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Dave Robert’s First Bunting Fiasco Was a Bad Call

Dave Roberts

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Adrian Gonzalez 14 13 1 0 0 0 1 1 4 .077 .143 .077 .220 0 0 0 0 0
Yasiel Puig 12 11 2 0 0 0 0 1 2 .182 .250 .182 .432 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Ellis 10 8 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 .000 .200 .000 .200 0 0 1 0 1
Chase Utley 10 7 0 0 0 0 0 3 1 .000 .300 .000 .300 0 0 1 0 0
Justin Turner 9 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .143 .250 .143 .393 1 0 0 1 0
Yasmani Grandal 5 4 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .600 .750 1.350 0 0 0 0 0
Howie Kendrick 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Joc Pederson 4 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .333 .000 .333 1 0 0 0 1
Charlie Culberson 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 1 0 0 0 0
Enrique Hernandez 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 0 0 0 0 0
Clayton Kershaw 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0


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.

Scott Andes

Scott Andes: Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

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Scott Andes
Scott Andes: Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

48 thoughts on “Dave Robert’s First Bunting Fiasco Was a Bad Call

  1. I love small ball, but I hate bunting. I actually only like it when it’s a squeeze. I’d much prefer the hitter to work the count to 1-1 or 2-1, then go for the hit and run or run and hit. But in the bottom of the 9th, down only 1, I don’t think I try even that. I’d probably let all 3 batters swing away and let the chips fall where they may. Just get good at bats.

    In a very high leverage situation, wasting an out actually puts pressure on the next two batters and gives a breather to the pitcher. Baseball is a mind game, sometimes even more so than golf because you are not in control.

  2. A couple of good articles on Dodgerblue. One was abut Maeda getting frustrated with the umpire for pinching him when in reality he wasn’t being pinched. It was Grandal’s pitch framing that was fooling Maeda and not the umpire. Grandal and Maeda actually looked at film between innings to prove what was happening. Funny.

    Another article did a good job of talking about Pederson shown here: The article was not so much new news as it was a short compilation of nuggets from many articles over the last year.

    1. Good reads. I am hopeful that Joc trusts his eye more as the season goes on and focus on getting into hitters counts, especially late in games. Which means mashing on the first pitch early in games. With some luck and a lot of work, maybe he can develop into the kind of hitter that pitchers dread in late innings in close games. I’m not saying Reggir Jackson, but something like that. That type of hitter, at the 6-8 hitting spots, puts a ton of pressure on the other team, in the latter innings.

      1. Yueh_Fei, if he does become that kind of hitter and stays in the 6-8 spots in the lineup it bodes well for the 3-5 hitters in the lineup. That would be a deep lineup. I suspect though that with his speed he would move up into the 1-5 spots if things click for him.

        1. I think Joc will always have a ton of strikeouts, and I do in fact think we’ll likely have better all around hitters 1-5.

      1. Inside that link should you choose to not open it is this:

        …Grandal acknowledged Maeda has the benefit of being an unknown to opposing batters at this time, but is confident changes will be made when necessary. “By the time he spends a couple of months in the league, teams will adjust to him. But at the same time, we’re going to adjust to the league,” Grandal said. “That’s how everybody does it.”

    2. Good article on Pederson. Kid has succeeded at every level. Let’s hope he figures it out here. Watched some of Cubs/Cardinals game at after tax season party last night with some Cub fan friends. Pederson has a similar batting line/style as Kris Bryant. Bryant strikes out about a third of the time, but, a little better batting average. Pederson better OBP. Bottom line, I can see why Dodgers are sticking with Pederson for now.

  3. Agree about bunting in that situation. That was ridiculous. EVERY player should know how to to do it of course. And not against batting practice pitching, where they all lay down the first two lollipops then start banging away, I mean against live pitching. There are situations where it’s a good idea to bunt. I’d do it against that shift and I’d encourage thumpers to do it against third basemen that play deep. I’d also do it against pitchers that fall off the mound toward first base. Hit it where they ain’t. And if there ain’t nobody 25′ down the line, hit it there.

    So the umpire wasn’t getting fooled by a catcher who moves his glove. Imagine that. Like I said, the ball is 3-4′ past the plate at that time. Pulling it back in only fools rubes. I guess that makes Maeda a rube.

    Looks like I left the Dbacks game a bit early. The midgets bullpen blew it up. And Colorado in first place. That’s a good sign because we all know they won’t stay there. Cubs are pretty good.

    Pederson. Not yet convinced. Until he shortens up on two strikes, which is like every at bat, I will remain unconvinced. Choke up and go Chase Utley or Hunter Pence like with two strikes. Adjust dammit.

    1. I also liked the Furcal slap bunt and always wondered why more didn’t incorporate it into their bag of tricks.

      1. I agree. If you can handle a bat, and these guys are pros so I’m thinking they must be good at it, you should be able to push a ball that direction 50% of the time. You don’t really have to square it up, just send it that general direction. There is nobody there. If you were playing at the local park against a team without a third baseman, wouldn’t you try to hit the ball in that spot. Now add the fact the team your playing actually has two second baseman. All day, down the third base line.

        1. I don’t think anyone on this team, and especially, a player, that is trying to get, a bunt hit, to beat the shifted defense, should be thinking, or trying to do a slap bunt, or a drag bunt.

          Because with these shifted defenses, there is no need, to have to slap, or drag a bunt.

          A player, that squares away, and bunts a decent placed bunt, will easily get to first, in plenty of time, to have a hit.

          And there are not to many players, and some pitchers, on this team, that know how to do a mere sac bunt, let alone, try to slap, or drag a bunt.

  4. Looks like more bad news for the Midgets. Gonna be testing their depth some more.

    Giants righty George Kontos is destined for a trip to the DL after suffering a flexor strain in his right elbow, as John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. He’ll join pen mate Sergio Romo in rehabbing from the same injury.

    Kontos, 30, has quietly delivered excellent results in a middle relief role for San Francisco. He was leaned on heavily early in 2016, leading all MLB relievers with eight appearances. Over his 5 2/3 innings, Kontos has allowed just one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out four opposing batters.

    Skipper Bruce Bochy says that the roots of the injury trace to the spring, when Kontos experienced some elbow discomfort. He was obviously able to battle through, but now is set for at least a 15-day absence. Indications are that Kontos will not be able to throw for at least a week, but it remains unclear precisely how long he’ll be out. Generally, flexor strains require fairly lengthy absences.

    1. Boxout 7 I guess all of those play off innings, and regular innings, are now catching up, with the Giant’s bullpen. Also the fact, that the Giants, have not had much of a starting rotation, for the last three years, is another reason, that the Giant’s bullpen is probably now, feeling the effects, of throwing so many innings. Will Bumgarner be the next on this list?

  5. But at 3B you can score in many other ways besides a base hit/ sac fly. Error, wild pitch, pass ball, balk. All kinds of fun stuff. I don’t have a problem bunting in the 9th. Yes I understand that outs are precious. But so is a pitch in the dirt. But Joc didn’t come through in that at bat. He needed to make solid contact and he didn’t. Turn the page move on. Maybe next time Roberts will let them swing away.

    1. Good read Dr Box.

      And I don’t disagree with any of it. As I’ve clearly stated, taking on risky contracts doesn’t fit the model for me. If we are talking investments, do you really want to put $40 million into a fund that has already failed more than once? That was their first move. Then they did it again with Anderson, and it worked, sort of, though he faded like a Santa Monica sunset.

      The problem as I see it is not SABR metrics. I buy that, and the team’s that are winning prove validity in the concept. The problem as I see it is the moves these guys have made have been odd. They had an enormous amount of talent on this team when they arrived. It felt to me that they tossed all the balls in the air and they landed all over the room and it made no sense. We had the team to seriously compete last year and they blew it. This year’s team is confusing. I look out there and again I see talent, but they do shit like sign 4 second baseman, 6 starting outfielders and suddenly we have 6 pitchers on the DL. High risk, and odd roster management.

      I believe these guys are smart and have a plan. They also have a lot of talent still here that was here when they arrived, and that includes much of the heralded minor league potential still waiting for their chance. These guys didn’t start from scratch, but sometimes it feels like they are trying to.

      2018. It will all come together later rather than sooner. If they do something dramatic to change that, Maybe I change my mind.

  6. I think the problem was not just that playing for a tie was a bad idea given our bullpen, but that taking the bat out of a good hitter’s hands and counting on someone who has had trouble making contact to hit a sac fly was, well, you know.

    I don’t know about stealing third base…another old adage is don’t make the first out or the third out at third base. And it’s not like we have blazing speed on the bench.

    1. If a guy who hits fly balls when he is trying to hit line drives is suddenly asked to deliberately hit a fly ball, a pop up would be a logical outcome. I’m sure there is an algorithm that explains it.

  7. I still wish Joc would drag a bunt down 3b a few times, since they play a crazy shift on him.

    Do it a few times, and those shifts will start to change.

    1. I agree Bobby. Technically speaking a drag bunt is dragged with you up the first base line. That would work with a lh pitcher falling off to third base side. That shift is generally employed with a right hander on the mound. In that situation it’s a push bunt to third.

      I saw a film of Alutve talking about how he goes about hitting balls where they are pitched, including the opposite way. Very interesting. He had balls laid out in the strike zone. Remember, the actual strike zone is directly over the plate, no where else. The inside strike was placed on the front corner of the inside of the plate. The center cut strike was on them center of plate toward the middle back and the outside strike was placed on them outside corner in the dirt even with the apex point of the plate. With that in mind, he would visualize each of those pitches being struck right above those points, to left, up the middle and to right. He visualized only line drives. He saw it clearly in his mind. Then he placed balls on tees, in the same spots at various levels, all in HIS strike zone. Then, with perfect mechanics he would take each ball the proper direction. I wish I would have thought of that drill when I was playing and coaching. It’s perfect for developing good habits and it’s something you can do in your own garage all winter long.

      1. Badger is right! When Joc is trying to bunt, to beat the defensive shift, he should be placing the bunt, up the third baseline,
        where there is no serious defense, except the pitcher, or the catcher.

        Joc only needs, to push his bunt, up the third baseline, a little higher, so the pitcher, or catcher, can’t easily field the bunt.

        And Joc would make it to first easily. There is no need, for a slap, or dragged bunt, because there is no real defense, and a decently placed bunt, up the third base line, will easily do the job. Joc’s problem, is that he doesn’t fully square away, to get the bunt down, let alone, place the bunt, in a good place. Joc is trying to leave the batters box, way before the bunt is down.

        1. MJ, I think the shift gives hitters holes on each side of the pitcher and like Badger said, the bigger hole is the one that the pitcher falls away from. Just need to get the ball past the pitcher and not give the person playing at mid depth between 2nd and 3rd or the person playing mid depth between 2nd and 1st too much notice that a hard bunt is coming and not hit the hard bunt so hard that it results in a weak ground out. Sounds simple doesn’t it.

          Just laying down a bunt against the shift ignores that the pitcher fields more bunts than 3rd basemen and batting averages on bunts are not good . Sorry, I did not do the research to support this personal observation.

          1. Bum Joc is almost always, hitting against a rightie pitcher, and they usually follow through on the first base line. I don’t research either, but you do have a good personal observation. I was a good bunter, so I guess, it bugs me, when I see a major league player, not squaring around properly, and getting the bunt down.

    2. I wish the TV cameras would always show us the defense positioning during each players at bat. Pitchers field bunts so the bunt has to be far and wide enough from them to take them out of the play and if the second baseman is playing in shallow right field and the shortstop is playing outside the baseline between first and second, it creates holes for hard bunts.

      But I don’t think a hitter should square up against a pitch to bunt it hard. Just separate top hand from the lower hand by three to 6 inches and don’t try to catch the ball with the bat. Also, the goal is to not first and foremost get the bunt down. It isn’t a sacrifice. Its more like playing pepper. If done right it might not be considered a bunt attempt and a foul ball with two strikes would not be an out.

      1. “It’s more like playing pepper”.

        That’s exactly what it is. Get the pitch you want and calmly send it the direction you want it to go. Pepper used to be something we played for 20 minutes at a time. Bat control, learning how to square it up and send it left or right. It was a large part of hitters training years ago. I don’t know if they even do it anymore.

      2. Bum a player can completely square around and bunt, against these shifts, because once they get by the pitcher a little, most average runners, can make it to first easily. Joc is taking off, before he is getting it down, and placed in the right place, up the line. If he would just take a little more time, to place it correctly, he would get on.

        1. I think there is some validity with that. The one caveat I would add is don’t tip too early. If the pitcher senses it he can react. You don’t want him getting a break to that dead zone or throwing the ball up in the strike zone.

          1. Badger that is why I don’t understand why players, square around, before the the pitcher, even gets in wind up. Because we know a pitcher, isn’t going to give you a good pitch to bunt, If he sees that early.

  8. Happy to read that Kontos is on the DL. giants are going down like flies. Another report is that 3B Duffy was benched last night because he can’t hit anymore. Sounds like it got into his head, where real slumps go on and on. Love it. Peavy is the shits. Let’s make hay while the sun shines and put those guys in the rear view mirror. Braves stink, but it will be all our about starting pitching.

  9. Kyle Garlick with RC had 3 jacks last night. The other Kyle–Farmer–had one for Tulsa. Love our Kyles.

  10. It probably natural to look at our team and see all the question marks and compare it to other teams without worrying about their question marks and depth. But we are beginning to see all the question marks other teams have and isn’t that more fun than worrying about our own?

      1. Badger you know what really sucks, is that Howie is going to be playing both left, and second, over Kike.

        And he will be doing this, for two years.

        we know Kike, is a better leftfielder, and he has more power, then Howie.

  11. Good story in Dodgers Nation about similarity of Maeda and Grienke. It’s all about commanding the strike zone. When the league adjusts to him, with his control, he can just go opposite. I love hitters going back to the dugout shaking their heads.

    1. Yes, precisely. As long as Maeda maintains his health, he’s going to be a great stabilizing force in the rotation for years to come.

  12. Of all the decisions made last year, the best was to let Mattingly and his staff go. I would like to see next year, they reassign Honeycutt as the minor league pitching instructor. All the other decisions , I can live with.

    1. Idahoal I totally agree with you! I am so glad that Mattingly is gone! There was no hope, when he was the manager.

  13. I believe that Roberts did the right thing, by going for the tie. Many people here, would rather that Roberts, would have allowed, Kike to hit away. Kike would have had to hit a HR, or a double, to give the Dodgers, the best chance, to win the game.

    Because he would have to hit in Grandal, and get himself, in scoring position, so that Joc , or Puig, could hit him in. Or Kike would have had, to hit a two run HR, against a rightie pitcher, to win the game.

    But if Kike, only singled, that may have not been enough, to score Grandal, from second base. And Roberts couldn’t bring in a pinch runner for Grandal, because AJ, pinched hit, earlier, in the game. And If Kike, only singled, he wouldn’t be in scoring position.

    And because this, it would take more then a hit, from Joc and Puig, to get Kike in, to win the game. I just think it was best, to get the runner over to third, because there are so many different ways, that can score a runner, from third, just like Artieboy said, and listed.

    And Joc putting the ball in play, is another way that would have got the the runner, in from third. And every major league player, should be able, to just put the ball, in play. And if the game gets tied there, the Dodgers have at least, four more at bats, to try to win the game. And the game, doesn’t end there.

    Because Puig got to hit, after Joc. And the Dodgers, would at least, get three more at bats, in the bottom, of the next inning.

  14. Dodgers are ranked the #3 best starting rotation in baseball. The Giants are #12.

    I don’t know if they are #3, but they ain’t bad! So many people here bitched and moaned about the job FAZ did on the rotation – how do you like ’em now?

    BTW, Zack Greinke and the D-Bags are #7!

    I’ll leave you with a quote from Boxout’s article:

    The Dodgers have the top farm system in MLB. If minor league prospects are the currency of MLB, the Dodgers have fat stacks. Friedmanicus has essentially retooled the entire Dodgers organization into a perennially competitive baseball factory that manufactures interchangeable baseball studs. And he did it while remaining competitive. In other words, Friedmanicus has been rebuilding with none of the usual accoutrements that come with rebuilding, like sucking and losing. Pretty impressive actually.

    It’s too early for a verdict on Friedmanicus. It takes time, his success or failure cannot be determined after one season. Too many Dodgers fans are like the spoiled little kid who always wants to eat strawberry jam even though it’s not healthy or good for him and his mom is going crazy trying to get him to eat oatmeal with just a pinch of brown sugar and two eggs, scrambled. For dinner, his mom offers grilled salmon and asparagus but he screams for strawberry jam. Friedmanicus is trying to give Dodgers fans oatmeal, salmon, and steamed vegetables – stop asking for jam.

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