Enough of the bunting!

I have never really hidden my dislike of Willie Randolph here on this site.  I was not a fan of his moves, particularly his bullpen decisions, which often seemed ill thought out and not creative.  He was also an amazingly dull postgame press conference, with one tired cliche after another, contempt for anybody who dare question his questionable baseball decisions, and an undeserved arrogance.  He hated playing rookies, and probably deserves a lion’s share of the blame that led to Heath Bell being given away after the 2006 season.  I thought he should have been fired after 2007, and was vindicated when he struggled so mightily to start the 2008 season, with the team taking off immediately after he was fired.  Good riddance. 

I welcomed the change to Jerry Manuel.  His postgame press conferences were entertaining, and he rarely seemed to make the wrong decision in games.  Sure, the bullpen didn’t work any better for him than it did for Willie, but he did the best with what he had, and he had nothing.  Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans were given the chance to shine, where they would have been buried by Willie.  It was a looser atmosphere, a better atmosphere, and I felt that a presense like Jerry Manuel made Mets games more fun to watch in a purely non-baseball sense.

That said, the American Gangsta has been making decisions that have been driving me crazy as of late.  The most egregious example is his love of the bunt.  Despite what you have been taught to believe, bunting is bad baseball.  Sure, it makes sense for pitchers to sacrifice; they probably aren’t going to get on base anyway, so the sacrifice bunt sort of makes sense.  And sacrificing as the home team in the 9th inning or later of tie games also makes sense, since you’re only playing for one run; moving the runner to second base and hoping one of your next two hitters can get a single is good baseball.

But sacrificing with position players in the top of the ninth of a one run game?  That is not good baseball.  If you play to score one run, you will only score one run.  Last night was a perfect example.  In the 9th inning, on the road, the Mets had a one run lead and Jose Reyes was on first with a single, with Murphy coming up to bat.  What sense does it make to take the bat out of the hands of Daniel Murphy, a guy who is pretty clearly only on the major league team right now because of his ability to hit?  Wouldn’t you rather try to have him advance the runner on a single, or even score Reyes from first with a nicely placed double?  Even a walk puts two on and nobody out.  Why give up the out there?  Outs are the most precious commodity in baseball; as long as you have outs, you have a chance to score.  To give up an out in that spot makes no sense.

And don’t let the outcome fool you into thinking it was the right decision.  If anything, the outcome proves my point.  Chipper Jones had Jose Reyes dead to rights at second base; the sacrifice attempt had failed.  The Mets were bailed out by Chipper throwing the ball away, and then by Yunel Escobar deciding not to cover second after the throw sailed into the outfield.  The outcome was Murphy and Reyes standing on second and third with nobody out, the same outcome that could have been achieved by not taking the bat out of Murphy’s hand and letting him hit there.  Nine times out of ten, the fielder makes that play cleanly and the batter is out.  It was pure luck that Reyes and Murphy were both safe on that play, and it turned out to be doubly lucky for the Mets, as they needed both Reyes and Murphy to score in order to win the ballgame.

My problem with bunting with position players in this spot (and I’m not harping on something that has only happened one time; Manuel has called for the bunt with every position player not named Wright, Beltran, and Delgado this year) is run expectation.  Take a look at this run expectation chart.  Looking at 2008 stats, a team with a runner on first and no outs would be expected to score roughly 0.90024 runs in that inning.  A runner on second and one out would be expected to score roughly 0.69465.  A sacrifice bunt COSTS teams runs, because the fewer outs a team has, the more likely a team is to score.  By giving away an out, a team is making it less likely to score, even with the runner being 180 feet from home plate instead of 270 feet.  A runner on first with no outs is more valuable than a runner on second with one out; teams should be looking for ways to not make outs in that spot, rather than giving them away.

The Mets were ready, willing, and able to give away their chances of having a big inning in the top of the ninth so that they could maybe score one run.  After the disaster that was the bottom of the ninth, this could have cost the Mets the game.  Mets fans may not particularly like Chipper Jones, but they should make sure to thank him for winning this game for the Mets with his error (although, it doesn’t make up for the dozens of times he has beaten them). 

As for Jerry Manuel, the bunting is starting to sour me on him.  He’s still an engaging personality, and he seems to get the bullpen better than Willie, but as long as he’s bunting with position players who should be allowed to handle the bat, that is going to drive me crazy.  Daniel Murphy is in the major leagues literally for no other reason than his bat.  If you are relegating him to a pitcher in that instance, what purpose does he serve?  Let these guys hit!

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