Finally! Proof Sacrifice Bunting is Dumb

The Mets snapped their seven game losing streak with a win over the Braves on Sunday, and some of the credit for that victory belongs to Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez. In the bottom of the ninth, down by a run, the Braves had a runner on first with no outs. Gonzalez opted to sacrifice, the successful bunt resulting in a runner on second with one out. Two batters later the game was over.

reyesAs I’ve written in the past, the only theory of sabermetrics with which I agree is the hatred of the sacrifice bunt. A team only gets 27 outs per game, they say. Why would you give any of them away? On Sunday, the Braves only had three outs left or they would lose the game. Giving up one of those outs — 33% — makes no sense at all.

Perhaps if the score were tied it would have made more sense (I am still against bunting in that situation, as I am in most situations, unless the pitcher is up). If everything failed, the game would still be tied. But bunting while down a run, with the game on the line — no way.

Of course a runner on second has a better chance of scoring than a runner on first. But I always wondered — what are the odds of a runner scoring from first with no outs, compared to a runner on second with one out?

Finally, I have my answer. And as I suspected, I was right all long.

A website called The Book — Playing The Percentages In Baseball  did the math, and found that the run expectancy for a runner on first with no outs is 0.972. That number for a runner on second with one out — 0.746. So the odds go down, meaning that sacrifice bunting really makes no sense.

Here is the entire table:

Situation No Outs One Out Two Out
Empty 0.551 0.295 0.111
1st 0.972 0.576 0.252
2nd 1.228 0.746 0.337
3rd 1.424 0.980 0.394
1st/2nd 1.649 1.027 0.478
1st/3rd 1.845 1.261 0.535
2nd/3rd 2.101 1.431 0.620
Loaded 2.522 1.717 0.761

It’s even more ridiculous to bunt a runner on second over to third, as Jerry Manuel ordered at least twice last season (it didn’t work in either of the situations that I can remember). You don’t even need statistics to know that is dumb. The runner is already in scoring position — why give up an out to get him into even more scoring position?!

As the number of outs increase, the odds of scoring decreases. Why anyone would purposely make an out is beyond common sense, as well as beyond the statistics.

3 Responses

  1. paul
    paul at |

    But a sacrifice takes away the douple play.

  2. Dave
    Dave at |

    Regarding the sacrifice taking away the double play. Seems to me that paying a 1 out premium for a policy against a 2 out potential outcome is overpriced. Under most circumstances I wouldn’t want that insurance policy. However, that’s under normal circumstances. If you have a weak hitting pitcher coming up or a batter who is in a slump or doing poorly against this particular pitcher, you may want that policy. And if I may, I would see your “sacrifice takes away the double play” and raise it with “the sacrifice takes away the walk”.

  3. John
    John at |

    I was thinking if everyone has roughly the same chance of getting a bunt down there is a certain point in OBP or BA that would determine if sacrifice bunting is a good idea. I would imagine that there would only be a chance that it would be productive in moving a runner to second from first. It sounds a bit confusing and I apologize if Im hard to follow.

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