Originally written on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 4/15/13
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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, one of the more enlightened minds in the game, has the same opinion about the bunt as most educated fans of the game: that it's an overrated part of baseball that he's not a fan of. "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, of choosing not to bunt with two runners on base and no outs in the ninth inning, and again following a leadoff double in the 10th. "I think the bunt is an overrated play." Now, let's break down the situation that Maddon was in on Saturday. In the ninth inning, Joel Hanrahan walked both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, and Red Sox manager John Farrell pulled Hanrahan and brought in Koji Uehara. Maddon pinch hit with James Loney for Shelley Duncan. Loney has a grand total of six sacrifice bunts in his career, with three of those coming in 2011 and the other three coming in the other nearly 800 games of his career. Duncan, who Loney pinch hit for, has a grand total of one sacrifice in his 320 major league games, and that came in 2007. Aside from Loney on his bench, Maddon had Jose Lobaton (a backup catcher) and Kelly Johnson, actually an adept bunter. But here's something fun: the two hitters that would follow Duncan's spot in the order were Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts, neither of whom has hit a lick this year. Loney hasn't been much better by any means, but he had a better shot at driving a run in than either of those two. Throw in the fact that Uehara has been pure, unmitigated death to righties during his career, and you can see why Maddon had no desire to bunt with Loney. Now, looking at the tenth inning, the cries for bunting grew louder after Jose Molina led off with a double. Johnson ran for Molina, clearly the wise move there, and therein lies the major problem with bunting: any hit that would have scored Johnson from third would have probably scored him from second. The nine hitter, Matt Joyce, followed Molina in the lineup. Of course, Joyce has a grand total of one sacrifice in his career, and he's a guy with substantial pop, even for as much as he struggled this year. But with Junichi Tazawa on the hill, and Maddon's bench empty aside from Lobaton, Joyce was probably hapless against Tazawa anyway, due to how much he absolutely murders lefties. In both cases, there's probably a higher chance that the bunt would have completely failed to get down, which probably would have resulted in the same people shaming Maddon for not bunting shaming him for attempting to bunt using crappy bunters. Besides, look at the run expectancy matrix for this season. After Zobrist's walk in the ninth to put men on first and second with none out, that put the Rays in a position where teams scored 1.38 runs this season, compared to 1.30 runs with runners on second and third with one out (which would have been the situation after the bunt). Last year, in a much larger sample, teams scored an average of 1.44 runs with men on first and second with none out, compared to 1.29 with men on second and third with one out. In the tenth inning situation, teams have scored an average of 1.03 runs with a man on second and none out compared to 0.92 with a runner on third and one out. Last year, those numbers shifted to 1.07 in the initial situation, and 0.90 post-bunt. Taking everything into account, it's very easy to understand where Maddon is coming from with his disdain for the bunt, especially considering all of the extraneous circumstances in Saturday's game. I didn't even mention that in the ninth, the Red Sox had Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks leading off the inning, a pair of hitters with some intense power. And in the tenth, another guy with crazy power (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) led the inning off pinch hitting for David Ross before the lineup turned over to Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, and Dustin Pedroia, three guys who can cause havoc on the bases without even needing to bunt. One run might have been nice for the Rays, but Boston's lineup can put one run on the board pretty quickly, especially against a bullpen that has struggled as much this year like Tampa Bay's has. [Fan Nation] [follow]
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