I promised myself I wouldn’t write another anti-bunting article. I’m sorry to report that I’m going to have to break that promise. I’m not breaking that promise to point out how much I hate bunting. My opinions on bunting are well known by now. I’m writing this to point out that first year manager Dave Roberts made a bad call. It’s my job as a writer, and our job as fans to second guess the manager.
I know I have never managed or coached baseball before. Some hate it when you second guess the manager and will point out that I’m nothing more than an armchair manager. Second guessing the manager is always the name of the game and one of the most fun aspects of analyzing baseball.
The bad call I am discussing happened during the bottom of the ninth inning of the Dodger’s 4-3 loss to the Giants on Saturday night. The Dodgers were losing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning when Yasmani Grandal led off the inning with a double against San Francisco closer Santiago Casilla. With a runner at second and nobody out, the Dodgers had a considerable rally. With the red hot Kike Hernandez coming up to the plate the Dodgers had a great chance to not only tie the game, but steal the win.
This is where the poor decision comes into question. Roberts had Kike square around to bunt. Kike was unable to get the bunt down at first, which led to him falling behind in the count. Eventually Kike softly grounded out to third, which moved Grandal over to third base anyways. Joc ended up popping out, and Yasiel Puig made out as well to end the game. The scoring rally, and Grandal’s double were wasted.
You probably already know how stupid bunting is by now. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for everything, even bunting. Sometimes it’s a good idea to move runners over and can be an integral part of manufacturing runs. There’s nothing wrong with playing some small ball when the situation warrants it. Like when it doesn’t ruin a rally in the bottom of the ninth. Not only was this the wrong time, but horribly foolish execution. It’s also a risky play whether successful or not.
You see, Grandal was already in scoring position. News flash to Dave Roberts and the rest of the managers in baseball, but second base is already in scoring position. There is no reason to bunt a guy over that’s already in scoring position. Grandal may not be the fleetest of foot, but he probably would have scored on a hit.
Here’s where the risk comes into play when you bunt a guy from second to third. When you have a runner at second base and nobody out you have three chances to score him on a base hit. If you sacrifice him to third, then you reduce your chances to score him with a hit to two. Every time an out is made, or the count changes the percentages of something happening on that at-bat change as well. It’s like a deck of cards. Every strike or every ball can change the odds of something happening. Losing outs or falling behind in counts make your odds of scoring runs go down.
If you have a runner at third with one out, you lose a chance to score him on a base hit. So Roberts took the Don Mattingly approach by deciding to play for the tie. Let me explain.
There’s an old baseball adage that you play for a tie at home and for the win on the road. I don’t who started this dumb proverb, but it’s been repeated many times for over a century. Managers have been adhering to this unwritten rule for decades, and it usually leads to rallies being killed and their teams suffering frustrating losses. Roberts wasn’t just playing for the tie, as they say, he was playing for a sacrifice fly.
That’s why he decided to sacrifice Grandal to third. He was rolling the dice that the next hitter, in this case Joc Pederson would score the run with a sacrifice fly. The problem with that is that it’s extremely difficult to get that one outcome to happen during an at-bat. Remember what I mentioned about the odds and the deck of cards? Well think about it this way; when a player comes up to bat there are nearly two dozen outcomes that can happen.
He could walk, hit a grounder, line drive, pop-up, he could strike out, there could be a foul ball, he could hit a home run, and so on and so forth. To bet on the one outcome, which in this case is a fly ball to happen out of over two dozen outcomes is a very low percentage chance. It’s a gamble. Not only is it risky, but you only have one chance of it happening with one out.
It isn’t just that though. What if the player can’t get the bund down? What happens then is again, the proverbial deck of cards changes. By not getting the bunt down you find yourself with two strikes and fall behind in the count. That changes not only the at-bat, but the hitter’s approach at the plate.
Most MLB pitchers become very difficult to hit with two strikes on the count. Santiago Casilla is no different. With two strikes, opposing hitters are batting just .160 against him with a .507 OPS. When Casilla is ahead in the count 0-2, he’s limited opposing batters to a .181 (28 for 155) average against with a .449 OPS. When Casilla gets ahead 1-2, hitters are batting just .131 (44 for 337) with a .346 OPS against. Basically most MLB pitchers will put you away when they have two strikes on you, especially is the case with Casilla.
To make matters worse, the Dodgers don’t hit Casilla well. The club is hitting just .117 (7 for 60) with one extra-base hit and a .376 OPS against Casilla. Kike is also not known for his bunting skills. He’s only collected one sacrifice hit during his entire MLB career. Another thing to consider is that when you force a hitter to bunt you are essentially taking the bat out of his hands. Kike was swinging a hot bat. He had just hit two home runs the night before, and drove in another run that night. Let the guy hit for crying out loud.
Dodgers vs. Casilla
The Dodgers would have been better off pinch-running for Grandal and stealing third base. They probably would have had a better chance of that succeeding then bunting a runner from second to third. It’s at least just as risky, and if it works you don’t lose an out.
Outs during the end of games are far too precious to waste. Bunting a runner in scoring position, into scoring position is just wasting an out. It’s foolish and risky.
One of the things that I disliked about Don Mattingly the most was that he was unable to learn from his mistakes. My hope is that Roberts breaks that mold and learns from this. I’m disappointed that Roberts resorted to doing something so unimaginative during one of the most critical moments of the game. We should give Roberts a break since he is new on the job. Here’s hoping he starts thinking outside the box during in-game decisions.