World Bunting Contest

Going back to the WBC well, has anyone noticed the overabundance of bunting during the tournament thus far?

During the U.S.A. versus Venezuela game Sunday night, Jimmy Rollins lead the game off with a double, putting the U.S. in prime position to take an early lead with Dustin Pedroia, Chipper Jones, and Kevin Youkilis due up. Naturally, Pedroia – the reigning American League Most Valuable Player and the guy with a career .366 wOBA and 20 bunt attempts – bunted … well, tried to at least. The bunt failed, resulting in Rollins being picked off second. The blunder promptly eliminated the baserunner and gave Armando Galarraga enough wiggle room to escape the inning without damage.

Now obviously that’s a bit of an extreme. Not every bunt fails, but most bunts do result in outs. In case some people needed to be reminded: outs are bad.

In the 8th inning of yesterday’s Japan versus Korea game, team Japan trailed by one in the 8th inning. Ichiro Suzuki singled with one out. Ichiro is capable of stealing bases. In fact, as Jeff Sullivan appropriately highlighted, Ichiro excels at stealing bases in high leverage situations. It’s fair to say Ichiro is a smart and rather good baserunner, something team Japan should know, but naturally Ichiro was disallowed the chance to steal. Chang
Yong Lim threw to first upon entering the game, trying to keep Ichiro close, and on the next pitch Hiroyuki Nakajima bunted a pitch foul. Nakajima tried again and succeeded on the third pitch, allowing Ichiro to advance to second with two outs in the inning.

The next batter, Norichika Aoki, pushed ahead in the count 2-0 before grounding out to the pitcher and promptly ending the inning. Team Japan lost 1-0. Now I’m not sure the average run environments of the WBC, but using Tom Tango’s run expectancy chart, you can see that a runner on first with one out is expected to wield 0.573 runs. A runner on second with two outs is expected to result in 0.344 runs.

Okay, so maybe playing for one run isn’t a bad idea down by one in the 8th inning, but with two outs, a batter up who – small sample alert – has an OPS over 1.410 in this tournament, and one of the best base stealers in the world on first base, wouldn’t it make a bit more sense to not bunt?

More examples of bunting gone wayward came in last night’s Netherlands versus Puerto Rico affair.

In the 7th inning, and trailing by one run, Puerto Rico shortstop Mikes Aviles doubled to right field, putting the leadoff man on second with the bottom of the order due up. Yadier Molina bunted the first pitch he saw and rather than advance Aviles to third with one out, bunted too hard, giving first baseman Randall Simon the opportunity to look Aviles back to second. A pitch in the next at-bat hit Alex Cora, and then Jesus Feliciano had an infield single. Ramon Vazquez and Carlos Beltran both recorded outs, leaving the bases loaded. There’s no way of knowing what result would’ve followed if Molina successfully moves Aviles over or if Molina is allowed to swing, so I’ll withhold on speculation.

The Puerto Rican team saw two straight batters walk, setting the stage for Pudge Rodriguez – who has absolutely dominated in the tournament. The opposing team is struggling to throw strikes and Jose Oquendo asks Pudge attempt and bunt – giving up an out in the process – until he falls behind 1-2. This is with nobody out, two one, and one of the better hitting catchers facing less competition. Pudge lines the next pitch foul and then strikes out swinging, leaving Aviles to attempt and tie the game. Naturally, the Netherlands pitcher continues the walking trend and walks Aviles on five pitcher and Yadier Molina drives in two with a line drive double.

It’s not that managers are willing to bunt, rather that they’re bunting in poor situations that have adverse effects on their teams chances of scoring. With so many first time managers, the trend is a bit discouraging. The WBC might succeed in expanding the borders of the game, but the boundaries that have held managers back for years remain unaltered.

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Charle Scrabbles

Willy Taveras!!