The Nationals should stop bunting


There are very few things a manager can do to win baseball games.  But there are many things he can do to lose them.  Sacrifice bunting at an inappropriate time is one of them.

Davey Johnson has a nasty habit of ordering his team to bunt when they should be swinging away. 

Sacrifice bunting is usually a mistake.  The logic is simple.  Baseball teams only have 27 outs to work with through 9 innings.  Moreover, they only have 3 outs per inning.  When you bunt, you give away one of those outs, usually decreasing your chance to score runs, and thus win the game.

***Please keep in mind I am referring to sacrifice bunts.  Bunting for a base hit can be very effective.  But a player has to be either very fast and very good at bunting.  For example, on Saturday night in the 8th inning against the Phillies, Kurt Suzuki bunted for a base hit.  It gave the Nationals a critical baserunner when baserunners were badly needed.

Refer to the above picture.  In the 8th inning against the Phillies, the Nationals had runners on first and second with no outs.  In this situation, a baseball team can expect to score, on average, between 1.4 and 1.5 runs using historical averages.  With runners on second and third and one out, a team can expect to score fewer average runs, historically between 1.3 and 1.4.

Of course, not every hitter is equal.  When a pitcher or a Danny Espinosa is batting, it might make sense to sacrifice.  According to Baseball Between the Numbers, a book by Baseball Prospectus in 2006, it only makes sense to sacrifice in the above situation if the hitter has a batting average below .218, an on-base average below .253 or slugging average below .266.  In the above situation, Steve Lombardozzi was batting with career numbers of .263/.301./.340.  Statistically, it would be better to let Lombo swing away.

On Saturday, Lombo didn’t even get the bunt down, leading to a 0-2 count (it also looked like he tried to bunt a ball on the first pitch he saw).  Lombo subsequently lined out and the Nationals scored zero runs in the inning.

There are very few situations where it makes sense to sacrifice bunt.  Saturday night in the 8th inning was not one of them.  Davey Johnson needs to stop trying to bunt.  It’s hurting the team.


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