FanPost

Series Recap Week VI: "Folly" or "The Sacrificial Bunt"

Basil Bunting, Poet and Grower of Eyebrows - Jacket Magazine

"Tell me, by all the gods, is anyone happier than that class of men whom we commonly call fools, idiots, morons, and simpletons -names, in my opinion, of exquisite beauty?"

-Erasmus, In Praise of Folly

"I'm not gonna do what everyone thinks I'm gonna do and... FLIP OUT, man..."

-Brian, Half Baked

Entirely too quick recap:

Tuesday v. Belmont: Win 8-4 (Ro Coleman hit a home run in this game. I should have been able to read the "The End is Nigh!!!" tea leaves before my Friday predictions, as that is the equivalent of at least the first three horsemen showing up in your living room, asking for directions).

Friday v. MSU: Loss 17-2 (Predicted a 3-1 win. I'm going to count it as a win that I was able to remove the rattling pistol from my mouth before pulling the trigger or breaking any teeth).

Saturday v. MSU: Loss 6-3 (Predicted a 4-0 win. Watching Ross Mitchell pitch is like watching Jaime Moyer's best start ever: unbearably miserable).

Sunday v. MSU: Win 5-1 (Predicted an 8-3 win, which is close enough).

Overall Record: 20-5

Player of the series: # RHP Tyler Ferguson

After the worst pitching performances of Tyler Beede's life and Jared Miller's season, respectively, Tyler "Turd" Ferguson removed his comically oversized orange foam cowboy hat, and with it, his comical oxymoron of a nickname. They say an ace is defined by the ability to stop a losing streak. This weekend, Tyler Ferguson was our ace. He went six innings of shutout ball, striking out three, and allowing only four runners to reach base (two hits and two walks).

Honorable Mention: # OF Bryan Reynolds

He went 3-5 in Sunday's sweep-avoiding win. Sure, he only went 1-5 on Friday and 0-4 on Saturday, but he wasn't stinking up the place and dropping the ball like he was in the opening act of a "sad sack team that turns everything around" sports movie. Few others can say the same, so he's here by default. DE-FAULT! DE-FAULT!

Goat of the series: Everyone else, but especially Beede

I'm assuming Beede thought, "If I pitched perfectly last week and took the loss, perhaps if I play terribly this week, I'll get the win?" That's specious reasoning, and I just won't have it. I'm not going to tell you his Friday game line, as I don't want to be directly responsible for anyone taking their own life. Not anymore.

Second Guesses No One Asked For: "Folly" or "The Sacrificial Bunt"

Last year, we won every series we played. Anyone who thought that would continue ad infinitum has an inflated sense of optimism rivaled only by Dr. Pangloss and my mother.

As for bunting, other than noted British modernist poet Basil Cheeseman Bunting, I'm not a fan. (Side note: How great was Briggflatts?) As for the art of giving one's self up to move a teammate 90 feet, there are very specific situations in which it doesn't bother me, but much like references to somewhat obscure/dead British modernist poets in what is purportedly a sports column, it's best used sparingly.

Here are the situations when I approve of the sacrifice bunt:

1) When a light-hitting pitcher is at the plate, there's a man on first, second, or both first and second, there's either zero or one out, and the game is close.

2) When a slumping or weak-hitting batter is at the plate, no outs, there's a man on first, the game is close, and they're too defensively vital to remove for a pinch hitter.

3) When the opposing pitcher has been dominant, no outs, there's a man on first, and the game is close.

4) When the opposing pitcher has been dominant, no outs, there's a man on first and second, and the game is tied in either the 8th or 9th inning.

5) When "just one more run" will provide enough cushion for the closer.

In all other situations, the sacrifice bunt either lowers your chances of scoring runs, or increases your chances of scoring "just one run" so slightly as to be barely statistically significant.

In fairness, I'm not opposed to bunting, and there are few things better than a lead-off hitter who knows how to bunt for a base hit. Tony Kemp is an excellent example here. He knew his legs were his premier weapon, and so getting on base where he could get into a pitcher's head, dance around to annoy the hell out of him, induce an arm-tiring amount of throws, and then ruin a pitcher's day by stealing anyway, was his best strategy. If the corner infielders were playing back, you could expect The Man of Steal to lay one down the line or to the pitcher's throwing side and leg one out. He had excellent bat control, and it was just, in general, a smart play in any situation. Further, when a team is not especially defensively sound, you can bunt them into oblivion and induce an unconscionable amount of errors. Between '11 and '13, Vandy had the guys who could do that, and did it efficiently and effectively. So effectively, in fact, such endeavors became dubbed the "Vanderbunt."

Simply put, based on what I've seen this season, there are only two Vandy players who can bunt for base hits: Rhett Wiseman and Dansby Swanson. Other than The Natural and The Mansby, Ro Coleman has the potential to be able to do this, and it should be the main thing he focuses on in practice, but his bunts thus far have been field-able, thus mitigating his speed.

All other bunts, then, fit firmly in the sacrifice category. And these bunts... are maddening.

In Friday's ghastly effort, it's not the embarrassment of errors or general pitching ineptitude that stays in my mind. Rather, it's the following:

In the bottom of the 2nd, already down 4 runs, with no outs, with the fleet-of-foot Xavier Turner and Rhett Wiseman on first and second, respectively, and a red-hot Vince Conde at the plate, Coach Corbin elected to throw up the sign for "sac bunt." For anyone watching, it was obvious that Beede didn't have his A game (or B game, or C game), and with the defense dropping more catchable balls than the one kid in Little League who only got in because league rules dictated he must play at least two innings, "small ball" strategies had to go out the window.

Again, it appears the idea of a big inning is anathema to Corbin's managerial philosophy. If he won't let his hottest hitter (at the time) swing away down four, I'm not quite sure anything I write is going to change his mind. So enough of my words... time for Numberwang.

Fellow SBNation Blogger SamYam broke down the numbers so well, I'll just paste a segment of his excellent "Athletics Nation" post from last August (http://www.athleticsnation.com/2013/8/7/4590940/a-statistical-defense-sort-of-of-the-sac-bunt):

The run expectancy of a runner on first base with none out is approximately 0.86 runs. The expected number of runs with a runner on second base and one out is 0.68 runs. So by bunting, you've reduced your run expectancy by 0.18 runs. It's the same for bunting runners from 1st and 2nd over to 2nd and 3rd: you've reduced your run expectancy from 1.47 to 1.36, again reducing your expectancy by 0.11 runs. In other words, bunting actually slightly hurts your chances of scoring runs.

Let's take a look at the classic bunt situation: runner on 1st, none out, turning into runner on 2nd and one out. The run-expectancy for a runner on first and none out is, on average, 0.86 runs in the inning. However, run-expectancy can actually give us even more exact data. It can tell us the precise chances of scoring 0, 1, 2, or more runs based on the base-out state as well.

For runner on 1st, none out, again, our run expectancy is 0.86 runs. Here's a list of the probabilities of the number of runs scored in the inning:

Runs

Probability

0

57.60%

1

18.94%

2

12.29%

3

6.09%

4+

5.08%

Let's compare that to the situation of a runner on 2nd and one out, with a run expectancy of 0.68 runs.

Runs

Probability

0

59.39%

1

24.63%

2

9.28%

3

4.05%

4+

2.65%

The case against bunting is apparent. You've drastically reduced your chances of scoring multiple runs in an inning. You've also increased your probability of scoring 0 runs by a slight amount (1.79%). However, you've actually increased your chances of scoring exactly one run by 5.69%. Situationally, with a weak hitter at the plate with a poor platoon split down one run in a late inning, a bunt might actually help you. Of course, bunting means you're playing for the tie at that point rather than looking to score multiple runs and take the lead, but if you have a strong bullpen it just might be a sound strategy. Still, it seems like something that would be helpful only in very specific situations. Of course, it still increases the chances of scoring 0 runs, which still hurts your chances of even tying the game. So even in that situation, I'm not sure I'm ready to defend the sac bunt with one runner on.

But what about bunting over runners on 1st and 2nd? The run expectancy for runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs is 1.47 runs, and the specific breakdown is as follows:

Runs

Probability

0

36.99%

1

22.94%

2

16.27%

3

12.23%

4+

11.57%

For runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out, the run expectancy is 1.36 runs, and the specific breakdown is as follows:

Runs

Probability

0

33.26%

1

27.34%

2

22.28%

3

9.11%

4+

8.01%

Now we're getting somewhere. You've still reduced your overall run expectancy. But you've decreased your chances of scoring 0 runs by 3.62%, so you've increased your likelihood of scoring at least one run. What's more, you've increased your chances of scoring exactly one run by almost 5%, and exactly two runs by 6%! Basically, the sacrifice you're making is increasing your probability of scoring 1-2 runs at the expense of scoring 3 or more. So in a close game in the later innings and runners on first and second, it (and it hurts to say this) might make sense to bunt them over.

Back to my words...

Again, there are situations in which a team can improve their chances of scoring at least one run by bunting over a runner or runners, but it's clear that by doing so, it diminishes your chances of scoring more than one run, or having a "big inning" by a significant margin. In the situation noted, with Conde dropping down a sac bunt, our run expectancy dropped from 1.5 to 1.4 instantly, and though our probability of scoring at least one run increased from 63.01% to 66.74%, our probability of scoring three or more dropped by over 6%.

Is it wiser to chip away slowly and rely on a pitcher "snapping out of a one-inning funk," or note that your pitcher doesn't have his A-game and thus will likely give up more runs, and play for the big inning? I side with the latter camp.

Legendary manager Earl Weaver used to say, "When you play for one run, you're only going to get one run." Playing for one run when you're down 4 with a shaky pitcher on the mound is downright lunacy.

Now if it was last year and either Kemp or Yaz were at the dish, and they decided on their own to try to bunt for a base hit, I would have stood up in applause. This was not that situation. This is not that team.

Let's stop giving away outs, especially in come-back efforts.

*Author's Note: Andrew VU '04 is a writer, educator, and ne-er-do-well living in the whirlpool of despair (Baton Rouge, LA). "Scouting Report: Something Something Burt Ward" will be a weekly column written and posted every Sunday evening throughout the 2014 baseball season. In it, the writer will second guess at least one key decision made by Coach Tim Corbin, provide a frighteningly quick recap of the week's games (I'm just giving scores, you crum bums, so if you want more, read the damn box scores your damn selves), and write up a full scouting report on one pitcher and one position player. Except this week, when he's not, because he's already written a report on Tyler Ferguson and Bryan Reynolds, and no one else this week would have produced anything but scorn.

FanPosts are most often submitted by users. The views and opinions expressed in FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by the editorial staff of The Anchor of Gold or SB Nation. Unless they are awesome.

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