Is the bunt dying?

The “small ball” approach to offense seems to have taken over the game at the high school and college levels, and while there are multiple styles, the basic goal is to score one run at a time. This can pay off if teams can score multiple runs in several innings and those teams possess strong pitching and defense, factors that can be overlooked during some in-game situations.

A web search will leave you with several different definitions for the term “small ball” in baseball, some of which include words like deliberate, situational, and even methodical. While base running certainly plays a large role with this philosophy, where, when, and whether or not to advance runners via the sacrifice bunt is not as clear.

There have been extensive studies at the MLB level of whether the sacrifice bunt is actually productive in scoring runs, and thanks to the popular college baseball site boydsworld.com, we have some data from the amateur game to draw upon, and what it tells us may surprise you.

According to Run Expectancy Charts on Boyd’s World, teams with a runner on first base and no outs have a 49% chance to score, and average 1.07 runs per inning (in that scenario). Since this is a common sacrifice bunting scenario, we took the liberty of comparing those numbers after a successful sac attempt, which would yield a runner on second base and one out. When that’s the case, chances of scoring actually drops to 47%, and teams average 0.82 runs per inning.

We continued to compare these numbers with other common sacrifice situations (runner on second with no outs, runners on first and second with no outs) and found similar results. In fact, the only scenario where the sacrifice increases chances of scoring is when runners are on first and second with no outs. Here, the bunt (moving the runners to second and third with one out) increases scoring chances by 2% (to 73%), but decreased average runs per inning by 0.23 runs. So what does this all mean?

Some believe that the sacrifice bunt will eventually be phased out of the game, and that the best way to put pressure on the defense is not to “give away” any outs. Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon agrees, “for that group of people out there that want guys to bunt all the time, you don’t know the outcome when you choose to do that,” Maddon said after a game this season. “I think the bunt is an overrated play.”

On the other hand, there are plenty of baseball people out there that cite how bunting puts pressure on defenses (which Run Expectancy charts cannot quantify or account for), helps to stay out of the double play, and more.

“I believe the sacrifice bunt does have a place in college baseball,” said University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor. “I believe it has everything to do with the type of personnel you have on your team in a given year as there are certain hitters that you do not want to take the bat out of their hands. That being said, moving runners into scoring position puts pressure on your opponent to make plays and pitches in the clutch.”

What do you think? Is the sacrifice bunt being phased out of the game or is amateur baseball just in an adjustment period in dealing with the new bats? You can be assured that our team at Inside Pitch will keep a close eye on things, but what do you think? E-mail us your thoughts to insidepitchmag@gmail.com and look for your comments in next issue’s “From the Bleachers” section!

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