THE BUNT STRIKES AGAIN

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It will get lost in the shuffle (as it almost always does), but the use of the sacrifice bunt was crucial to both teams in Monday night’s (arguably) deciding game in the NLCS, as Philadelphia took a commanding 3-1 lead by beating the Dodgers, 7-5. 

In the top of the sixth (down 3-2), the Phillies had runners on first and second, nobody out and Shane Victorino at the plate.  Manager Charlie Manuel had Victorino sacrifice bunt, which made it second and third (tying run on third, go-ahead run on second) with one out.  Manuel was criticized heavily by the announcers and, when Pedro Feliz hit a weak, short fly to right (Ryan Howard, on third, had no chance to tag), the announcers were right – how could Manuel have taken the bat out of Victorino’s hands? 

    

But then, reliever Chan Ho Park threw a wild pitch and the tying run crossed home.  Just another example of how you can score from third on a play that you can’t score on from second.  Is it rare?  Absolutely.  Was Charlie Manuel expecting a wild pitch in that situation?  Of course not.  But it’s just another example of how a sacrifice bunt can set up a game-tying run in an important (deciding?) playoff game.

    

Interestingly, the announcers were quiet after the wild pitch (what were they going to say – that the bunt helped the Phillies tie up the game?).  Nobody would voice the obvious – that the bunt was a key component in the inning. 

    

So we moved to the bottom of the sixth, score tied at 3.  With first and second and nobody out, Joe Torre, never big on the bunt as Yankee manager (but now returning to his National League roots?), has Rafael Furcal lay down a sacrifice bunt with first and second and nobody out.  Torre hits the sacrifice bunt jackpot – Ryan Howard comes in, fields the bunt and promptly throws it away past a lunging Chase Utley.  Juan Pierre scores and the Dodgers wind up with second and third and nobody out.

    

That inning would end with Russell Martin lining out into a double play as Chase Utley made a brilliant play to save two runs and end the inning.  The question, of course, from a use-the-bunt perspective is how many people would have understood, if the Dodgers had scored an additional two runs there, how important that simple sacrifice bunt had been in giving the Dodgers an even bigger lead?

    

The answer, of course, is very few.

    

The importance of the sacrifice bunt has been discussed at length before in this space (see Kallas Remarks, 9/4/08).  As stated then, in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, the Brooklyn Dodgers had their number three and four hitters (future Hall of Famers Duke Snider and Roy Campanella, respectively) lay down sacrifice bunts.  The first was misplayed, the second was successful and Gil Hodges then hit a sacrifice fly and drove in the important insurance run in their epic 2-0 Game 7 victory.

    

Imagine if the announcers (or the talk radio hosts or the statistical “experts”) of today had been around back then.  You can hear them screaming “How can you take the bat out of the hands of sluggers like Snider and Campanella?  It’s a disgrace.  Don’t the Dodgers know that, statistically, this can’t work?  These guys are future Hall of Famers.  How can they do such a thing?”

    

You get the point. 

    

It happened in 1955, it happened in a key game that the Red Sox won in early September and it happened again Monday night (for both teams) in the 2008 playoffs.  Maybe managers (and players and announcers and talk-show hosts and stat experts) are starting to see this and understand it.  Then again, maybe not.  

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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3 responses to “THE BUNT STRIKES AGAIN

  1. I’m new to this blog, but I’m assuming it’s not very statistically bent.

    If the game was in the 8th or 9th innings, I would be all for the sac bunts here. But it’s only the 6th, in a 1 run game. Why give up an out (and it’s not even guaranteed that the bunt will be successful, see Mike Scioscia and Erick Aybar) when the team has a chance for a big inning? Why play for 1 run this early in the game?

    Anecdotally, the sac bunt is a great tool for NL baseball blah blah blah. However, I’d rather my team base it’s in-game decisions on mathematically proven practice, not anecdotes about “playing smallball” or “playing the game the right way.” Statistically, empirically, it is not a wise move most of the time. This is one of those times.

  2. Pingback: Just when I think Im out… « We Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice

  3. Not very statistically bent? Bunting is absolutely the right call in both situations, it would have been nice if Torre would have actually done it back in New York. Bunting a runner over to 3rd with less than 2 outs allows so many things to happen in order to let that run in. Play for the big inning in the power age blah blah blah, not in this case guy.

    Torre has to bunt in a tie game in that situation, it’s not even questionable, your down in the series and your at home, you can’t play for the big inning and risk grounding out into a DP. If you don’t understand this, then you have obviously never played baseball.

    The 2nd post in this sequence has made me realize that the average baseball fan really does not understand the game.

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