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Sep 142010

One of the common complaints that I hear about Joe Girardi is that he bunts too often with a lineup that is extremely powerful, often playing for one run rather than allowing his offense freedom to hang a crooked number on the board. While the Yankees are near the bottom in the AL in sacrifice bunts, the argument states that an offense this good should be last in that category. I thought it would be instructive to look at all of the team’s sacrifice bunts from this season and see if he is really bunting too often. A few items are important to note:

1) I am only looking at successful sacrifice bunts. I realize this leaves out times Joe wanted to bunt and the batter failed.
2) Famed sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman has stated that it makes sense to bunt sometimes even if statistics would suggest that the move hurts, simply to keep the defense honest.
3) For the sake of simplicity, I am going to assume that the number of bunts needed to keep the defense honest is equal to the number of times that Joe wanted to bunt but the batter failed. This will allow us to ignore the two points listed above.
4) You can find a run expectancy chart here. The basics for this exercise: bunting a runner from 1st to 2nd with 0 or 1 outs raises the probability of scoring 1 run, but decreases the probability of scoring any more than that. Bunting a runner from 2nd to 3rd with 0 outs raises the probability of scoring one run, but decreases the probability of scoring more, while bunting the runner to 3rd with one out never raises your run expectancy at all. As such, there are some contexts where bunting makes sense, depending on the hitters and runners involved. Let’s take a look at the bunts Joe called for. I’ll be grading them as good, neutral, bad, and atrocious.

1) April 10th v. TB: 2-0 Yankees, 5th inning, Gardner on 1st, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Jeter and Johnson on deck. Verdict: Bad. While bunting with Cervelli is never an atrocious move, it was way too early in the game to play for one run. Also, Gardner should be given a chance to steal, at which point the bunt can be used to move him to 3rd.

2) April 20th v. Oak: 7-3 Yankees, 8th inning, Granderson on 1st, 0 outs, Gardner at the plate, Jeter and Johnson on deck. Verdict: Bad. This would go in the atrocious pile, but I’m almost certain that Gardner was bunting for a hit here.

3) April 24th v. ANA: 1-0 Yankees, 4th inning, Cano on 2nd and A-rod on 1st, 0 outs, Swisher at the plate, Granderson, Pena, and Cervelli on deck. Verdict: Atrocious. This is a case where the run expectancy charts tell you one thing, but the context tells another. The bunt increases the probability of scoring at least 2 runs while decreasing the possibility of more. However, a bunt here meant Granderson would be intentionally walked and that Pena and Cervelli would hit. Cervelli actually got the runs in on a weak groundball single, but creating a situation where those two hit over Swisher and Granderson is a bad idea.

4 and 5) May 4th v. Bal: 1-1 tie, 5th inning, Gardner on 2nd and Cervelli at 1st, 0 outs, Pena at the plate, Jeter and Swisher on deck. Verdict: Good. With Pena up, it makes sense to increase the probability of 2 runs here, considering he is unlikely to do something that increases run expectancy anyhow. As it turned out, the pitcher threw the ball away.

3-1 Yankees, 8th inning, Gardner on 2nd, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Pena and Jeter on deck. Verdict: Good. Gardner started this AB at first, was allowed to steal, and then was bunted over. While Pena was the next hitter, he was able to knock in a run with an out. Without the bunt, there is a good chance you end up with Gardner still on the basepaths and Jeter batting with 2 outs.

6) May 5th v. Bal: 3-1 Yankees, 4th inning, Gardner on 2nd and Cervelli at 1st, 0 outs, Winn at the plate, Jeter and Johnson on deck. Verdict: Neutral. On the one hand, Winn had been atrocious and this raised the expectancy of getting at least two runs. On the other hand, the 4th inning against a struggling pitcher seems too early for a bunt.

7) May 8th v. Bos: 0-0 tie, 3rd inning, Pena on 2nd and Jeter on 1st, 0 outs, Gardner at the plate, Teixeira and Rodriguez on deck. Verdict: Atrocious. Too early and with too good a hitter.

8) May 15th v. Min: 1-0 Yankees, 2nd inning, Thames on 1st, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Gardner and Jeter on deck. Verdict: Bad. The 2nd inning is early to be bunting a runner to second, particularly against a lefty (albeit a great one in Liriano).

9) May 18th v. Bos: 7-6 Red Sox, 9th inning, Cano on 2nd, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Thames and Miranda on deck. Verdict: Good. Considering the upcoming hitters and the score, playing for the ability to score one run on an out was the right move.

10 and 11) May 21st v. Mets: 0-0 tie, 3rd inning, Cervelli on 2nd and Russo on 1st, 0 outs, Vazquez at the plate, Jeter and Gardner on deck. Verdict: Good. Bunting with the pitcher is fine.

2-0 Yankees, 7th inning, Russo on 2nd, 0 outs, Vazquez at the plate, Jeter and Gardner on deck. Verdict: Good.

12) May 22nd v. Mets: 3-0 Mets, 5th inning, Winn on 1st, 0 outs, Hughes at the plate, Jeter and Gardner on deck. Verdict: Good. Again, bunting with the pitcher makes sense.

13) June 5th v. Tor: 2-1 Yankees, 7th inning, Cervelli on 2nd and Gardner on 1st, 0 outs, Russo at the plate, Jeter and Swisher on deck. Verdict: Good. With Russo as the hitter, I take no issue with increasing the probability of scoring 2 or fewer runs in a close game.

14) June 10th v. Bal: 3-3 tie, 6th inning, Teixeira on 2nd, 0 outs, Pena at the plate, Cano and Posada on deck. Verdict: Neutral. While it does increase the probability of one run in a tie game, I am not a huge fan of bunting guys to 3rd with good hitters on deck.

15) June 15th v. PHI: 6-3 Yankees, 6th inning, Posada on 2nd and Gardner on 1st, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Pena and Jeter on deck. Verdict: Bad. Again, I have a hard time calling it atrocious when Frankie bunts, particularly against a righty, but why limit your possibilities with a 3 run lead, particularly when it requires Pena to come through?

16) June 21st v. Ari: 6-0 D-Backs, 3rd inning, Gardner on 1st, 0 outs, Burnett at the plate, Jeter and Swisher on deck. Verdict: Good. Although the score would dictate acting to score as many runs as possible, the odds are stacked highly against Burnett moving the runner any other way, and the bunt removes the double play as a possibility.

17) June 26th v. LAD: 5-4 Dodgers, 4th inning, Swisher on 3rd and Gardner on 1st, 0 outs, Burnett at the plate, Jeter and Granderson on deck. Verdict: Good. The bunt itself was the right move, as it put another runner in scoring position and avoided a double play. But Burnett probably should not have been allowed to hit for himself in the first place, and was pulled after allowing another two runs in the next inning.

18) June 27th v. LAD: 0-0 tie, 3rd inning, Gardner on 1st, 0 outs, Pettitte at the plate, Jeter and Swisher on deck. Verdict: Good. Again, I do not mind bunting with the pitcher. I do wish they would allow Gardner to steal first.

19 and 20) July 4th v. Tor: 1-0 Blue Jays, 3rd inning, Gardner on 2nd and Pena on 1st, 0 outs, Jeter at the plate, Swisher and Teixeira on deck. Verdict: Atrocious. Too early, too good a hitter, too many good hitters waiting on deck. Of course, Jeter ended up being safe on a fielder’s choice and may have bunted on his own, but this is a bad move.

6-6 tie, 10th inning, Cano on 1st, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Granderson and Gardner on deck. Verdict: Good. Moving the runner into scoring position for superior hitters in a walkoff situation makes plenty of sense.

21) July 9th v. Sea: 1-0 Yankees, 6th inning, Gardner on 2nd and Jeter on 1st, 0 outs, Swisher at the plate, Teixeira and Rodriguez on deck. Verdict: Bad. I was leaning towards atrocious due to the quality of the hitter, but the score at the time makes going for 1 or 2 runs not entirely silly.

22) July 16th v. TB: 4-4 tie, 9th inning, Granderson on 1st, 0 outs, Pena at the plate, Gardner and Jeter on deck. Verdict: Good. Obviously. Pena cannot hit, and this moved the runner into scoring position with a chance to win the game.

23) July 18th v. TB: 7-3 Yankees, 6th inning, Granderson on 1st, 0 outs, Gardner at the plate, Jeter and Swisher on deck. Verdict: Bad. Again, I have to assume that he was bunting for a hit. If not, this goes in the atrocious pile.

24) July 22nd v. KC: 6-4 Yankees, 8th inning, Curtis on 1st, 0 outs, Granderson at the plate, Gardner and Jeter on deck. Verdict: Neutral. In a vacuum I might be against this move, but with a lefty on the hill against Granderson and Mariano warming, I do not hate it.

25) July 23rd v. KC: 4-0 Yankees, 6th inning, Posada on 2nd and Granderson at 1st, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Curtis and Gardner on deck. Verdict: Bad. With Colin Curtis the next hitter and a 4-0 lead in your pocket, you have no reason to give up outs here.

26) July 29th v. Cle: 1-0 Indians, 3rd inning, Curtis on 2nd and Jeter on 1st, 0 outs, Granderson at the plate, Teixeira and Rodriguez on deck. Verdict: Atrocious. Bunting Granderson against a righty in the 3rd inning? For shame.

27) Aug. 17th v. Det: 2-1 Yankees, 2nd inning, Pena on 1st, 0 outs, Gardner at the plate, Jeter and Teixeira on deck. Verdict: Atrocious. Verlander was struggling and they gave him an out to move one runner one base. Why?

28) Sept. 10th v. Tex: 5-5 tie, 12th inning, Moeller on 2nd, 0 outs, Gardner at the plate, Jeter and Curtis on deck. Verdict: Good. With a lefty on the hill against Gardner and one run needed to take a lead in extra innings, the bunt here made sense.

29) Sept. 11th v. Tex: 6-5 Yankees, 9th inning, Nunez on 2nd, 0 outs, Cervelli at the plate, Thames and Swisher on deck. Verdict: Bad. Cervelli bunting against a righty is just fine, but I do not love playing for one run when the runner is already in scoring position. The real issue here was that Cervelli bunted on a 3-0 count, which should have changed the equation.

30) Sept. 13 v. TB: 0-0 tie, 10th inning, Kearns on 1st, 0 outs, Granderson at the plate, Curtis and Jeter on deck. Verdict: Atrocious. Again, playing for one run makes sense here. However, you need to be cognizant of the fact that Colin Curtis is the next hitter, and that Derek Jeter has struggled against RHP. Granderson is likely your best chance to score in that inning, and you gave him up to move the runners over for two hitters who were lesser options. Oh, and the count was 2-0. This might be the worst bunt call of the season.

Final results: 8 bad bunts, 6 atrocious ones, 3 neutral, and 13 good.
That means that over the course of the season, Girardi made 6 inexplicable bunting decisions and 8 poor ones, for a grand total of 14 plays that one can point to and decry as representing the ills of small ball. A number of them came in situations where the move had no discernible impact on the game, and most of the bunts came from luminaries such as Frankie Cervelli and Ramiro Pena.

It is also important to note that some of those moves are ones that most managers would have made. While that does not excuse Joe’s poor decision making, it is relevant when considering whether a replacement manager would be an improvement in this are. Overall, I think that Joe does need to cut back on these mistakes, but that the issue is overstated.

5 Responses to “Joe Girardi and Bunting”

  1. After reading this I’m a bit sad no one has commented on it! I appreciate the time you spent in looking this up. Certainly interesting to look over them and realize you hardly remember any of them.

    Anyway, that’s a pretty terrible ratio, especially for a team not built for speed. The Yankees are build to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and I think people are justified in getting aggravated when he does it. Is the issue overstated? Sure. But at the same time, the manager has such a little effect on the outcome of the game that when he DOES affect it, people get aggravated and rightfully so. Heaven forbid he tries the bunting nonsense in a playoff game, where there is no large sample size to forgive it.

    Admittedly, I was one of the douches who overreacted last night and thought Joe should be fired. The fact is he shouldn’t be and he won’t be. A better manager likely doesn’t exist, and we’re with Joe for better or worse. That said, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to question his methods ;)   (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Thanks for the kind words. As for the ratio, I dont think that is relevant, at least not as much as the total number of “bad” bunts. 14 is not that many, particularly when the crime in a number of them was simply giving up one out quite early in the game. That has a slight impact at best on the probability of winning. I have no problem questioning as it happens, I just take issue with the contention that he does this all the time.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  2. A take away for me is that Jeter should have been down in the line-up to #9 in June. I can understand keeping him at #1 or #2 early before it became clear that he wasn’t the same hitter as he was in 2009. Bunting with this line-up is bad enough but even worse when expect Jeter to drive them in with an iso .107.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  3. Mo, this doesn’t take into account an important factor which is the where the fielders are. Sometimes you bunt not because of the game situation, but because the defense is giving it to you or appears to be. With a speedy runner at the plate, in a breaking ball count and with the 3B playing back, it’s a attempt to take what they’re giving you. Also, sometimes a hitter is just slumping badly (Cervelli) and the fielders are playing a ground ball hitter like him way too deep, so a manager will do this to keep the opposition honest defensively. Further, occasionally you will bunt because Hitter X can’t buy a hit facing that Pitcher, or again is just mired in a horrendous slump, so you want to at least guarantee a productive out. It’s not solely about game situations.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Good point. I think that further erodes that number of ‘bad’ bunts.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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