Sacrifice Bunting


A message board I frequent has had a debate about the best manager to replace Leyland.  Of course no one can come to agreement because some members of the forum prefer managers who manage to not screw up what the front office did in the off season and some prefer more active, small-ball managers.  Then I got to thinking, “Maybe all managers are pretty much the same. ” Maybe the differences in things like bunting depend on the OPS.  A team that hits well in general maybe won’t bunt much.  A team that doesn’t hit well should bunt and try to get that run in any way they can.

Well, it turns out there is almost no correlation between team OPS and bunting. Now, I’ve used successful sacrifices as a proxy for sacrifice attempts.  Also, this doesn’t measure distribution of hitters.  Some teams may have many average hitters.  Other teams may have a few stars and a few pitcher-like hitters.  But, only 6% of SH are explained by team OPS.  It seems pretty likely that it is in fact the whim of the manager that determines the number of SH.  I suppose this could be retested with SH/sacrifice situation or SH/OPS as a replacement for SH to account for the fact that some teams have more chances to sacrifice. but the correlation is so poor I doubt it would matter.


So, with that post idea shot I thought how could I salvage this?  So I decided to see which manager may be the most and least cognizant of the team’s situation.  I am operating under the hypothesis that a team that has alower OPS should bunt more often than a team whose players reach by traditional means.  I’ll call this the traditional, weak-hitters-bunt-more strategy. This may not be an optimal strategy.  Everyone swing away except for rare bunts to keep the defense on their toes is probably the best AL team strategy.

This chart adds the OPS rank and the bunt rank of the team in the AL.  Then it subtracts 15 so that the average team has a rating of 0.  A team with a positive ranking bunts less often than its OPS indicates it should under a traditional weak-hitters-bunt-more strategy.  A team with a negative ranking bunts more than than it should under a traditional weak-hitters-bunt-more strategy.  Leyland has a good hitting team bunting a lot.  Surprisingly Gardenhire is not calling for bunts much this year despite having a weak hitting Twins team.

Damn it, Leyland
Damn it, Leyland

Other things could explain this. Leyland has had some slumping hitters in the line up- Raburn and Jackson and some weak replacement players like Kelly. Gardenhire’s Twins may have been so far behind in games early this year that sacrificing an out made no sense. Or, Gardenhire might know how to manage well and figured with the slow start he shouldn’t overmanage and cost more games (unlikely!).

Still, given the low correlation between OPS and SH the most likely explanation is that managers like Francona don’t like to sacrifice bunt and managers like Leyland like to bunt.

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