield fences in? Yes, but then they’d lose the benefit for their pitchers of having a field that depresses home runs. With the juiced ball, I’m not sure they’re getting as much advantage from the large outfield that they used to.

teufelshuffle
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teufelshuffle

Endy Chavez with a walk-off two-out bunt base hit in extra innings is one of my favorite plays ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQx2u_qB8BY&ab_channel=MLB

JohnThacker
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JohnThacker

Paying an out for a base (almost?) always decreases the expected number of runs scored, but there are situations where it can increase the expected chance of winning, generally tied in the bottom of an inning where you’re indifferent between scoring one run and scoring two or more.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Plus, judging solely by WPA only makes sense when the two potential batters are equal hitters, anyway. You have to adjust your calculations accordingly when the guy on deck is a much better hitter.

diamonddores
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Member
diamonddores

wait till Enrique Bradfield Jr gets from the college ranks to the pros. Bunts will be all the dang rage.

Seamaholic
Member
Seamaholic

Depends entirely on game situation and who’s up. If a pitcher is up and he last had a hit in the previous decade, sure, bunt away. Tie game late, man on second with no one out and a poor hitter up, with a great hitter on deck? Absolutely. At this point, I think sacrifice bunting is done about appropriately, these five in particular notwithstanding (although some are bad execution rather than decision-making). And once the DH comes to the NL, it will be all but extinct.

The decline in bunting-for-a-hit, though, is a damn shame. One of the most exciting plays in the sport, which could use more excitement.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

Actually, the popularity of the infield overshift has increased how often batters attempt to bunt for a hit.

Dmjn53
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Dmjn53

It’s the football equivalent of running the ball up the middle on first down to make in 2nd and 8

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

It depends on where you are in the lineup. If the pitcher is batting or the guy on deck is otherwise a much better hitter than the guy at the plate, then sacrifice bunts make sense in more situations.

There’s also the squeeze play, which has its own unique risk/reward factors.