To Bunt or Not to Bunt

Should Nick Green have bunted last night with nobody out and runners on first and second in the bottom of the 11th inning?

My initial reaction to these sorts of questions is always no. Don't give up the out. And for the Red Sox, that's almost always the correct answer, which is why you see the Sox bunting so infrequently. But Green presents a different situation in that, for the Red Sox, he is a uniquely bad hitter. The following is reprinted from what I wrote in the game thread below.

In the 2002 run environment (the closest numbers I could find via a quick Internet search), with runners on first and second, zero outs, a team should expect to score on average 1.511 runs in that inning.

If a hitter successfully sacrifices them to second and third, the run expectancy drops to 1.358.

Of course, if he strikes out or pops out, run expectancy drops to 0.936, and if he grounds into a double play, advancing the lead runner to third with two outs, it plummets to 0.363.

The question is how much confidence do you have that your hitter will avoid the double play and at least advance the runners. Nick Green strikes out 21 percent of the time and walks six percent of the time, so the chances are good (73 percent) he will put the ball in play. Of those, 40 percent are ground balls and 60 percent are fly balls.

Meaning that in any given situation, Nick Green is likely:

To hit a fly ball 44% of the time.
To hit a ground ball 29% of the time.
To strike out 21% of the time.
To walk 6% of the time.

Six percent of Green's fly balls have been home runs, translating to less than 3 percent of his total appearances. Of Green's remaining balls in play, 30 percent have been falling for hits this season, meaning Green had an overall 19 percent chance of getting a base hit (not counting platoon advantage/disadvantage, park effects and other important considerations I don't have the time to figure out right now, but one can assume, given the Sox were in Fenway, that Green's chances of getting a hit were actually higher).

Meanwhile, in GIDP situations, Green has done so at a 16 percent clip. So revising our percentages and remembering that this is context neutral for type of pitcher, ballpark, etc.:

Green had a 21% chance of striking out,
A 19% chance of getting a hit short of a home run,
A 16% chance of grounding into a double play,
A 6% chance of walking,
And a 3% chance of winning the game with a walkoff.

That's a 28 percent chance that Green's at bat increases the run expectancy for the inning, and a 37 percent chance that he decreases it worse than he would have done so by bunting. That doesn't count infield flies, which Green has hit at a nice rate of 19 percent of all his fly balls. If we assume fly balls make up most of the remaining 35 percent of plate appearances, then that means another 7 percent chance that Green worsens the run expectancy by failing to hit the ball out of the infield.

So when Green stepped to the plate, he had a 28 percent chance of increasing the club's run expectancy in some form or fashion. (His OBP is actually .311, so I might be cutting him short a little here by ignoring things like HBP, infield hits, errors, etc.) He had a 44 percent chance of drastically lowering the run expectancy by failing to at least advance the runners. And he had a 28 percent chance of advancing the runners with a fly ball out.

So bunting is actually pretty defensible in that situation, given how bad Green is with the bat. He had a much greater chance of doing even more damage than bunting, and while I agree that giving up outs is not something you should really ever do, if you're going to do it, that's the player and situation with which to do it.

30 comments… add one
  • As an aside to this, the Red Sox would have never been chasing the two runs if Francona would have utilized the best option in the bullpen when he should have, thus in a tie game, the bunt would have been justified.
    But, for whatever reason, he left Delcarmen in to give blow the game entirely.

    Brad July 29, 2009, 11:34 am
  • I obviously didn’t watch the game, but was the situation: Down two, in the bottom half of the inning, with runners on 2nd and 3rd? Green was up, who followed?
    If that is the correct situation, I think not bunting is the way to go and here is why. If Nick Green could at least make contact to anyone other than the pitcher, the A’s would most likely let the runner on 3rd advance to score. Meaning you have runner on 2nd at the worst and 1 out with 2 chances to score tying run. You also have the advantage of quite possibly Nick Green getting a hit and scoring both. By bunting it’s a one outcome type of move. I think if they were down one, I would have said bunt. But down 2 it changes slightly. Either way I would love to hear more details of the game and specifics.

    John - YF July 29, 2009, 11:39 am
  • Who was better than Delcarmen, Brad? Saito? Remember Bard had already pitched in the 8th to bail out Okajima.

    AndrewYF July 29, 2009, 11:40 am
  • John – the situation was 1st and 2nd, no outs, down by two, Green up. Bunting moves both runners into scoring position so Ellsbury or Pedroia, hitters who are a good bet to get a single, could have a shot to tie the game. I think it’s a defensible decision. What I think the real mistake was is pinch-hitting for Ortiz, so that LaRoche was not available off the bench in that situation. What was the point of that?

    AndrewYF July 29, 2009, 11:43 am
  • Sorry, John, I screwed up that first paragraph. Should be runners on first and second, no outs. Not second and third. Obviously you don’t bunt with two runners in scoring position.

    Paul SF July 29, 2009, 11:44 am
  • “Should Nick Green have bunted last night with nobody out and runners on second and third in the bottom f the 11th inning?”
    Got it Andrew, if it was 1st and 2nd, then you have to bunt. Thanks for the details.

    John - YF July 29, 2009, 11:44 am
  • Incidentally, according to B-R, the A’s chances of winning the game went from 65 percent to 69 percent when Green bunted.

    Paul SF July 29, 2009, 11:46 am
  • Came here to say pretty much exactly what Paul said. So the answer is no. Green wasn’t a DP threat, I would imagine..

    Lar July 29, 2009, 11:57 am
  • Great analysis, indeed. Thanks. Can you tell me where you got the odds of scoring so I can look it up for myself next time?
    The other question though: Why not pinch hit Varitek or Baldelli – 1B defense in a tie be damned? You need a homerun and surely their chances of hitting one are much greater than 3%, no?

    Rob July 29, 2009, 11:58 am
  • One minor nitpick – a fly ball from Green probably doesn’t move the runner at 1st given his “power”. And that’s the important run.

    Rob July 29, 2009, 12:01 pm
  • Yeah, that’s an excellent point, Rob. Most fly ball outs do not advance runners from first to second, never mind fly ball outs from Nick Green.
    I found a chart here, Rob, though I know I’ve seen it at places like The Book blog and other saber-friendly sites. The problem, of course, is remembering where you’ve seen it. I think there might be one in a THT or BP annual from a couple years ago…

    Paul SF July 29, 2009, 12:15 pm
  • Brad, what would you have done with Bard? Tito used him in a crucial situation in the 8th inning.

    Atheose July 29, 2009, 12:25 pm
  • I appreciate all the numbers, Paul. This is a tremendous (and tremendously helpful) post. But I disagree with the idea that the raw data indicates a correctness in Francona’s decision. The numbers don’t take into account what inning this was, the pressure, the pitcher’s talents, the pitcher’s sense of pressure, the experience of the hitter, the home field (are these numbers Fenway-adjusted?). Francona gave away an out. The Sox lost. It was the wrong move – I thought it before the game ended. The numbers are interesting in fleshing out a vacuum-packed situation, but they don’t tell us anything about the actual situation.

    SF July 29, 2009, 12:35 pm
  • SF, so do yo let Green swing the bat? Or pinch hit?
    And if you let him swing and he hits into a double play, you’re cool with that?
    I think the analysis perfectly addresses the situation – Nick Green at the plate, runners on first and second, down two.
    What do you do differently?

    Rob July 29, 2009, 12:42 pm
  • I think we are seeing the beginning of a transition, potentially, of Bard coming into his own, and of a potential end of the Papelbon era. I’d say Paps is becoming a player who is more likely to be traded in the next 12 months than not.
    As for Bard, he might have started the ninth, but he did pitch the night before. There’s really no reason to question the Paps decision, it was a three run lead for heck’s sake. Hale holds Bay in the 8th (EGREGIOUS error with nobody out sending Bay), Paps doesn’t walk the leadoff hitter like a dimwit, or Green makes a slightly better play, or the runners are held on better, any one of these things happens and the game is over and the Sox win. Last night was a perfect storm of suck by everyone, from manager to coach to player. A team loss. Onwards.

    SF July 29, 2009, 12:45 pm
  • What do you do differently?
    I let him swing away. The PH option was something of a clusterfuck because of Tito’s premature extrication of Ortiz from the game, a really short-sighted move.
    I don’t think this is a black-and-white issue, that much is clear. I was adamant last night about how bad a decision this was, and maybe that was overstated. But in my mind it WAS a bad decision, even not knowing the outcome. And I still think that.

    SF July 29, 2009, 12:48 pm
  • But if you let him swing away, there’s a very good chance, as Paul’s demonstrated, you still lose the game! I understand you’re very frustrated by everything that came before, but Francona made the best call short of a pinch hitter.

    Rob July 29, 2009, 12:56 pm
  • Francona made the best call in a math-addled vacuum.
    At last check the game wasn’t played inside a tube, but in a noisy, tense home stadium.

    SF July 29, 2009, 1:01 pm
  • Let’s drill down a little further:
    Green with runners on base, 2009 – 28/101, or .277, and an OBP of /357
    Green with runners in scoring position, 2009 – 21/65, or .323, and an OBP of .430.
    Where are these numbers in the post above, how do they factor into the calculus? Or do they not, should they not?
    The decision wasn’t cut and dry, and Tito’s move was, in the general context, defensible. But he should have let him hit.

    SF July 29, 2009, 1:06 pm
  • I still think banking on one of the two next hitters (who are currently the hottest hitters on the team) getting a hit was the right move. If you let Green swing away you’re banking on three hitters getting at least 2 singles, or one triple or one homer.

    Atheose July 29, 2009, 1:07 pm
  • By the way, 7-player deal between Pirates and Mariners. Seattle gets Jack Wilson and Ian Snell, and the Pirates get Jeff Clement and a bunch of other people.

    Atheose July 29, 2009, 1:10 pm
  • Boy, the Mariners went (kind of) south on Clement pretty quickly, eh?

    SF July 29, 2009, 1:13 pm
  • No kidding, SF. He’s barely got a full season under his belt, and he’s only 24, yet they’re sending him away.

    Atheose July 29, 2009, 1:15 pm
  • I would like to see Green’s splits on RISP from before and after he rediscovered exactly who he was. Green’s clutch numbers were phenomenal early on. Since he regressed to his career averages, I strongly suspect the clutch numbers have been equally deplorable.

    Paul SF July 29, 2009, 2:09 pm
  • In other words, even the numbers I did use were unfairly favorable to Green because over the past two months, he has been even worse than his season-long numbers would show.

    Paul SF July 29, 2009, 2:09 pm
  • I think that Bard should have started the 8th is all I was saying. Or even better, let Papelbon start the 8th, and let Bard close the game, since the fact remains that he’s a better pitcher.
    Just my opinion, so no need for the Papelbon fanboys, who refuse to see the fact that he’s having a horrible run at it here, to attack me Papelbon is nowhere near the same guy – I dunno what’s wrong, but something definitely is.

    Brad July 29, 2009, 2:24 pm
  • My question is, why wasn’t the better-fielding Lowrie playing shortstop in the 9th?

    ponch - sf July 29, 2009, 2:26 pm
  • And if Papelbon keeps loading the bases, and walking the enite league, everyone will come to the same conclusion.
    Bard is more talented, throws harder, has more pitches he can throw for strikes, and is younger and stronger.
    The only thing Papelbon has is his track record, which demands respect, but not at the cost of the Red Sox.
    It seems to me that half of his saves are heart stoppers.
    Maybe I’m just higher on Bard than I should be. Time will tell, I guess.

    Brad July 29, 2009, 2:28 pm
  • Why Ortiz came out of the game.
    Tito gets a pass on this one, big time. Criticism from this blogger regarding that substitution hereby retracted.

    SF July 29, 2009, 6:04 pm
  • Aw, she ate too much, the apple don’t fall far from the tree, does it?

    rootbeerfloat July 29, 2009, 6:07 pm

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