Opening Day Bunting
On Athletics Nation, I am now doing video blogs. I hope to integrate game footage and other things into talking all things A’s baseball and I encourage my readers to go check it out. The first topic I talked about (save for a brief introductory piece) was Bob Melvin‘s curious calls regarding sacrifice bunts in the season opener and I want to flesh it out a bit more here. Two situations in particular stood out to me. The first one was when Brandon Allen squared around to bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning with Yoenis Cespedes on second and nobody out. Allen was facing Felix Hernandez, someone who is tough for even the most accomplished of bunters to lay a bunt down against – Allen who has just three successful sacrifices in his entire professional career, his 3,764 plate appearance career.
Allen is a power hitter. One shouldn’t expect him to ever “hit for average” as the best he has only ever managed a higher than .300 average in the friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League’s Reno. His best seasons being 2011 at .299 (.306 in Reno, .250 in Sacramento) and 2009 at .298 (.324 in Reno, .290 in Birmingham and just .262 in Charlotte). As such Allen’s job is to mash. There is a downside to that, strikeouts and Allen has struck out at a healthy clip 24.2% of the time in his combined MiLB/MLB career. It appears that was exactly what Bob Melvin hoped to avoid, that Allen would strike out as he had the previous two times at the plate and would leave Cespedes stalled at second. But the odds of Allen striking out were a mere 24.2%, the odds in his career he gets a hit in any given plate appearance: 22.8%. He has successfully sacrificed in just 0.0008% of his plate appearances. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess he isn’t 3-for-3 in successful bunt attempts either. Why not take the near even odds that he gets a hit or strikes out? What if you heap on the odds he gets a hit with the odds he grounds out to the right side thereby still advancing Cespedes? You can also add to the odds that he hits down the line to where Cespedes can test Ichiro Suzuki‘s arm on a deep fly ball to advance to third? It seems all of these odds are far greater than the ones Melvin opted to play – which resulted in Allen weakly popping up to Chone Figgins on the failed bunt attempt.
Melvin then double-downed on the poor sacrifice strategy. I am a fan of bunts for hits. I am not a fan really of the sacrifice bunt, but there are some very certain scenarios where it makes good baseball policy and in the bottom of the 10th we had one of those scenarios. Allen had just got on first via a Dustin Ackley error. He was replaced by Collin Cowgill at first as a pinch runner with Eric Sogard at the plate. Sogard has a much different sacrifice bunt history than does Allen. While he has yet to have a sacrifice bunt at the MLB level, in 2,356 plate appearances in MiLB ball he has successfully laid down 13. He knows how to bunt. While Sogard hits for a far greater average than does Allen, and is far less likely to strike out, the A’s needed one run and they had the opportunity to safely move Cowgill to second. Melvin (I assume it was Melvin and not Cowgill on his own) opted to send Cowgill to second to test the arm of Miguel Olivo. This isn’t a terrible decision as Cowgill is a very good baserunner with a 76-for-94 (80.9%) success rate, and Olivo last year only threw out 28.2% of runners last year, but I like the idea of playing the far more conservative approach here. And it comes down to this, are the odds that Cowgill gets to second greater via a stolen base or via a sacrifice? I’d opt for the latter. Perhaps there is a secondary question though, if you feel the risk is worth it to get him to second, maybe Sogard bunts him to third. At that point with one out surely it is easier for Cowgill to score from third than from second. But what instead happened was Cowgill got wiped out on the caught stealing, any A’s rally was immediately stopped dead in its tracks and the A’s eventually lost. The A’s don’t have much margin for error on this club and I’d have played the conservative approach.
At the end of the day though, this game could’ve potentially been won earlier, but we won’t know because Allen’s sacrifice landed softly and harmlessly in the glove of Figgins.
You can see the video at the above link for the YouTube channel or you can also check it out on Athletics Nation where there also are comments and you can join the discussion.